Getting out into nature is really the goal of our travels. Somehow we know we're getting more out of it than just the experience - you breathe in deeply and the freshness or just clean-ness of the air is mind-clearingly wonderful. In this article we explore what's actually going on, and how to mindfully use camping for healing - helping healthfulness and calmness as a part of the camping trip.
Camping Can Heal You, for Real
Immersion in the outdoors and being connected with nature is a staple of many bohemian lifestyles. Camping, in particular, is one great way to do just that. The neat aspect about camping is that where you decide to set camp isn’t confined to one setting. Camping can be spontaneous, and maybe even nomadic in nature, behaviours that some bohemians like to identify with.
Imagine you have pitched a tent before a mountainous setting, or immersed in the hollows of a forest, or even nested on the sandy dunes of an oceanic atmosphere. Now imagine you're breathing in the fresh air and sinking your toes into the moist soil. Camping, and even being outdoors, can do so much more than only provide a great weekend and lasting memories.
Feeling a Bit Down?
If you have been feeling uneasy or have been mentally and physically struggling with endless lockdowns (or anything else), as it turns out, nature may be one of your best medicines. The best bit is, being in nature, living a holistic lifestyle and benefiting from natural treatment methods are charectoristics of bohemians, so doing this could just be an enhancement to your current life.
According to a study conducted at the University of Michigan in the USA, taking walks in nature, particularly with another person or a group of people, can do a significant favour for one’s mental health. It can help to establish a positive outlook in life, serve as a reprieve from daily stresses, and help manage levels of depression to decrease them as well.
And that’s not to mention you’re knocking out two birds with one stone - it’s a great chance to catch up with friends or family while also reaping the benefits of the outdoors. Or to nut out your thoughts. Maybe to get some advice, or listen to help a friend find their solutions. This perfectly flows with any camping experience, so once you’ve pitched the tent and gotten your camp well established, grab your buddy, a family member or friend, and get your hiking groove on!
Another benefit to doing a little walk after set up is to get some context on where you are and what's nearby. What are other campers like? Where are the best views or tracks? Are there toilets or showers? How's the camp kitchen? Getting a little context will normally do wonders for any anxiety you may have just from being in a new environment, and let you settle into your camp experience more quickly.
A third benefit of going for a walk is that you get to see stuff! All the things you're out there for - the views, the surf, the wildlife, the sunset or sunrise, feel the dampness in the air, hear the bird songs - many things that are tuned out in normal life. Instead of just setting up, having a drink, and ignoring the area around you, check it out!
As Socrates says in Dan Millman's 'Peaceful Warrior' movie,
"There's never NOTHING going on!"
Never truer words spoken.
Shinrin-Yoku - Forest Bathing
Quite fascinatingly, in Japanese culture, there is an actual term used in reference to recognising the benefits we can reap that nature has readily and generously offered. “shinrin-yoku” is a term used meaning “forest bathing” or “forest therapy”. By bathing, it doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in a physical water-bath, although one can certainly take their outdoor experience to that level given the right environment.
Rather, the term “bathing” in “forest bathing” refers to the metaphorical bathing in nature, and particularly a forest-like atmosphere that encompasses you. However, even if you're not in a forest and there's just a couple of sparse trees, rest assured that that shinrin-yoku can still work perfectly. The idea of shinrin-yoku is to unplug from the outer world and external devices and really take the time to absorb nature.
The key is attention to detail and fully tuning in to and engaging your five senses. Breathe in the cool, fresh air. Feel the breeze and wind softly caressing your skin and pushing back against your hair. What do you smell? Perhaps it’s the morning dew on the foliage or maybe it’s the dampened soil emanating their natural aromas. Listen to nature’s songs and melodies: the birds chirping as they flutter from branch to branch and the rustling of the leaves as the tree branches sway from right to left. Taste the air. Look all around you … and really look. Pay attention to the details: the cut out shapes of leaves, the sun breaking its rays in through the treetops and clouds, and the colours - oh so many colours.
The key to fully feeling and harnessing a shinrin-yoku forest-bathing experience is to pick a setting that tailors to you which you particularly identify with.
A Doctor’s Take on Forest Bathing
To some, a pine forest may be what is particularly appealing because of the cluttering of the long trunks giving a dark maze-type experience that perhaps brings back fond memories as a kid, nurturing your inner-child. For others, it could be a flower-packed garden setting where you can breathe in all the sweet aromas from all the various petals and herbs staining the air.
For me, personally, I identify most with the ocean. The sweet, salty breeze and sound of the waves whispering and humming to me as they repeat their dance - sometimes producing a high tide, and other times low tide. I hear the seagulls squawking overhead as they hover around in search of anything to prey on, be it crumbs of leftover fish and chips buried in the sand, or the fish in the open sea. I feel the sandy granules in between my toes - the whole atmosphere brings a sense of warmness and solace to my heart. I wonder, what is your happy place? Really, think about it.
Shinrin-yoku is associated with establishing a sense of calmness and works to centre us. A lot of time in life, we are caught up in the everyday things whether it’s the hustle and bustle of looking after and nurturing our kids, managing a busy work schedule, or simply, chasing after your dreams.
But shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, gives you that chance to healthily distance yourself from everything and unplug. For those moments, it’s not about the assignment you have to complete by midnight or the family reunion you have been making hasty preparations for. Instead, it’s a time to allow nature’s gifts to present themselves to you and to put everything else aside, hence clearing or quieting your mind.
The health benefits are proven, with forest bathing reducing baseline levels of stress hormones and even promoting eye health and immunity. So next time you are planning out your next road trip or camping trip, we suggest you keep shinrin-yoku in mind. Pick a camping ground near somewhere you feel would give you your best forest-bathing experience.
Another term you may have come across is "grounding". What we are referring to here is the act of immersing yourself into the earth and soil or water to absorb its benefits through touch. This is another concept that’s been studied scientifically. The earth naturally has electrical properties laid out which, when in direct contact with us, can help to balance out our energies and our own electric charges. Some examples of grounding are quite simply walking barefoot through the forest, damp soil or mud, sand or rocks. Grounding can also include submerging yourself in a natural body of water.
As always, practice caution and discretion as to what type of environment you choose to submerge yourself though (this is Australia, after all, so you never know what might be lurking in the water).
Conveniently, grounding can be very compatibly tied in to the previously mentioned shinrin-yoku experience, creating the perfect blend of both worlds. Or perhaps one night, when you are roasting marshmallows or roasting a delectable dinner over the campfire, opt for freeing your toes out into the earth or sand where you sit. It doesn’t take much and may come off as insignificant, but can actually work to emotionally, mentally and physically ground and centre you, as well as reduce inflammation. All in all, grounding can help to promote a more balanced you.
The Amazing Medical Benefits of Grounding
On your next camping venture, let your experience not only be a super adventurous one, but also a healing one. By incorporating a couple of simple tasks that go hand in hand with your camp experience, like shinrin-yoku and grounding, you can help yourself in establishing a more centred and calm sense of self. The outdoors is full of hidden gifts. It’s up to us on whether or not we want to seek out and accept the gifts nature has to generously offer.