It's been about three weeks since we've been indoors. Most of us are still leaving the house to go to work or to do our essential errands. We are uber aware of washing, sanitizing, and keeping our distance.
That said, about a week ago, the clerk at the local grocery store thanked me. She told me she appreciated me for buying a lot of groceries at one time. "Some of these people want to get outside. They are buying one item at a time. Coming every day. What about our safety?" She was right. Many folks are getting antsy. They are seeking ways to escape from the confines of their homes. But you all our essential workers are getting sick - some even dying. And we already see significant race gaps in our COVID-19 deaths. Black people are getting the virus and dying at higher levels.
We have to be careful about our escapism, causing harm to others. And so here is my suggestion: Go Forest Bathing (Shinrin-Yoku). Now is the time to visit your local forest, the woods, your tree-lined outdoor trail.
Y'all, we have to shift our thinking from moving from one indoor area to another indoor area. What I mean is that although most of us are "sick" of being at home. We are not sick of being indoors. Typically, we get outside of our homes. To get in a car. To then go indoors. I'm suggesting that we start to get out of our homes to be outside.
Even now, the average American spends 93 percent of the time indoors, and some ten hours a day on social media—more than they spend asleep. -Karen Evans, Greater Good Magazine
Benefits of Forest bathing during Corona:
Out in nature.
You can keep a distance from others.
You are still following government restrictions.
You are not at home.
You are not stationary.
You are not jeopardizing essential workers.
You are getting your work out.
I suggest bringing a family member, partner, spouse, child(ren), or an animal with you. And remember, all the same rules apply — distance, sanitation, and being aware of your surroundings.
Shinrin-yoku translated as forest bathing.
“The best way to deal with stress at work is to go for a forest bath. I go for shinrin-yoku every lunchtime. You don’t need a forest; any small green space will do. Leave your cup of coffee and your phone behind and just walk slowly. You don’t need to exercise, you just need to open your senses to nature. It will improve your mood, reduce tension and anxiety, and help you focus and concentrate for the rest of the day.” ― Qing Li, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness
Qing Li is my personal go-to for all information on forest bathing. He studies forest medicine in Japan. Which, as a city dweller (Toyoko is one of the world's most crowded cities) means a lot. I would love to walk in my (imaginary) family's 100 acres, but we live in an apartment right on the intersection of two traffic prone bustling roads. But in every city (that I've lived), there are tree-lined spaces, albeit many of them very small.
But y'all, spending time in a forest can reduce anger, strengthen the immune system, and improve cardiovascular and metabolic health.
Is there a better time to seek out these spaces (at off-peak times)? The key to reducing fatigue (a benefit of forest bathing vs. walking) are the trees. Witnessing komorebi (sunlight through the trees) is critical. Think forest therapy.
Forest Bathing, Therapy, Shinrin-Yoku, and Witnessing Komorebi
Whatever you want to call it. The key is to be in a tree-lined area - preferably a forest. I use BE specifically. It's not meant to run, hike, listen to your favorite jams, or talk continuously. It's about simply being in the forest.
Summarized suggestions for forest bathing (from forest therapist, online academic articles, and Li's book):
Get rid of emotional goals. Don't have a set physical destination. Allow the moment - your senses to guide where you walk, what you do.
Check your motivation: This is for mental and physical health, but NOT for exercise. And it's especially NOT for weight loss.
Turn off your phone.
Choose the right companion - bring someone that is aligned with you on the mission of this time.
Be willing to spend at least 20 minutes in the forest. Li suggests four hours, but 20 min. is the minimum
Find your flow - shade, direct sunlight, sitting on a rock, a yoga mat
During COVID-19, taking care of yourself is a MUST. There are far too many people relying on each of us. Our families, our essential workers, our healthcare system, our co-workers, and our neighbors are counting on us to take the best possible care of ourselves, keep a proper distance, and stay mentally well. We have to stay indoors as long as we can, but when we need to get out - go OUTSIDE.
Shalom, my friends.