Shinrin-Yoku: The Art of Slowing Down

If my day went as planned, I’d probably record the unofficial slowest known time (SKT) to get anywhere in Seattle’s Discovery Park. I had no phone, nowhere to go and two hours to get there. I wondered, in a culture that celebrates speed, is there still time for slowness?

I was practicing Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for “forest bathing:” the practice of moving slowly in nature, using all five senses. I’m no stranger to the benefits of being outside, but I’d never gone outside to bathe in it. Contrary to what the word bathe suggests and unlike the long list of outdoor activities that are accompanied by technical gear, guidebooks and distance traveled, Shinrin-yoku looks and feels a lot more like standing around.

It turns out standing around was actually harder than I thought. I began to notice my thoughts: Am I doing this right? Am I going too fast? Am I noticing enough? What if I see someone I know? I mean, how exactly does one move slowly? I was somehow making the simplest act complicated. Luckily, I sensed the irony and I let go.

With a full-time job, full-time partner, full inbox and a gear closet full of hobbies, it sometimes feels the garden of life is overgrown. These two hours reintroduced me to the lost and strange sensation of standing still. I felt the wind move my hair across my cheek. I felt my breath not just fill but nourish me. I felt the spaceship we call Earth support me. I felt awake, and I felt connected.

The truth was, everything was connected. At first I avoided the few people that passed by. They must have thought I was having the saddest (or weirdest) day ever, alone and so charmed by my world of branches. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t separate people from the overall experience and it actually felt more difficult to tune out than to tune in. I began offering them a glance and quick smile as if to say, “I’m all right, and I hope you are too.” The lines between nature and humanness began to blur.

I didn’t realize how much I powered through a lot of my outdoor pursuits until I asked myself if I could slow down. I’ve gotten good at doing, and not necessarily good at being. When we slow down, good things happen. We see more. We hear more. We understand more. We connect more. And we see we’re all in this together. So as the days spin forward and our schedules fill with beautiful responsibilities, there’s still time for slowness. It may not be easy at first, but just keep practicing.