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Forest Bathing with Michael Christie

Forest Bathing, or Shinrin Yoku, is the perfect way to enjoy the physical and psychological benefits of nature while still maintaining a safe and mutually protective distance from other people. And to be honest, it’s been the only thing getting me through these long and worrisome days.

To begin, you first need to locate some trees that are near to your home and that aren’t already completely surrounded by other people who have also read these instructions. Next, simply approach the trees of your choice and get amongst them. If there aren’t enough trees to properly get amongst, then tilt your head back to gaze up at the underside of their branches while taking some deep breaths. If there is only one tree and it isn’t exactly a towering specimen, and is actually more like a good-sized bush, then forget the gazing up part and simply stand near the bush and take a few deep breaths. The benefits will visit you all the same.

Researchers have found that simply being near green and growing things can reduce anxiety and halt a mental phenomenon called ‘repetitive worry’ (one we’re all too familiar with right now!) Numerous other studies have demonstrated that time spent near trees lowers stress hormone levels, improves blood pressure, boosts creativity, and pumps up the oxygenation of the blood, which is linked to increased brain function and improved mood. Don’t have easy access to trees or bushes? Never fear. There is evidence that merely looking at images of nature (yes, even digital images) can provide you with a measurable amount of relaxation.

But before you set out, please remember this: unlike most things in life, forest bathing is something you can’t really mess up. Even if you are one of those people, like myself, who find it impossible to relax when faced with a situation in which they are supposed to be relaxing (you should see me try to meditate!), the best thing about trees is that they don’t care what's currently running in the gerbil wheel inside your brain. The benefits of forest bathing are automatic. You merely need to show up, and the trees will handle the rest. And if that isn’t relaxing, I don’t know what is.

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