Forest Bathing or Shinrin-Yoku is essentially a mindfulness practice where you take in the forest atmosphere during a leisurely walk, providing a bridge back to the natural world.
Forest Bathing is a therapy that was developed in Japan during the 1980s to promote wellbeing and healing as a preventive form of health care.
Different to simply going for a hike in nature, Forest Bathing encourages you to connect with nature as you walk. Drawing upon mindfulness meditation practices, forest bathing enables you to connect with nature on a deeper level. The practice recommends focusing on your senses and surroundings, whether you’re breathing in the beauty of the scenery, touching plants or listening to the sounds around you.
Researchers, primarily in Japan and South Korea, have conducted studies on the health benefits of spending time amongst the trees. They found that two hours of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and improve concentration and memory.
Research commissioned by the Japanese government also found that trees releases chemicals called phytoncides, which have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, boosting the immune system. As a result of this research, the Japanese government introduced ‘shinrin-yoku’ as a national health programme.
There are now 44 accredited Shinrin-Yoku forests in Japan. And over recent years, Forest Bathing has gained in popularity outside of the Japan. While there are now many organised trips into the forest with Forest Bathing therapists, you can essentially do-it-yourself in any forest or wooded area even.
Top tips for Forest Bathing:
- Find a time of day when fewer people are around.
- Switch off your electronic devices. Mobile phones especially can be a distraction so give yourself a digital detox for 1-2 hours.
- Walk through the forest at a leisurely pace and engage all your senses. Wandering slowly through the trees can be meditative, allowing you to be present and consciously aware of trees, as well as plantlife and wildlife.
- Engage all your senses – sight, see, sound, touch and taste even. Touch a tree, look up at the sky – whatever resonates with you in that moment.
- Pay attention to your breathing. This is a great way to relax and clear your mind, so you can focus on your surroundings.
- Stay as long as you feel comfortable. 1-2 hours is recommended to get the benefits from Forest Bathing, but do not force it – do what you feel comfortable with. Remember it’s not about getting in as much mileage as you can walking through the park, so even if you find a spot and you spend most of your time there observing, that’s great.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about sustainable lifestyle and green living for publications, and offers content services to planet-friendly businesses. Find out more at Rosamedea.com