If somebody mentioned the term ‘forest bathing’ to you what would you think? You would be forgiven for thinking you need your swimwear and a towel. But in fact, this is the art of immersing yourself in a wooded environment that has huge health and wellbeing benefits for us all!
Forest bathing (shinrin’yoku 森林浴) is something that cultures all over the world have practised for as long as time itself, and it is something that our own ancestors practised, but sadly I feel we have long forgotten how reviving it can be.
Can you imagine finding an easily accessible way of leaving the stresses and strains of this chaotic world we live in behind?
Imagine finding a way of enhancing our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing all at the same time and it being available to each and every one of us. Well, forest bathing may be just the answer we need!
Scientific studies originally carried out in Japan revealed that being within a wooded environment has huge health benefits to us as humans. Japan are the pioneers in such interesting studies, and it became part of a national public health program in 1982. Nature appreciation is huge in Japan and they actually have designated forests for the pleasure of ‘shinrin’yoku 森林浴’ or ‘forest bathing’.
Some corporate companies even insist that their employees regularly take time to relax in these wonderful wooded environments. People are recognising the importance of being outdoors in nature and the benefits it has on us in the workplace too. Companies are finding their staff are more focused, more productive and all round happier people.
So, what is the science behind it?
Trees give off something called ‘Phytoncides’ or ‘tree essential oils’ to protect themselves from insects and germs. These clever, amazing oils also have an impact on us – by simply inhaling these oils they have a direct benefit to our health and wellbeing. Studies have proved that these wonderful oils reduce cortisol levels – lowering stress, lower heart rate and blood pressure, stabilise mood disorders and boost our immune system – this would inevitably improve our overall quality of life.
This may seem very simple to some, but studies show that to get maximum benefit from nature we need to do it ‘mindfully’. Many people would say they go for walks within a natural environment but couldn’t say they actually do it mindfully. I see people every day walking their dogs and not actually even being aware of their dog let alone the beautiful surroundings they are walking in.
Mindfulness is the latest buzz and what a hugely useful buzz it is! Thankfully, people everywhere seem to be aware of it and it’s uses in everyday life. But, how many of us make an active decision to be fully present and in the moment?
We all have busy working lives, the pace, responsibilities and stresses and strains of modern day life can make it hard to find the time and most people can struggle to be mindful and some of us just don’t really know how to be mindful. People often find that once they become more aware of their surroundings they become happier, healthier, and more rounded as individuals, relationships strengthened, goals achieved, and hurdles overcome.
That’s where nature can help us, when submerging yourself in nature fully it’s hard not to be mindful, with the most wonderful tools surrounding us to help ground and become present it really is quite easy once you’ve learnt the basics. The key to forest bathing though isn’t about endurance, it’s about slowing right down. It’s about taking time to inhale deeply, to switch on our senses and relax fully and to take in the amazing surroundings that nature has given to us so freely.
So how can you take your first forest bath? Read the second part of this feature to find out.
The author of this article, Faith Douglas has been so inspired by the shinrin’yoku movement that she has created Forest Bathing UK, which offers the full shinrin’yoku experience, visit her new website here.