Shinrin Yoku: Forest Bathing Explained By Katriina Kilpi

Katriina and I crossed paths through my blog, and she quietly stayed in the corner of my Facebook chat, until one day, fate led us to talking. I found out that Katriina is a Forest Bathing Guide. Sounds fancy? I know! Now, I’m going to dive straight into our conversation and let you learn from the source.

Note that this discussion is the outcome of an hour-long Zoom call with Katriina, so I’m putting together her resources in a series of posts. And all the images used in this article are contributed by Katriina herself, from her wondrous musings in the the beautiful forests of Finland.

So Katriina, what is forest bathing, how do you see it?

Forest Bathing is a concept that originated in Japan, and was called Shinrin Yoku.

The Japanese saw people getting really stressed and they knew intuitively that being in nature is really good for you. They love going out into nature, and even their religion, shinto, has animistic qualities.

Forest bathing could be likened to sunbathing  – everyone has their own preferences and ways of doing it but the idea and goal is the same. The practice came into culmination in the 80’s. Someone picked it up in the west about five years ago, and it became really popular. Nature became very “trendy”.

forest bathing, nature, forest therapy, self care,
And what I think is pretty interesting is that elsewhere as well, people started creating similar approaches, combining nature and mindfulness.

A case in point, my friends Ian Bayard from the UK with Natural Mindfulness, Sirpa Arvonen from Finland with Forest Mind and Nitin Das with Healing Forest from India. And of course, Amos Clifford from The USA with Forest Therapy.

I’m not sure what channels all these people were listening to but around 2014 things started popping up. And I too was getting laid off in 2015 and felt like I finally needed to get started with my passion.

The time had come for me to get back to nature. I just didn’t yet know how exactly I was going to get started. So I did a bit of everything: Forest Mind, Skogsmulle, nature guide certifications. And then some.

The conversations that I’ve had with the Japanese people (commoners and researchers) leads me to the conclusion that it all comes down to using your senses to experience the forest.

In the last 3 years many books have been written. As one of the great resources to educate yourselves on the subject, you can also explore Dr Qing Lee’s work, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health & Happiness.

So, as a beginning point, understand that it’s done for the goal of relaxation, and in the west its become more pronounced about nature connection as it has got mixed with ecotherapy.  

Forest bathing allows you to see the miraculous beauty in the small. It’s another mechanism of forest bathing where it works like mini-meditation. You’re being very mindful when you pause everything and try what a leaf feels like, or the tree bark.

forest therapy, forest healing, nature, katriina kilpi, finland forests

The Japanese concept is quite broad, which really speaks to me. My intuition says that when you try to limit it and say it has to be done in a certain way, you lose authenticity and intuition. You lose something that comes from the heart of the people.

Some people bring their druidry into forest bathing. Some incorporate flower essence in their work. And some use this work as relational ecotherapy, for healing. The core remains in connecting with the forest.

You’re lucky to experience forests in such an organic way! Many of us are surrounded by a concrete jungle. Then how can we “work with the small” when living in a crowded metropolis?

There’s something there, there’s something in it, which is why small pockets are planted. They know it works, they just don’t realize why.

I once gave a lecture to a landscaping firm based in New York City, they wanted to bring forest bathing to small spaces. It’s about facilitating the opportunity to immerse yourself in the forest atmosphere.

To create the feeling you are in it, experiencing it with all your senses. You need to be able to interact with your surroundings. There are even virtual applications that attempt to do the same, and these can be used in hospitals and in other institutionalized settings. 

In these “made up” forest bathing spaces, you will do well if you manage to attract life there through the use of flowering plants.  The variation of structures, heights of plants, and colours will stimulate you and you might want to look closer.

forest therapy, forest bathing,
Something you can smell, something you can see, something you can touch, something you can interact. Probably biodiversity is one of the secret ingredients. There is indication that people prefer biodiverse surroundings for restoration.

Belgium talks about food forests, it helps you stimulate taste buds to experience nature through shrubs, berries, apple-picking and so on.

I would LOVE to be a part of a food forest trail! But it makes me wonder, are there any ethics for forest bathing? We don’t really want to leave an imprint, do we.

Yes, think from a person’s point of view, and the forest’s point of view.

If you go with a group, they are typically group events, you have to draw the line, how many people can go because you leave a trace.

You should be able to sit alone and get off the ‘track’. You’re in the vicinity of a guide but you should have an alone experience. But as you do that, you leave a trace, so you want to be mindful. 

And think of the seasons. In spring, a lot of species are nesting, so some sections should be avoided, keep it quiet.

I always tell this to people, don’t take anything that’s growing. Treat yourself as a visitor. Even if you see a lose item, like a pine cone or a stone hat you would like to take along, ask yourself if you really need to take it with you.

It is part of the lifecycle of the forest and the forest has its use for it. Of course, a souvenir now and then that helps you to remember the experience you had, is perfectly okay. This is something Vasundhra uses for Art Therapy too.

That makes sense. And is forest bathing for everyone? Are there groups that are not benefitted?

Mindfulness may not be a good fit for everyone. Here’s a conversation that Vasundhra and Clayton did on the subject, of what that means.

Or if you’re guiding groups who might not be that used to the forest, I might ease them into it.  Whenever you are dealing with groups with special needs, you should be mindful about your own skills as a guide.

Although you can never fully prepare for everything, the guide needs to take their responsibility and know what kind of groups they are able to guide.  Being trauma-informed would be an asset.

When we go in nature, what is made loose in us is surprising. Natural environment is always a powerful partner. Due to my limited skills, I focus on health promotion and relaxation, but you want to gauge how deep you want to take the group.
shrubs, bushes, food forest, forest baths

For people that have trauma connected specifically to the forest, you have to be the most mindful. But they’re probably not the first ones to sign up.

And in your advertisement, you should be clear on what you’re doing, what to expect, etc, and that YOU ARE NOT a therapist (unless you actually are a licensed therapist). 

Especially during this pandemic, mental health problems are skyrocketing so you need to be prepared for more anxiety and related challenges. Though forest bathing has been shown to alleviate mental health problems, as a guide, it’s important to communicate clearly  that this is not a therapy session, unless you have the clinical background for that.

Thank you, that’s an informative way to approach any healing modality, really. My next question is, can you do this without a guide?

Yes! You can’t do it wrong. I like to say, if there’s a place you’re familiar with, that’s the best place to go. For self care, you should go to a forest or natural place you’re comfortable in. There’s no surprises there and that automatically drops off the nervous element so that you’re able to just be there with the pure experience.

When you’re there, you can go through the all the senses and interact with the forest through your eyes, ears, smell and so on. Concentrate on each sense for as long as you feel called to, and see what comes up for you.

People might have one strong dominating sense. For me its my sense of smell, and that leads me in forest walks. Of course all senses work in unison, but some people might be more lead by one sense than others.

Also, some days when I feel like I need to ground myself, I tend to want to touch things a lot. Or go lie down on the ground. So it depends on your mood and state as well from day to day. You might discover where you get most memories and reactions in the forest. 

You can even try forest bathing in your backyard or in a park.

Katriina shares tons of educated insights in her book, which you can learn immensely from and use for your own forest bathing experience.

Curious to try out Forest Bathing for yourself? Here’s a beautiful example.

Katriina put together this video just for us! You can see her passion through and through her sharings on this blog and the video. Do drop her a comment in the section below and give her some love 🙂

To be continued….

Like I said, this conversation is extracted from an hour-long discussion on forest bathing. So it seemed like a good idea to create a series of articles, touching on different aspects of forest bathing.

I am leaving you with these resources for now, but just know that in the upcoming discussion, we’re taking things even deeper! She’ll be unpacking questions like getting lost on a forest walk, learning about forest therapy, rekindling the lost art of Japan, her forest bathing story, and much more. Stay tuned 🙂

to be continued sigange

Katriina Kilpi
Katriina Kilpi

Katriina is a Forest Bathing Guide, originally from Finland living in Belgium, who is deeply passionate about nature connection. She continues to inspire countless individuals through all her environmental-related projects, keeps looking for ways for the world to get back to Mother Nature.

3 Unique Things To Do at Mcleodganj for Lazy Travellers

The lazy traveller’s guide for Mcleodganj, home to countless Tibetan Buddhists.

Mcleodganj became an immersive and life-changing experience for us, simply because my friend and I were too lazy. Ironically, I feel like I should proactively talk about this, because it’s turned out to be such a good thing!

#1 – Stay at a Monastery Guesthouse

After a steady 30-minute uphill climb from the bus stand, we found our way to the backside of our hotel. The entrance was blocked by huge hoardings all over the floor, that said ‘welcome’. Not very welcoming, to be honest.

With not a single person in sight to ask for directions, and not knowing what else to do, our first idea was to move some of the hoardings out of the way, and try getting in. But quickly, it became quite obvious, when we saw a few uprooted plant pots and unmanned doors, that the hotel had actually been ghosted. Had OYO conned us?

We then did something more sensible and called the hotel’s reception. So apparently, the actual hotel was another 20 minutes away and Google Maps had played a prank on us. This was a relief, as you can imagine. And so, we began to walk some more.

On the way upwards, we noticed an elderly Buddhist nun trekking down from a monastery. She looked at us with a huge, angelic smile and blew a flying kiss as well. As a stronger believer of ‘signs’, we figured that we’re meant to visit the monastery.

IMG_20181124_110115
Nyingma Monastery, en-route Mcleodganj to Bhagsunag

As soon as we reached the road that led up to our hotel, we knew it was going to be impossible. A car had just barely managed to climb that dirt road, its engine desperately vroom-vrooming its way up. We turned around and rushed back to the monastery. And they gladly took us in!

Our stay at the monastery guesthouse was actually quite humbling. The room compromised simply of two twin beds, and a wooden chair. The bathroom was to be shared between all the other rooms on that floor.

We were also blessed with a perfect view of sunrise, sunset and stargazing from a giant window in our room, that looked into the world. The monastery itself was minimalistic and gorgeous. Not to forget, it was unbelievably inexpensive. Just 200 INR!

TAKEAWAY : Book a hotel that allows free-cancellation, because it may not be located where the map says so, and you might find something more soulful, like staying with the monks.

#2 – DON’T Follow a Checklist of Things to Do at Mcleodganj

We went with a list of 5 ‘Must-Try’ Cafes, and we happened to visit all ZERO of them. I have no clue if Shiva Café is overrated or not, simply because we never made it that far up!

IMG_20181124_125958
Other Lazy Travelers on the way to Shiva Cafe

Also, again thanks to Google Maps, we never reached Namgyal Café because the cafe has been relocated, but hasn’t been ‘mapped’ yet. Also, none of the locales seemed to know its exact whereabouts, and we ofcourse were too lazy to try finding it out on our own.

TAKEAWAY : Mcleodganj cafes serve better food than Zomato reviewers claim. All 6 of our meals ended up at underrated and sometimes non-digitally-existant places. Because these places are so good, I decided to talk more about them in another blog. Stay tuned!

#3 – Meet the Dalai Lama

We happened to visit the Dalai Lama Monastery when his Holiness was visiting. The streets outside the complex were packed with anticipating travelers and monks, beautiful decorations and chatter. You might have guessed by now how lazy we are, and after about 90 seconds of sincerity and patience, we decided to enter the premise anyway.

IMG_20181125_130454
Tibetan Monks waiting with flower bouquets awaiting the arrival of his Holiness, Dalai Lama

What we found then, was a completely quiet and empty monastery! Almost everyone was outdoors, waiting for his Holiness to arrive; save a few security personnel and monks on duty inside.

We were thus able to stroll around at our leisure pace, taking our time to soak in the monastery’s vibe and chuckle at the Choco-Pies and Real Juice bottles offered to the Buddha deities within the temple. How times have changed!

Did we finally get a glimpse of his Holiness? Nope. People were still waiting for him when we came back outside. Not as a sign of disrespect, but sheer laziness, we slowly walked ourselves away from the golden opportunity.

TAKEAWAY : I admit that we probably missed a lot of things that Mcleodganj is most known for. But we discovered a lot of underrated things that you won’t, unless you’re lazy too!

One thing we did do quite enthusiastically, was reach out to the locales and understand their lives. What we found out through these discussions was life-changing, and might be worth your time too. Watch this space for that post!

-*-*-*-

Pin for Pinterest :

Buddhism in Mcleodganj

Aruna Nagar : A Kin to Buddhism

Here’s everything about Buddhism you can look forward to exploring at Delhi’s Tibetan colony, Aruna Nagar.

The Aruna Nagar colony in New Delhi is home to Tibetan Refugees, and might be the closest you can get to experiencing the vibe of Buddhism in our country’s capital.

Here, it is not uncommon to find monks peacefully walking about the gullies, and locals chanting on their beads as they sit outside their houses. In general, the people here seem more humble, and much more slowed down than the contrasting roads running parallel to the colony.

My friend and I paid a visit on a hot summer day, and the first thing I can tell you is – the temperature levels of the colony drops down significantly as soon as you enter!

Getting There

There’s no point going by your own vehicle because you’ll have to walk a long way from wherever you get parking space.

A tried and tested way is take the Yellow Line Metro till Vidhan Sabha Station. And then, take an e-rikshaw, which will drop you at the entry point of the main market gully. You will need to walk inwards to reach the main market, so it’s better that you ask for directions from here, because the GPS doesn’t really help in the tight gullies.

Things to do

The major highlights of a visit here would comprise of exploring the Korean and Tibetan teas and cuisines at various Cafes (which are by the way, REALLY good); shopping at the cultural stalls and stores; visiting the Monastery; and checking out the bookstore which specializes in books on Buddhism.

Shubh Arambh’ with Food

The Buddhist Monastery is built in a small, undisturbed corner without much tourist movement. It didn’t feel proper to be clicking pictures, so taking a quick look from the outside, we proceeded into the main market.

And by the time we reached, it was well into lunch-time, so we headed straight for food!

  • Kori’s Café

A quaint little café, with a Korean menu and a large selection of herbal teas. Compared to the other cafés, it looked like this place was more frequented by the locals, perhaps because of the different cuisine type. Being vegetarians, my friend and I were surprised that the options were still decent – they had a veg alternative to almost everything on the menu! Here’s what we tried :

  • Bibimbap Hot Stone Pot – Full points for presentation! The Bibimbap sauce is the key flavor in this concoction of rice and steamed vegetables. I’ll admit – it does take a bit to get used to the taste. You’ll either love it, or will have to brave through it. I personally enjoyed it.
  • Veg Shin Ramen Noodles – Very light on flavors and a hearty bowl of ramen and veggies. You can ask for something more dense on spices, if you’d prefer.
  • Solomon’s Seal Tea – Very, very subtle flavor. If you didn’t drink it with some focused attention on the taste, you’d probably mistake it as drinking warm water.
  • AMA’s Café

This place is famous for its desserts. And by the looks of the tables around us, pizza too! We tried out (from most to least favorite) :

  • Affogato
    Why this is delicious – one, they serve a generous serving of ice cream. And two, they serve the coffee base on the side. Pour at your convenience! It’s not a pre-prepared concoction.
  • Mud Pie
    Surprisingly lighter than the usual mud pies! A safe-side kind of option.
  • AMA Café’s Special Tibetan Cake (savory)
    Warning : This is not for the faint-hearted. With a very strong flavor, it was difficult to swallow even one bite of it. The waiters warned us but we dared try anyway.

My Shopping Haul (sort of)

There are stalls lined up, as well as permanent shops. From the stalls, you can expect to get clothes, beads, souvenirs and a tad bit of stuff here and there. I’d recommend stepping into the shops instead, which aren’t that expensive either.

Here are the key things I explored and learned about:

  • Singing Bowls – These are great for meditation, and the shop owners are polite enough to teach you how to use them. It can be quite fascinating, as a very small bowl is capable of producing an amazing resonance! I had no luck working the bowls on my own, so I resolved to come back next time and try again.
  • Incense Sticks – Quite different (and better) from the commercial ones in various areas. The entire stick is flammable, and quite thick. I’ve tried a few from the pack, and they have a mild, natural scent in contrast to the artificial, overbearing commercial ones. Also – the smoke isn’t as overpowering either. I got the whole gift box for only Rs. 80!
  • Prayer Flags – inscribed with the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”, their vibrant colors add great personality to bed headboards and car backseats.
  • Tibetan Bells – You could go for the hanging type, used like a wind-chime, or the dorje kind, that you can use during prayer.
  • Prayer Wheel – it’s believed that spinning the wheel, which too is inscribed with the “Om Mani Padme Hum” mantra is as good as chanting the mantra out-loud.
prayer-flags-669327_1920

The Tibetan colony is rather unfrequented, and while I rejoice in sharing this place with you, I hope that any of us that visit respect the culture and maintain a kind attitude to help preserve this place’s uniqueness. 🙂

My friend and I also visited another Buddhist place, Mcleodganj. We had a curious experience there, read this post to have a chuckle at us!

-*-*-*-

Pin for Pinterest :

Buddhism in Aruna Nagar Pin for Pinterest