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How the Japanese practice of forest bathing helps Candice Kumai stay grounded


Candice Kumai writes about forest bathing. Pin It
Photos: Candice Kumai
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When it comes to wellness, chef and best-selling cookbook author Candice Kumai doesn’t just talk the talk—she walks the walk, literally. As a practitioner of shinrin yoku (AKA forest bathing), the Japanese tradition of spending time in a green space, the Well+Good Council member has seen her life change simply by surrounding herself with nature. Here, she explains how it and her Japanese heritage keep her balanced and centered.  

You’ll often hear me talk about my adoration and geeky love for hiking within forests, between the trees, and through the woods. I’ve felt connected to this practice for as long as I can remember. My mom, who’s Japanese, started to take me to Japan when I was a small, five-year-old kindergartener. The quiet bamboo forests, the walks in the parks, the appreciation of taking care of nature, the hanami flower viewing: It all found a place in my heart. It’s now an honor and a pleasure to be sharing my heritage with each of you, as a form of Japanese inspiration.

My life’s greatest healer (and I’m still working on it!) is nature, along with my heritage. This gift of shinrin yoku, even when I was at my lowest of lows, is the gift of being able to walk within the trees. It was, and is, what heals me. I know myself better when I come back from a hike, for my soul has been cleansed and my spirit renewed.

Here, I’d like to share the history of Japanese forest bathing, how it’s changed my life, and could potentially do the same for you.

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What is shinrin yoku? (森林浴, しんりんよく)

You know that moment when you’re hiking in peace, and you can feel your soul and heart beating with bliss? That’s shinrin yoku. The Japanese feel as if they’re part of nature; they feel as if they’re one with nature when they connect back to the woods. What a soothing and spiritually deep practice for us to engage in and to connect back to our roots, to feel more energy, more love, more light. 

Shinrin yoku, which translates to “forest bathing,” is the Japanese practice of walking through a forest to clean your soul and to cleanse your spirit. No sweat, no trail running—simply contemplation between the trees. Shinrin yoku isn’t a brisk hike; it’s a slower-paced walk. It’s about observing and being aware of what is surrounding us.

Forest bathing has been shown to boost both physical and mental health.

In 1982, Japan incorporated shinrin yoku into its national public health program in hopes of improving the overall health of the country. Since the early eighties, researchers at the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture (which coined the phrase) have been studying the practice for both its physical and psychological benefits. Forest bathing has been shown to boost both physical and mental health. It provides a wealth of benefits that range from strengthening one’s immunity to stress reduction. In fact, a small study showed that some trees release oils called phytoncides into the air, which may help to relieve stress.

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Candice Kumai encourages forest bathing with friends.

How shinrin yoku’s shaped my life

One time, to heal my heart, my best friends in San Francisco took me forest bathing in Muir Woods. Another time, I climbed Mount Fuji in Japan all by myself for two days. My sister and I hiked Mount Kōyasan, among the monks and the precious temples (um, and apparently bears, too).

I recently got to hike The Gorge with my posse in Portland and the Wildwood Trail with my bestie Kristin in Oregon, a day before the forest fires broke out this past summer. I hiked the mountains and temples of Shikoku Island with my Japanese elders—they showed me respect and to honor my heritage.

To heal my heart, my best friends in San Francisco took me forest bathing in Muir Woods.

Most recently, my friend Angela and I took a “forest bathing day” in Stinson Beach, California, located an hour away from San Francisco. (Angela, who’s been my dear friend for over a decade, and her hiking-master husband, Yarrow, have a forest bathing retreat, The Coast Ridge, in Stinson Beach.) There, I stopped to touch the natural stone, I admired the aging and wise trees, and I graced the presence of the growing and abundant moss. We stopped to take deep breaths and to share how we were feeling. Our mutual adoration of nature, hiking, and the bliss between the trees has only made us closer—even though we’re on other sides of the country.

In all of these cases, what some may deem as simple “hiking” is not so. Forest bathing helped to kintsugi (“golden repair” in Japanese) my heart. Conversations blossomed. It showed me who I was outside of the city and off the insanity of social media. Deep breaths among the trees, the fresh oxygen, the great love the forest gives back to us—all of it gave me life.

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What can shinrin yoku do for you?

If you are feeling stuck, lost, hurt, afraid, or defeated, shinrin yoku can cleanse you and touch upon your deepest and most spiritual needs. This is a simple, refreshing, and easy practice that allows you to reboot, clear the air, and heal. So begin planning your next hit of oxygen, lay your eyes on some greenery, and welcome back nature’s serenity.

Sometimes we’re in the forest, and all we can see are the trees—much like how we’re in the city, and all we can see are the buildings. By stepping away from the suffocating, non-stop pace of life, we can become observers from the outside. I find the simple, traditional Japanese practices that my ancestors shared with me, like shinrin yoku, are the most cathartic of all. No nonsense, no trends, no bullshit to showcase—just going back to the practices of my elders.

Forest bathing is a practice for you to reconnect with yourself and your mindful, grateful spirit. Be good to yourself and your beautiful mind/body. You’ll soon be able to walk out of the forest and see all the trees. Now, go plan your next adventure through the woods, nourish your free spirit, and open your heart to nature’s best medicine.  

Besides having serious wellness cred, Candice Kumai is a classically trained chef, regular contributor on E! News and The Dr. Oz Show, and has served as a judge on Iron Chef America and Beat Bobby FlayShe’s currently writing her sixth book, on Japanese wellness, Kintsugi Wellness, which drops spring 2018. 

What should Candice write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to [email protected]