(reblogged from Acculturated)
Why do so many people today try to repaint ordinary activities—things human beings have been doing for hundreds and thousands of years—as somehow radically new? Take, for example, a recent article in the Washington Post that described a new trend: “forest bathing.”
When I first saw the headline I was sure I was going to read about a new alternative to the nudist colony. Alas, “forest bathing,” or “forest therapy” as it is also called, is a real thing. Many of its practitioners are in California, and the article describes the practice as walking in the wilderness and basking in its beauty and health benefits. There are “certified” forest therapy guides (who pay tuition fees to places like the San Francisco Bay Area Association of Nature and Forest Therapy), and scientific studies of the health benefits associated with these outings. In Japan, such excursions are even covered by health insurance providers.
The article delves into this new age fad, packaged as a Far Eastern tradition:
In an effort to combat our indoor epidemic and reap these health benefits, a growing number of Americans have become followers of a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku. Coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982, the word literally translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing” and refers to the process of soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting to promote physiological and psychological health. The increasing popularity of Shinrin-yoku, particularly in California, echoes the adoption of other east-to-west health trends, such as yoga and meditation.
To anyone who has read Henry David Thoreau (or John Muir), or seen the many photographs taken by Ansel Adams, or even read a book published before 1950, the idea of walking into the wilderness (and feeling good as a result) will sound ordinary (or like common sense). But forest bathing should not be confused with your weekend family hike; according to the article it is distinct from such mundane activities. Shinrin-yoku “differs from hiking or informative nature excursions because it centers on the therapeutic aspects of forest bathing,” a certified forest guide told the Post:
“So whereas a nature walk’s objective is to provide informational content and a hike’s is to reach a destination, a Shinrin-yoku walk’s objective is to give participants an opportunity to slow down, appreciate things that can only be seen or heard when one is moving slowly, and take a break from the stress of their daily lives. . .”