Mayumi Kataoka explains the essence of the practice
“I feel it is the subtle combination of the raw colours under the Australian sky that adds a special ethereal quality like no other place. The colours are rich and beautiful and they seem to capture the Australian essence of life. The colours are just magical, a pure balance of simplicity and beauty that is uniquely Australian.” Mayumi Kataoka
Shinrin-yoku means “Forest bathing”. All you do is to visit a natural green area/forest/bush and walk around. See the trees and greens around you, take a deep breath and feel relaxed as if you were soaking in a hot water. Bathing in a hot bath relaxes both your body & mind, and so does the forest.
There are so many hot springs in Japan and the Japanese people love them very much. It’s very much a part of our culture with deep heritage going back hundreds of years. In Japan, when one is stressed, tired and needs some time away, the first thing that comes to the mind is “let’s go to Onsen (hot spring)”. Because most Onsens have an indoor and outdoor bath, where you can view nature, such as forests (mountains), rivers, creek or oceans. This provides us with significant benefits that which make us feel that we are bathing in a natural environment.
With Shinrin-yoku, trees provides fresh oxygen so you can take a deeper breath and the green colours of the leaves sooth your eyes, sounds of birds calm the noise in your head and you feel the breeze on your skin. In a very short time you enter a relaxed state of mind!
There are some points I require for the “Essence of Forest” for Shinrin-yoku.
1. The colour of Green needs to be rich and gentle
2. The forest has a ‘welcoming energy’ with an enough open-air feeling.
3. There is a creek/river (The sound of water is essential.)
4. It is important that the audience will feel “calmness” and “I am in the forest” feeling,
without disturbing by the noise of car/house hold, etc.
5. There is a small picnic area where we can sit and talk.
Okay, let’s talk from the top.
Why green is so important?
The plants and trees in Australia are very different from those in Japan. In fact, the varying colours of green are different. The vivid surreal green of plants and trees in Japan are so vibrant that they are almost overwhelming to the eyes, especially during the early summer. In Australia the colours a different but equally beautiful.
Once you start feeling this “colour sensation”, feeling the depth of the vivid colourful palette, you are then experiencing the art of Shinrin-yoku in the forest.
In Australian bush, majority of trees in a bush/forests are Eucalyptus trees. They are tall and it’s quite difficult to see the leafy part of the tree since its canopy is much higher than your height. What you normally see is the trunk of the tree, which is the colour of brown so you need to look up.
But rainforests are different. The height of plants and trees are not so tall and the colours are much richer. So as soon as you walk into the rainforest, you are surrounded by foliage that help your mind to relax.
The colour of Green will instantly make your mind calmer.
Why “welcoming energy” is important?
Simply because when the forest looks somewhat dark and there are far too many plants and trees that are gathered together, you will not get that special feeling of ‘calmness’ and ‘tranquillity’ but the opposite in fact. This crowded feeling prevents you from truly connecting with the forest. So I spend the time and energy at the entrance of a forest to ensure that the forest “welcomes you” with an invitation of calm and peaceful beauty.
Open space will broaden your mind.
Why the water is important?
Our body has around 60 to 70% of water. This fluid travels around our body like a flow of river. This creates a unique “rhythm” within our body. According to research, when our body’s rhythm is synchronised with the rhythm of the environment that surrounds us, we feel “comfortable”. Humans feel “relaxed” when they are near water, like the ocean, the rivers/creeks. This is because our rhythm is in sync with the rhythm of the water. Our body intuitively understands this feeling. So water elements are essential for the Shinrin-yoku walk. Also, listening to the sound of water deeply relaxes you.
Sounds of water and seeing water makes you relaxed.
Why the “calmness” and “I am in the forest”-feeling is important?
We all know what is like to experience the chaotic and busy life, especially in the city. We are surrounded by a host of influences that drain our energy. Therefore It is important to feel that you are enjoying your own space and develop an close connection with forest to calm your mind.
Do nothing particular but wondering around.
Why having a picnic area is important?
Having a picnic area allows us to sit and talk each other over a nice cup of tea and snack after the walk! Tea and snacks after the walk is refreshing and fun!
In conclusion, these five points summarise the important elements of the Shinrin-yoku walk.
Your own personal experience may allow you to discover different essence that are important to you!
Mayumi Kataoka is a Sydney based photographer. Originally born in Japan, Mayumi moved to Sydney in 2003 after falling in love with Australia when working as a volunteer for the Sydney 2000 Olympic games.
Mayumi’s experience of life in Japan has been the greatest influence on her work. She always attempts to express Japanese themes into her photography and at times these themes are very subtle.
Mayumi has been developing her photography skills to capture the Australian native plants – especially Eucalyptus and other trees. The raw and unique beauty of Eucalyptus trees represents the quintessential Australian landscape and greatly inspires her photographic works.
All photos are courtesy of ORGANIC photography by Mayumi Kataoka