Water & Shinrin-Yoku

“In all things of nature there’s something of the marvelous” (Artistotle)

It’s an early morning in late September. Sunlight is radiating through the morning fog on the Amstel river, painting the small waves in front of me with silver sparks. In the air I smell the unmistakable earthy, plant-like scent of sweet water. There’s hardly any wind, and in the air I can sense a crisp touch of Autumn. Waves slosh gently against the SUP board under my feet. With my paddle, I slowly touch the water back. Branches of big trees along the quay, covered in golden morning sunlight, are reaching out to the water, some of them all the way down. A couple of ducks and later on a beautiful swan swim along with me and my board, just for a moment. In the distance, a red bicycle is crossing a drawbridge. I hear the sound of a piano, coming from an open window of a house high above me on the quay. Little boats and big tour boats are still quietly moored at this hour, the hustle and bustle of ordinary city-life far ahead. In the sky high above me flies a flock of geese, making an unsettling type of noise. Window-blinds of the houseboats that I pass are mostly closed; a few times I notice someone making coffee or reading a morning newspaper. At this time of the day, I have the myriad of waterways of this so called ‘Venice of the North’ all to myself. A labyrinth of nature in the middle of a busy city, on which I can slow down, relax, breathe, tune-in, focus, find creativity, new ideas and connect to nature, while awakening all my senses. 

When I first came across shinrin-yoku (Japanese for forest-bathing, or in Dutch: bosbaden), a well-ness practice in which you immerse yourself in a forest setting by using all your senses and slowing down, I thought I could only use this technique in a forest, or perhaps a (big) city-park. Since I live in the middle of a capital city with only a small balcony facing some trees, I was sad I had to travel quite a distance to be in a forest and could not practice shinrin-yoku on a daily base. However, inspired by Vicky Kyan, one of my mentors during my training to become an ANFT certified forest therapy guide, offering nature bathing walks on a beach with not a tree in sight (Great Barrier Island, New Zealand), I realized there’s actually a lot of nature nearby my Amsterdam doorstep. Why not practice the Japanese inspired art of slowing down through sensory immersion in nature along the Amstel river, or one of the 165 canals, stretching over 75 kilometres of waterways?

Using the technique of shinrin-yoku when spending time along, on or in the water and slowing down through sensory immersion gives me a feeling of awe, purpose, contentment, vitality, connection and an overall positive emotion: effects similar to forest bathing. Engaging in the practice while being in my day-to-day surroundings has changed the way I see and experience nature forever.

In his landmark book “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do”, marine biologist and bestseller author Wallace J. Nichols also concludes that being near water sets our minds and bodies at ease. Combining cutting-edge neuroscience with compelling personal stories from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans and gifted artists, Nichols answers questions such as how proximity to water can improve performance, diminish anxiety, amplifies creativity, expands compassion, increases professional success and improves our overall well-being. 

Wanna learn more about the practice of shinrin-yoku, and experience what the art of stillness in nature through sensory immersion can do for you? Please join us on one of our guided shinrin-yoku walks!

From my heart to yours! Marjolein

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