The Best Of Hong Kong
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By Leanne Mirandilla | June 26th, 2020

Amanda Yik is the founder of Shinrin Yoku Hong Kong and a professional forest therapy guide. If you’ve never heard of shinrin yoku — “forest bathing” in Japanese — or forest therapy, it’s the practice of immersing oneself in nature in order to reap the ensuing wellness benefits. Still lost? Yik explains how the practice works and how it can enrich your life.

A Little Background

Former commercial lawyer and NGO manager Yik was enamored with nature and the outdoors since she was young. As an adult, she enjoyed activities such as outrigger canoe paddling, hiking and dragon boating. But she didn’t discover forest bathing until 2014, when she was grappling with ovarian cancer. During her two years of treatment, she found that spending time in a nearby park was one of the highlights of her days. The obvious next step was to share what she’d found with others, so she joined US organization Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs’s six-month guide training, and soon Shinrin Yoku Hong Kong was born.

5 Things You Should Know About Forest Bathing, According to Amanda Yik

1. There’s something for everyone

The fundamental value [of forest therapy is] that we are part of nature and we are nature, such that immersing ourselves in nature is really the most natural thing to do as human beings. It’s also a practice that is very accessible. Unlike meditation or yoga the practice does not require any training. People of almost all fitness levels or facing different medical conditions can forest bathe. I’ve offered forest therapy to a variety of communities — the elderly, special needs children and their parents, retirees, cancer patients, people with depression and anxiety, people with addiction issues, caring professionals, carers. The oldest person I have guided is 93! 

2. It’s good for your body and mind

Needless to say, it has multiple benefits for time-poor, stressed-out urbanites who suffer from one ailment to another, at least partly due to the absence of nature in our lives. Research shows that forest therapy is effective in uplifting our moods, strengthening our immune systems and lowering stress and stress-related symptoms like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and immune disorders. It is also shown to assist in combating cancer. Being in nature also makes us more creative, productive, and more able to focus and solve problems. Basically, when we live in an intense place like Hong Kong where everything happens and changes so quickly, being in nature is an incredibly simple yet potent antidote.

3. Not a hike, not a nature walk — but something else entirely

Forest therapy isn’t a hike because there’s no designated destination as you would usually have in a hike. We don’t cover a lot of miles, so it’s physically much less demanding. Sometimes we don’t even travel at all and just stay in one spot. It’s not a naturalistic walk, either, because the guide’s role is not to introduce the flora and fauna. Sometimes we do, but that’s not the purpose. As guides, we create a space where participants are encouraged to move from a place of “doing” to “being”, temporarily leaving behind the busyness of everyday life and returning to our body, our extensive palette of senses, our heart. It’s an intentional and conscious immersion in nature that gives space to our nervous system to reset and refresh. It’s also a process of remembering that we are nature in an embodied way. Sometimes people say it reminds them of mindfulness. In the forest therapy world we like to call it “bodyfulness”. For me personally forest therapy is a deeply relaxing somatic and connective experience.

4. What to expect from a forest therapy session

A guided forest therapy session is typically two to three hours long. We begin with an introduction to what forest therapy is and the location we are in. Then we spend some time noticing our body and our sensory experience of the place — a process of returning to our body and the present moment. Oftentimes we then take a slow walk through the woods, noticing motions and rhythms, before we dive deeper into our connection with nature. As guides we offer what we call “invitations” to participants for them to savor our time in nature. These invitations are different every time depending on the location, the weather, the seasons and the group’s needs. To end the session, we offer a simple but beautiful tea ceremony where we all come together to share our experience. 

5. Keep these tips in mind

It sounds very cliche, but slowing down is the best way to forest bathe. Interestingly, I often hear participants say that slowing down was the hardest part for them, which is not surprising given the fast pace of city life. But when we briskly walk through the woods we miss out on all the treasures along the way. Switching off the phone helps to disengage our busy minds. Returning to our five senses — smell, hearing, touch, taste and sight — is an easy anchor that most people can understand and practice. Silence is a key ingredient, so if you are out with friends, you can invite everyone to stay silent for some time and simply take in the sounds of nature. 

Looking toward the future?

Increasingly forest therapy is being promoted as a healthcare intervention and in some places like the US, the UK and Australia, doctors are even “prescribing nature” to their patients, as research shows how clearly beneficial spending time in nature is as both a preventative and complementary health and wellness measure. Nature prescription has been named as one of the top wellness trends in 2019. In Hong Kong, I’ve been involved in efforts in promoting forest therapy as a health promotion measure, and hopefully in the near future we will see those initiatives being rolled out.

From our Hot Seat series.