If there’s one place on earth where you can abandon yourself to the soul-stirring sensory delights of shinrin-yoku, it’s the remote Himalayan enclaves of Bhutan, the greenest country in the world.
The Japanese form of ecotherapy or forest bathing, shinrin-yoku, is a physiological and psychological exercise, which involves a short gentle walk in the woods. Its therapeutic benefits are multi-fold when it comes to our health and mental well-being. As you lose yourself in the pleasures of this sensory journey, you’ll discover how effective it is in reducing stress and mental fatigue. A walk in a pine forest, for example, allows you to soak in phytoncides, or essential oils the pine trees emit. While these actually help protect the tree from germs and parasites, they also soothe our nerves and enhance our mood as they reduce cortisol levels.
Ditch your I Phones and work log book. Instead, concentrate on the inner you and what this very special experience will mean for you. Switch to slow mode. Forest bathing is all about tuning out of the clamor of your everyday world and learning to relax and reconnect with nature. It’s about immersing yourself in this forested environment and schooling yourself to linger and appreciate nature. It’s the perfect time to activate all your senses to be mindfully aware of the sights, sounds, and scents you encounter on the walk.
Bhutan with its 70% of forest cover and ability to absorb more carbon dioxide than it produces, is a Shangri-la for profoundly mindful forest bathing experiences. Whether it’s the verdant environs around Thimphu, the gorgeous vistas of Gangtey, or Bumthang, visitors have choices aplenty for forest therapy experiences to be facilitated conveniently.
Join a mushroom foraging experience at Genekha village near Thimphu if you are there around the annual mushroom festival during the second week of August; in Bumthang Ura celebrates the Matsutake Mushroom festival in the third or fourth week of August. Villagers camp out in the forest, sometimes for a month, to collect these exotic culinary delicacies, but you can take a short walk and totally immerse yourself in the colors, textures, and scents of the mushrooms that sprout in the forests in the rainy season. It also provides an excellent opportunity to bathe in the ‘forest air’, your senses alert to all that’s happening around you in this therapeutic environment.
Whether you go in for a structured sensory excursion with a naturalist, or have it customized specially for you, you can indulge in a forest bathing experience even in the green lung in the heart of a city. The entire exercise is about spending quality time with nature for a stress-busting experience with many benefits.