Forest bathing with your dog
If you’re having a bad day, sometimes all it takes is going on a walk to clear your head and raise your spirits. Breathing in that fresh air, or being surrounded by trees, really can help you relax and think more clearly. But did you know you can take this up a level by engaging in forest bathing?
Forest bathing is a practice that began in Japan called shinrin-yoku, and focuses on fully immersing yourself in nature in a mindful way. It’s not about how far you walk, or simply finding a forest to run or cycle through, it’s about connecting to nature using all of your senses, and really taking your time to be present in the moment.
Can I forest bathe with my dog?
The short answer is yes, of course you can. Forest bathing with your dog can be a wonderful experience, and with a few tweaks, you can easily adapt your dog walks.
Change your mindset. When we walk our dogs the focus can be on how far we are going or how long our dog needs outside. And of course these types of things are important to make sure our dog is getting the right amount of exercise. But when planning a forest bathing walk, you may need to shift your perspective from how much you’re doing, to how you’re doing it.
Follow their nose. Instead of having a set idea of what the walk will look like, allow yourself to be led by your dog. When they stop to sniff something, take that moment to really take in your surroundings, rather than simply hurrying them on. Allowing them to have a proper ‘sniffari’ is really enriching and mentally stimulating for them too.
Share the experience with them. Your dog gets pleasure from being outside in the same way you do, and it’s a great way for them to get physical and mental exercise. By slowing down the pace of your walk, or even taking the time to sit or stand still with your dog, you’ll discover what a bonding experience it can be for both of you.
Add in some doggy massage. When you take a moment to pause, why not treat your pup to a doggy massage. Mindfully stroke their back or even rub their forehead, it will relieve any stress and help them on their way to doggy bliss.
Play ‘find the treat’. This is another great way to get your dog using their nose. Take a treat and hide it behind a tree or under leaves, and watch them have fun discovering where it is.
Try out some Doga moves. Dog yoga is great for your dog’s health and a great way for them to relax. Why not encourage them to stretch up on a tree or lie down and really stretch out. You could even try heart to hound mudra. Simply sit down with your dog, place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your dog’s heart. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing and the connection between the two of you.
What are the benefits of forest bathing?
It reduces blood pressure and cortisol. By focusing on the world around you, you’re less likely to be thinking about your to-do list or that stressful day at work. This means that your body has no need to produce stress hormones, and as you relax, so will your body. And because dogs pick up on our emotions you’ll probably notice your dog relaxing as well, and any lowering of their stress levels is as beneficial for us as it is for them.
It boosts your immune system. Stress hormones can compromise your immune system by suppressing your natural antiviral cells, so as forest bathing reduces these hormones, it’s believed to have a positive effect on your immune system. While we can’t say if this is the same for dogs, they will definitely get a lot of benefit from being outside and having the opportunity to really explore.
It encourages creativity. The busyness of our lives means that we often have a million different things running through our minds. This doesn’t leave a lot of space for anything else, but forest bathing encourages you to leave that busyness behind, which can allow for your creative side to get a bit of a kick start. You could even harness this creativity to create some new games for you to play with your dog on your walks.
How to get started
One of the great things about forest bathing is that getting started is really simple. You don’t need any expensive equipment and there’s no membership fee required, all you need to do is find a quiet forest or green space, and your dog, and you’re good to go. But there are a few things you might like to think about before you set off.
Pick a quiet time of day. You may not find forest bathing all that relaxing if there are lots of other people around, so try and pick a time when things are a little calmer. Perhaps consider heading out in the early morning or later in the evening.
Turn off your electronic devices. There is nothing more distracting than notifications pinging on your phone, or someone suddenly deciding to give you a call. To really give forest bathing a chance, turn them all off. Taking an hour or so without them will help you to have a bit of a digital detox, and make it easier for you to fully focus on your surroundings and the best friend by your side.
Take your time. The beauty of this practice is that it doesn’t need to be rushed. You don’t have a set goal or any requirements to fill. It’s just about you and your dog. So take your time and wander slowly with your pup, you could even sit somewhere for a while and see what sounds you can hear or wildlife you might see. Although a sudden squirrel sighting might mean you don’t sit for as long as you planned.
Make the most of your senses. Listen to the birds singing in the trees, touch a tree trunk and feel its rough bark, notice how the sunlight falls through the leaves. By using all your senses you’ll create a much more immersive experience that will allow you to really feel all the benefits of forest bathing. You can get your dog involved too by changing up where you’re walking, whether that’s on cool grass, crunchy leaves or even gravel to let them experience different textures under their paws.
Listen to your breath. We may breathe all the time, but when was the last time you really focused on your breathing? Try closing your eyes and taking deep breaths, feeling the breath go in and out, before bringing your awareness back to the world around you. It will help to focus your mind and relax you too. You can involve your dog by stroking them at the same time in their favourite spot.
Stay for as long as you like. There’s no right amount of time to spend forest bathing. It’s all about what feels right for you. Many people believe that two hours can work wonders, but even just 15 minutes can be good too.
So why not mix up your daily routine and give it a try?
And when you’re not forest bathing, don’t forget your PitPat Dog Activity Monitor. That way you can make sure your dog is getting the right amount of exercise for them, so you can add in something new and still get the exercise balance just right.