When I first heard of Forest bathing, I thought it was swimming in a lake in a forest or a type of sauna out in the middle of the wilderness. To my surprise, it was the complete opposite!
Forest bathing originated in Japan in the 1980s, known as ‘shinrin-yoku’, which means forest bathing or taking in the forest atmosphere. It began as a form of eco-therapy, and according to the Founder of Emerald and Tiger, Jasmin Harsono, it has gained global recognition for its numerous physical and mental health benefits.
I reached out to NHS GP & Medico-Legal Expert Witness Dr Hana Patel to explore whether there were any medical health benefits, and she said, “It aims to enhance wellbeing and relieve stress, anxiety and depression. It has also been shown to improve concentration and short-term memory and reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Research also suggests it can lead to improvements in pulse rate and blood pressure, and it can offer benefits for those who struggle with regular physical activity due to musculoskeletal conditions such as Arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis.
The first UK study of Forest Bathing, found evidence of 1) improvements in mood (especially anxiety), compassion and feeling connected to Nature; 2) improvements in heart rate variability (an indicator of physical wellbeing), and we found that 3) Forest Bathing has similar benefits to an established UK wellbeing intervention (called Compassionate Mind Training). The findings of this study led to Guildford Council promoting Forest Bathing as a social prescription through GP practices.”
But what does it involve?
Forest bathing can be as simple as strolling in your local forest, woodlands or national park. Even if you don’t have any of these nearby, you can forest bathe anywhere! You might find yourself in a secluded corner on the beach, a local park or even braving the cold and going out in the snow!
You may sit on the ground, stand in a specific spot or take slower steps when walking. Whatever action you choose, you should turn off your phone to fully immerse yourself in the experience and use your mind and your senses to guide you. Heather Gweneth Bird explains further: “Shinrin-yoku is the process of relaxing, breathing deeply, and observing the surrounding natural world with all senses.”
Moya Slade, Director and founder of The Nest, which runs holistic wellbeing retreats for women, including Forest bathing, adds, “The beauty of Forest Bathing is that no experience is necessary and there is no set technique. The practice is all about giving yourself time to slow down and just be and observe the wonder and beauty of Nature. It just so happens that in doing so, you boost your own wellbeing.”
Top Five Forest bathing tips for first-timers
- By slowing your walking pace down, your body sends a powerful message to your mind that there is no rush and you can take it easy. Suppose you want to receive the benefits of Nature. In that case, it’s vital to slow down and offer your attention to the environment.
- The eyes can be our most dominating sense and easily disregard objects we have seen many times before. This often causes us to place Nature into the background of our awareness. By bringing in your other senses, it becomes easier to stay more present in the moment as you notice what you can hear, touch, smell, and see.
- In slowing down, you can tune into your walk and the landscape on a deeper level, pausing to notice, bending down to touch or smell and listening to the different sounds around you. This helps to bring Nature into the centre of your awareness and can ignite feelings of wonder, appreciation and calm.
- While walking, watch for unique nature treasures like feathers, pebbles, pine cones, and sticks that catch your attention. This can be a wonderful way to activate your inner child and explore. It also increases your sense of touch as you actively pick up things and explore them with your hands.
- Trees hold incredibly supportive energy. They are strong, grounded, peaceful, gentle and wise. Finding a tree to sit against to lean into that support can be a wonderfully precious moment without any expectation, judgement or need to discuss.
No matter where you live, you can try forest bathing! There is no harm in trying it, and who knows? It might be just what you need when you’re having a bad day or need to feel inspired. There are so many reasons to try it, as Eva Katona attests:
“We do this every other weekend [and] we are lucky to live near Richmond Park or [we] often go to the Surrey Hills to do this (there are a couple of wonderful small forests just outside Oxshott and the surrounding areas).
It’s wonderful; even my autistic son with ADHD can and enjoys doing this. After that, we talked about how it felt to listen and be part of our environment and what we noticed (falling leaves, bugs moving around, etc.). This is a very grounding experience and feeling part of the big picture yet appreciating our own place within.”
So, what are you waiting for? Mother Nature is calling you right now!