Explore nature like never before by opening your senses to the healing powers of forest bathing.
Many of us have experienced the calming effects of being in nature. Not only does it enable us to relax, but it also helps us to have a deeper connection with ourselves and the world around us. The Japanse practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, aims to encourage just that.
What is forest bathing?
Shinrin-yoku is the process of taking in the forest through our senses. Developed in Japan during the 1980s, it is now increasingly practiced across the world.
The ancient technique combines walking slowly in a forest with mindful breathing and opening your senses to your surroundings. The practice has been proven to provide a positive impact for both body and mind. It connects us with the healing power of nature by providing calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits.
What are the health benefits of forest bathing?
Often referred to as the medicine of the natural forest, scientific studies demonstrate the healing properties of being in the natural environment.
Shinrin-yoku practitioners say the benefits of forest bathing are reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, boosted functioning of the immune system, improved mood and sleep, increased energy and ability to focus as well as quicker recovery from surgery or illness.
Forest bathing research suggests that people who spend time in nature “report being more energetic, in good overall health, and have more of a sense of meaningful purpose in life”.
But why is forest bathing so good for us? Japanese researcher Qing Li believes that the fact that forests have higher oxygen levels may be beneficial to our health, but that’s not the only reason. Trees also release phytonicides – natural oils that help to protect the tree against bacteria and insects. Being exposed to these natural chemicals reduces our stress levels and lowers our blood pressure.
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A 2019 study found that spending just 2 hours in nature every week can help you to feel healthy and more satisfied with your lifestyle. You don’t need to be doing anything – just spending time surrounded by nature is enough. Green space has a powerful effect on our stress levels too – even looking at pictures of trees can help us to feel calmer.
The benefits of nature therapy have long been recognised. Cyrus the Great in ancient Persia planted lush green gardens in the heart of his capital to promote calm – and this was over 2,000 years ago.
A regular practice can lead to clearer intuition, increased energy and life force, a deeper connection with others and the world around us as well as an overall increase in the feeling of happiness.
How to practise forest bathing
If you don’t want to join a class or a club, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy forest bathing alone. You can bring friends with you for a walk or go by yourself if you know the area well.
Set off on a relaxed stroll and don’t worry too much about the route, just follow the path before you. Pause now and then to examine a leaf, or a cluster of mushrooms. Study the patterns in tree bark and trace the lines with your fingertips. If you’re taking friends with you, try not to talk until you’ve reached then end of the walk so that you can fully enjoy the experience.
Settle down and listen to the sounds of the forest. What animals can you see or hear? Do they draw closer to you when you sit in silence? Take a moment to meditate quietly and recharge your batteries.
Another mindful way to enjoy your time in the forest is to focus on the trees and spend some time identifying them. Check out this great guide from BBC Countryfile on how to identify British trees.
Where to go forest bathing
Some countries have designated woodlands for forest bathing so there’s no excuse not to do it.
● Explore the forest like never before with one of Shinrin-Yoku‘s upcoming Guided Forest Therapy walks in North San Francisco Bay.
● You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to reap the benefits – use their WorldWide Forest Therapy Guide Locator to find a certified guide in your area.
● For UK readers, visit the Forestry Commission to find woodland in your local area.
Words by Gemma Harris.
Photo by Brooke Cagle, Larisa Birta on Unsplash