Forest Bathing Without Trees

I love the Japanese mindset of ikigai and how forests play a pivotal part in calming the soul. I stumbled upon a book about shinrin-yoku (the Japanese art of forest bathing) and it struck a chord. I was already drawn to forests and this technique of letting the woods soothe your mind and spirit seemed just the ticket.

Scene from My Neighbor Totoro

Problem: I live in Southern California.

About as far south as you can go, so my selection of forests ranges from stunted windswept Torrey Pines to the Julian mountain oaks. Not bad overall, except the heat in the mountains is oppressive most months of the year and both these locations are at least an hour drive.

So what can those of us do to get our daily tree fix without embarking on an epic Hobbit-style journey? I tried everything. Apps that brought the sounds of woods (but these felt too synthetic). Cedar wood diffusers to give the smell of a forest (barely detected a scent). Even tree screensavers on my computer. But it all felt false. 

The idea behind shinrin-yoku is to unplant yourself from your house and get out into nature. Cut your mind away from the digital distractions that plague your thoughts. Ever notice how refreshing your screen is seldom refreshing for you?

My final solution was to shift my expectations. I live in a hot, semi-arid environment. A full blown forest is too much to ask. But there is still nature. My neighborhood has a tree-lined path that is quiet and a joy to walk down. I take my dog down there nearly every morning. 

Additionally, I have loaded my home office with a multitude of money trees, lucky bamboos, and bonsai trees. If I can’t go out to the forest, I will bring it to me. The effect is the same, it calms my spirit and helps bring some peace to a very turbulent world.

So if you are stuck in a situation where the local forest is miles away, look for other ways you can reconnect with nature.

Tim Kane

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