What is Forest Bathing?
I love Autumn! And I think we can now officially say we’re ‘in’ it. I know the official date of the Autumn equinox is the 21 of Sept, but for me, the first sign of Autumn is when we put on the central heating, and for us, that was this week. So BOOM, it’s here, bringing with it images of kicking up the leaves on a walk under the trees.
So I was intrigued when a friend invited me to a spot of autumn forest bathing. I have to admit I had a bit of a moment, because I’d never heard of it before, and as one of my new loves this year is sea swimming, I had ever so slightly unnerving visions of swimsuits and trees, but (sigh of relief) there’s no speedos required with forest bathing.
In this article we take a look at what Forest Bathing is all about.
The science of nature
Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku translates as ‘bathing in the forest atmosphere’; experiencing the forest through our all the senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
It’s not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply ‘being’ in nature. You should think of Shinrin-yoku like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.
Shinrin-yoku was developed in Japan in the 1980s, following scientific studies conducted by the government.
These studies showed that two hours of slow and mindful exploration in a forest has real health benefits and can reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels (cortisol is your stress hormone) and improve memory and concentration(1).
Research all suggests that when people are in nature, they breathe in aromatic compounds from plants called phytoncides , which have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, and boost the immune system(2).
Dr. Qing Li, author of Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing – is a world expert explains that “It’s a preventative medicine, not a treatment,”
Forest Bathing was introduced into the UK a couple of years ago now, and has begun to gain popularity, but how do you actually Forest Bathe?
Forest bathing is really no more complicated than simply going for an aimless wander among trees, so this could be in your local woods, park or nearby forest.
You don’t need any special equipment or skills. It’s just you, and nature.
Rather than cycling or walking or jogging through the trees, you take the time to really focus on the nature around you.
Here are some do’s and donts.
Where can you forest bathe?
You can basically forest-bathe anywhere; wherever there are trees; and you can do it whatever the weather. (Depending on your bravery level).You can practise it in a park or in your garden. Just find a place where there are trees and off you go!
When can you go forest bathing?
Its better to pick a quiet time of day, so there isn’t as much chance to be disturbed. Early mornings or later in the afternoons are a good bet.
How do you Forest Bathe?
Essentially you are just wandering. There’s no rush, just take your time and try not to have a ‘destination’ in mind. Moving slowly and aimlessly through the trees can be a bit like meditation. And you if stay quiet enough you’ll be more likely to see wildlife around you.
Let your body guide you. Focus on savoring the sounds, smells and sights of nature. Dr. Qing Li says we should be stopping to listen to the birds singing, or noticing the wind rustling in the leaves of the trees; breathing in the fragrance of the forest or taking in the different shades of greens around you.
Pay attention to your breathing. Focusing on the breathe is a great way to relax and clear your mind.
Who can do it?
Shinrin-yoku is suitable for almost any level of fitness, and ability. Most parks and woodlands have details on accessibility, so if you’ve got specific accessibility needs check them out, before you head out.
Put your phone on silent. Digital detoxing helps you to slow down and focus on your surroundings. You really don’t need to be checking your messages when you’re trying to switch off for a couple of hours.
How long should I forest bath for?
Two hours is the recommended time for a forest bathing session, but really its up to you. Stay as long as you feel able, it’ll all depend on how much time you have to spend.Interestingly A recent study estimated that nearly 10% of people with high blood pressure could get their levels under control if they spent at least 30 minutes in a park each week(3).
If this all sounds a bit woo-woo and out there, but having had my own forest bathing experience, I can highly recommend it. 2020 has been a quite a year (to put it politely) and is undeniably having an impact on our mental and physical wellbeing.
So if you’re looking for a (cost effective, minimal effort) way to ‘escape’ and relax, maybe forest bathing could be for you?
And remember you don’t need to pack your swimsuit (not unless you really want to)
This article is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis and does not constitute medical advice. If you are concerned about any change in your mental or physical health you should contact your health professional straight away.
Enjoyed What is Forest Bathing? Why not read 5 Reasons to Swim Wild HERE