Have you noticed the colorful dance of the dying leaves happening out there? Dropping right in front of you on the sidewalk by the subway stairs, reminding you that hellish commuting nightmares and beautiful glimpses of nature co-exist in this city? I will assume you have noticed, and that you may even want more, so here is what I propose we all do this week as we begin a quick exit from peak foliage season:
- Pick a park. There are around 28,000 acres of municipal parkland in New York City, but you're going to want to pick on a park that's big enough to get lost in.
- Bundle up. It's cold out there; currently, Friday looks like the best day to be outdoors.
- Walk around. Preferably you will do this alone, in silence, without checking the time or your phone. Alternatively, ask your quietest friend to join you.
- What I'm saying is, bathe in the forest. Take it a step further with some forest bathing—heard of it? It may sound like some shit an intern at GOOP came up with, but it's older than the recent wellness trends.
Shinrin-yoku means "taking in the forest atmosphere," or, put more simply, "forest bathing." The practice is as old as the trees, but was developed and officially recognized in Japan in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture. Since then it "has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine." Researchers have "established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest" (reduced stress and blood pressure, improved sleep and mood, a boosted immune system, to name a few). Listen to science (and also New York State, which promotes the stress-relieving, health-improving practice).
If you want some guidance, there are even forest therapists (you'll probably need to head upstate and shell out some cash for that). Explaining this kind of guided experience, NPR's Allison Aubrey offered up this takeaway: "It's not a bath... It's not a hike, either. We did walk the forest trails, but we meandered with no particular destination in mind. The aim of forest bathing is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment... tune in to the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest."
So, you get the idea, once you have found your forest atmosphere, you can do any number of things: exercise, meditate, plant and bird watch, paint, walk around, stare into the distance... just tap into the quiet and make sure to take some deep breaths and remain present. Maybe even be a little grateful you get to experience this? Those forests help us, and they may not be around forever (unless we do the right thing). Listen, I'm not saying you have to hug the forest, but you're kind of an asshole if you don't?
Get inspired with these photos from Jake Dobkin, who took it all in at Prospect Park over the weekend.