Bathing in the Beauty of Nature
The term forest bathing – or shinrin-yoku – was coined in 1982 in Japan by Tomohide Akiyama when it became part of the country's national health programme. It can be defined as making contact with and being affected by the atmosphere of the forest; this affect can be both physical and mental.
This isn’t a walk in the woods we’re talking about here but an immersion, a process of soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting, a type of meditation with many of the same physiological and psychological health benefits.
In a recent study conducted by the Sichuan Agricultural University in China thirty men and women were asked to walk a route of similar length through either forest or an urban area. Although as predicted the results showed that walking is good for you, it also highlighted that walking among trees is better. Researchers found that for people walking along the forest path blood pressure was lowered significantly as attention and concentration improved. Participants in the nature group reported less anxiety and a generally happier mood.
In 2010 a study of data from field experiments conducted in 24 forests across Japan found that those who participated in forest bathing had lower blood pressure, heart rate and concentrations of salivary cortisol — a stress hormone — when compared with those who walked through a city setting.
In Japan forest therapy is so well established that it is integrated into their medical system and covered by insurance. In order to qualify as a Shinrin-Yoku trail blood samples are taken before and after the experience to determine the increase in the level of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that fights infected or tumour cells. This can be around 50%
Just search for ‘forest bathing’ and you’ll find a plethora of other studies extolling the virtues of this beautiful practice. But what exactly is the practice?
Here’s your ‘Starter Guide’
Find some trees
The more time you spend with more trees the better the effect but don’t let that deter you if your time is limited and the trees nearby are only a few in number. A little forest bathing is better than none so an ancient copse or spinney or a single tree in your back garden is just fine.
Forest bathing is about simply Being in the atmosphere of nature. You don’t need to take a photo or WhatsApp your friend. Take a deep breath, disconnect with technology and reconnect with all of life around you.
Sit and Be Still
Find an old tree stump, a few logs or a moss covered stone to park yourself on, ideally away from the noise of traffic, bikes, streams of hikers and also one which isn’t home to a family of ants or other small insect life! You’ll be here for ten to twenty minutes.
Breathe and Sense
Take you attention to your breath and the movement of your chest and belly as you inhale and exhale. After a few minutes allow your awareness to expand out using all of your senses.
Keep your attention gentle rather than analytical. Allow sounds to come to you, notice smells, the touch of the breeze or sunlight against your skin, the sensation of soft ground beneath your feet, the scent of spring bluebells or the decay of fallen branches…….just keep a soft fascination for the environment around you.
On your way home just take a moment to check in with yourself and see how you feel, notice any changes in your body and mind. What can you take from your experience back into everyday life? Do you feel calmer, more energised? More peaceful?
As often as possible. If you go back to the same place, see how the experience changes with what you take to the woods (our mind, mood, attitude is never the same from one day to the next) and what you find there (seasons, weather, affect of other visitors).
If you go to a different place see how that experience is too.
There’s no need to analyse or to judge, just Be in the moment and notice the difference during your Check In after the practice.
If you have any favourite spots for Forest Bathing I’d love to hear about them!