A change of pace
Over the last five years the importance of protecting the environment has come to the forefront for many; during the pandemic, this has been compounded even further with renewed appreciation for outside space and green areas. Along with protecting and building new spaces then, should we not consider gaining enjoyment and satisfaction from the natural world more than we do now? Consider taking time to participate in an activity — coined by the Japanese — known as ‘forest bathing’.
Known in Japan as shinrin-yoku, forest bathing is the act of submersing yourself into a forest environment with no distractions, with the intention of enjoying nature in a calming and immersive atmosphere.
This concept admittedly is not a new thing, as forest walking and trails have been enjoyed for millennia; yet it’s more than just about taking a walk through a forest as many might conclude. The term mindfulness best describes the process’ at work here, as it about using all the senses to be aware of the environment you currently find yourself in; sounds, smells, feelings, for example. It’s intention is a contemplative experience where you fully engage with your surroundings.
How you go about achieving this is up to the individual, but finding a spot to park yourself for any amount of time is often the recommended way.
It was only upon the Japanese research into psychological and physiological effects of forest exposure, that forest bathing became an activity itself.
During the last decade of the Japanese economic miracle era (1945 – 1991), burnout began to be felt by the population along with the effects of rapid urbanisation and detachment from nature. To counter this, medical professionals in Japan began encouraging people to visit forests in an effort to combat the associated stress levels present during this time. This began in 1982 and not long after, following further studies, forest bathing became a prescribed treatment on the Japanese healthcare system.
As much as forest bathing began life as a form of somewhat rehabilitation in Japanese society, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it is a source of enjoyment as well.
The benefits of forest bathing
Over the last 40 years Japan has conducted the most amount of research into Shinrin-yoku and the benefits its offers; however, a study in England by nature.com showed that 2-3 hours connected with nature a week improves health and wellbeing.
If we specifically look at forest bathing, there is in fact a whole host of benefits associated with it’s participation. Reducing stress — as previously mentioned —is the foremost benefit which in turn is responsible for issues such as depression and anxiety; relieving which will contribute to improved moods and lower blood pressure.
A specific part of forest bathing is the disconnection from technology of any sort; following this advice when forest bathing also helps stimulate creativity and problem solving.
To get a bit more involved, plants and trees give off something called Phytoncides.
“What the hell is this?” I hear you ask.
It’s a substance that is produced with the intention of warding off bugs, disease and bacteria, keeping the tree healthy. Being close contact with plants and trees mean that we will inevitably breath this substance in. Although this sounds quite dangerous, in reality it’s one of great benefit to us as it boosts our immune system. It stimulates NK cell activity or natural killer cells (I swear I’m not making this up) which help combat cancers and tumours.
Now if that isn’t a good enough reason to switch off your computer right now and head out I’m not sure what is.
Forest bathing UK
Despite the original model being of Japanese origin, Forest bathing is one of the many ideas that have spread to the UK; although, it has only been in the last couple of years that the notion has gained traction here. Still, it’s an act that you can participate in wherever there is a congregation of trees — which is almost everywhere. Here in the UK there are hundreds of fantastic woodland spots and areas of natural beauty that are useable.
The wonder of shinrin-yoku is it’s an activity that you can perform at no expense to yourself or with others; although, there are also many organisations in the UK that have begun promoting forest bathing along with offering guides and group sessions. Here are a few resources to help set you off:
- Forest Holidays – A company that specialises in secluded getaways and rustic accommodation. Forest Holidays have also begun offering forest bathing experiences with their trained rangers.
- The Forest Bathing Institute – A relatively new organisation where it’s sole purpose is researching, advising, and bringing the forest bathing experience to the UK.
- The National Trust – The National Trust is an organisation that is well known in the UK. Here they have put together a quick list of useful tips when going forest bathing; however even better, they include a shortlist of ideal locations that you can find across the country.
Forest bathing is a more focused way of enjoying the outside world. As well as being beneficial it also makes you acutely aware of your surroundings and the world we live in. It’s introduction by the Japanese was also to encourage the preservation of forests, something which — if not already present — certainly becomes apparent when spending time in a forest.
In Japan, the idea for forest bathing came about due to the ever-increasing effects of technology and the modern world; however, the same feeling is now becoming acute by people the world over. With the after-effects of the pandemic still lingering, this is an activity that will only get more popular; maybe not known consciously as forest bathing but as an eagerness to get outside and explore the natural environment.