In Germany however, the idea is far older.
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Forest bathing is a common part of Waldeinsamkeit — although not always in natural lakes. It has its roots in the 19 th century practises of the therapist Sebastian Kneipp, whose methods involved hydrotherapy and forest-bathing a relaxation technique later adopted and popularized as Shinrin-yoku by the Japanese. His idea was that isolating patients in the forest, and suspending them in water would slow down thought-processing and cultivate attention on the mind and body. Alexander Noyon, psychotherapist and Professor at Mannheim University of Applied Sciences, when I speak to him about it over the phone.
If mindfulness is about eliminating distractions, particularly stressful distractions, then the woods are the perfect place to do it. One study from Japan noticed that hiking alone in forests helps reduce stress by lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels. When coupled with mindfulness techniques, research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research noted that those who spent time in forests performed intellectual tests more quickly and effectively.
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They also felt more relaxed and at ease after forest walks than those who walked in an urban environment. Similarly, a study conducted at Stanford found that those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area showed decreased activity in the region of the brain associated with depression.
After a week of Waldeinsamkeit , I not only find myself less stressed, but also about a pound lighter. Tom Burson is an American freelance writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter. Holidays have always meant a change of pace; now you can have a change of face.
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There, the answers I need always come. I was hiking up Rabbit Mountain in Boulder, Colorado, on a chilly spring morning a few years ago.
I was in a particularly painful period of my life, and my mind was storming with thoughts about my stressful corporate job, a family death, and the lack of time I had to take care of myself. I was almost at the top of the mountain when I stumbled upon the remains of a charred tree on the side of the trail.
It stood there in quiet contemplation, as if patiently waiting for a passerby to notice it. Perhaps once beautiful and teeming with lush emerald leaves, it was now shriveled and gnarled, its charcoal flesh leaving a sooty residue at the slightest touch. Upon closer examination, I realized the blackened tree was not alone.
Rather, it was at the forefront of a clearing full of similar-looking trees, likely damaged as the result of a lightning strike or forest fire. Those that lived to tell the tale proudly bared their scorched branches, while the less fortunate lay defeated, their wooden skeletons strewn across the tired patch of land. The scene gave me a distinct feeling of melancholy, yet I strangely found comfort in what I saw. The battlefield before me radiated with the resolved sadness of someone that underwent trauma but emerged from it with a sense of unshakeable peace and strength.
In just a few weeks, the surviving trees that had overcome an event that threatened to damage them would be blooming with flowers. I found solace in the understanding that these trees would be born again.
In that moment, I felt waldeinsamkeit. The encounter with the gnarled tree felt like an invitation to reconnect with myself, to come to peace with and draw strength from my pain. In a world that often brings us difficulties and struggle, there is always opportunity for rebirth.
Upon hearing this story, my German friend — who introduced me to the word — told me that waldeinsamkeit is a catalyst for self-reflection. More than a word, it is a philosophy and can even be considered a spiritual practice.
It is completely normal, he explained, to feel both melancholy and comfort when in that state of awareness. The forest acts as a container, in which we are free to unleash the full spectrum of our emotions without judgment or self-consciousness. Nature has always been a haven for me, a place where I can safely reflect on my deepest emotions and darkest secrets.
There is a sense of liberation in being completely alone in a space and basking in both the pain and pleasure of our own company. Freed from societal pressures, the true self is safe to crawl out and let itself be known.