When I lived in London, I was close to Hampstead Heath, I had a hectic and stressful lifestyle and if I had a rare free moment I would always go for a walk on the heath. Slowing down and observing the most minuscule of details, how the smells changed as I strolled along the rough paths: earthy, fresh, woody, musty and floral. The noticing of these things deeply quieted my busy mind. I always returned from my walks grounded. At the time I didn’t intentionally practice connecting with nature and surrounding myself with the energy of the natural world. I felt grateful for a chance to get just out of my head, as I have a constant Monkey Brain, and found mediating difficult, then and now, walking in the woods, was a mediation of sorts for me.
Forest bathing originated in Japan in the early 1980s, where it is called Shinrin-Yoku, practitioners greatly respect trees and believe that they’re the protectors and wise watchers of the forest. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries created Forest Bathing as a way to promote national health and being outdoors. Even Forestry England promote this on their website. While this is not an ancient practice, many see it as a cure for modern ailments and a form of nature therapy. Investigations on the physiological effects that result from being in a forest began in Japan in 1990 and continue today. In a 2011 study, scientists found that people walking in nature had lower blood pressure than those in the city. Another study in Japan showed that inhaling the aroma from cedar trees boosts stress-fighting compounds in the body.
During a nature bath, you’re “bathing” in the energy and clean air of the woods. The healing effects of forests and other natural, green settings, is shown to reduce stress hormone production, lower heart rate and blood pressure, improve moods, free up creativity, boost the immune system, accelerate recovery from illness, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. So, is advantageous for your physical and mental wellbeing. Most of all, Forest Bathing positively benefits your mood. After trying this many have seen a noticeable improvement in both focus and attention, researchers have even linked this practice to better focus in those with ADHD. Personally, even looking at images of forests and woods fill me with a instant sense of calm and relief.
5 simple steps to practising Shinrin-Yoku or Forest Bathing;
- leave behind your phone, camera or any other distractions, so that you can be fully present in the experience.
- Leave behind your goals and wander aimlessly, don’t plan a route.
- Pause from time to time, to look more closely, feel some bark and leaves, hug a tree or run dirt between your fingers.
- Find a comfortable spot to sit and listen to the sounds around you.
- If you go with others, agree not to talk until the end of the walk.
If possible, embrace all your senses; sight, touch, smell, listen to the sounds, bring natural snacks with you to eat, nuts and berries are ideal.
Thanks to the power of the internet, Forest Bathing has dramatically increased in popularity all over the globe. For the full experience, participants walk with trained guides, who are like therapists, taking their clients through guided meditations, yoga and walks, helping them to see nature in a new light.
The International Nature and Forest Therapy Alliance (INFTA) is committed to establishing Forest Therapy as a scientifically-proven natural medicine by building networks and establishing partnerships with research, education and Public health bodies across the globe. Through these networks, INFTA will access studies, contribute to research on and create awareness about Forest Therapy and Forest Medicine. INFTA’s mission is to make Forest Therapy accessible to all for the health and well-being of people world-wide. Recent estimates by the INFTA project see a demand of up to 10,000 INFTA-Certified Forest Therapy Guides in China alone over the next five years.
Though still a new practice, forest bathing has already shown great promise in treating real conditions without the side effects of medication. It is possible to do this without using a guide, so the costs are low. A pair of walking boots or trainers, a rain proof jacket in the UK and a water bottle are all that are needed.
So next time you go outside, why not find your nearest nature trail and begin your own forest bathing experience?