• Robin Yong

Shinrin Yoku 森林浴

My dates with my Geisha friends in Kyoto are not limited to tea house sessions, restaurant meals and temple visits. On this occasion, we picked a walk in the cedar wood forest. We practice the Japanese art of Shinrin-yoku (森林浴).

Shinrin-Yoku, translated into English as ‘forest bathing', means taking in the forest atmosphere during a leisurely walk. It is a therapy that was developed in Japan during the 1980s, becoming a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. 

There has been an increasing interest in the study of nature therapy and its forms over the past few decades, as there is an important exploration of how a person's overall quality of life can be improved through their interaction with nature and a decrease in factors like stress or depression. Nature therapy, and Shinrin-yoku specifically, has been linked to a number of physiological benefits, as well as neuropsychological benefits, as indicated by neuroimaging and validated psychological tests such as the Profile of Mood States (POMS). Some studies have indicated that spending time in nature can improve immune, cardiovascular, and respiratory functioning. A 2007 study from the University of Essex in the U.K., for example, found that a walk in the country reduces depression in 71% of participants. The researchers found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation. And researchers in Japan have linked forest bathing with lower levels of the blood pressure-raising stress hormone, cortisol. Some research have also suggested that when people are in nature, they inhale aromatic compounds from plants called phytoncides. These can increase their number of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that boosts our immune systems and is linked with a lower risk of cancer.

In many cultures, Cedar is especially associated with prayer, healing, dreams, and protection against disease. The cedar tree has been revered for its spiritual significance for thousands of years. Its wood was used for the doors of sacred temples and burned in cleansing ceremonies for purification. The Japanese cedar can be seen at many shrines. These trees grow straight toward the sky, so it’s considered to be the closest associated tree with Japanese Gods. My Geisha friends are highly skilled entertainers and do everything with style and beauty. It has been a most delightful and relaxing afternoon, and of course we have quite a few very nice souvenir photos.