What is Forest Breathing?
December 3, 2022 • 2 min read
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While many of us have become well-acquainted with slow, earth-based wellness practices such as grounding and forest bathing (shinrin-yoku), forest breathing is another such intentional practice that holds equal importance, helping us to engage our senses for a full-body wellness ritual.
The scents of the forest, of the humus, of the earth awaken and evoke memory within us, reminding us of where we are from. When the smell of plants, trees, shrubs, rain, flowers, roots, grass, soil gets absorbed and hits our olfactory system, we feel it deeply, on a physiological and ancestral level. Seeing as our ancestors, and all human folk, were hunter-gatherers for 99% of human history, we intrinsically have plant-knowing in our bones and in our blood.
This idea really drives home the fact that we are not part of nature, we are nature.
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In Braiding Sweetgrass, one of our all-time favourite reads, author Robin-Wall Kimmerer says: “recent research has shown that the smell of humus exerts a physiological effect on humans. Breathing in the scent of Mother Earth stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, the same chemical that promotes bonding between mother and child, between lovers.”
There’s a deep reason why we feel so good after a walk in the woods, and why sitting on the earth and breathing in the surrounding scents has the ability to calm and soothe us. When we intentionally forest breathe, we’re not just treating our senses to a range of loamy delights, but we’re also consciously placing ourselves at the spring of the greatest oxygen source there is.
In The Overstory, author Richard Powers mentions: “Trees know when we are close by. The chemistry of their roots and the perfumes their leaves pump out change when we’re near…. When you feel good after a walk in the woods, it may be that certain species are bribing you. So many wonder drugs have come from trees, and we haven’t yet scratched the surface of the offerings. Trees have long been trying to reach us. But they speak on frequencies too low for people to hear.”
Western and modern culture heavily relies on the audiovisual – we’re much quicker to notice the change of seasons or the chirping of a nearby bird than we are to engage with the world, nose-first. Using scent as one of our dominant senses can feel quite odd, however in recent years, as a society we’ve become quick to learn just how important and fundamental scent is, especially when faced with the loss of it.
How Do We Forest Breathe?
This is an activity that requires nothing but you and your senses. In a forest, wooded area, earthy expanse, or even your back garden, engage with your surroundings simply by activating your scent receptors. Breathe in the scents around you, and take in the layered smell of the earth. This therapeutic practice can be done when gardening (deeply inhale the handful of dirt before you lay it out on the ground), or any time while outdoors in a nature-dense area. Smell the flowers your neighbour planted, take in the scent of the soil after the rain, be aware of the aroma the autumn leaves emit when walking to work – we can forest breathe anytime we are outside, and the benefits will always be deeply healing.
What are the Benefits of Forest Breathing?
- Resets Your Thoughts (interrupts loops and reoccurring thought patterns if its something people struggle with)
- Regulates Heart Beats
- Calms the Nervous System
- Induces Joy
- Relaxes the Mind and Body
- Improves Mental Clarity
- Aligns the Energy Body – chakras and meridians
- Welcomes a Sense of Belonging
Invite yourself to intentionally use all of your senses as you move through the world, and see how you change when you just follow your nose!
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