Forest Bathing

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A natural anti-depressant

If you have ever taken a walk in Nature and felt all the better for it, then Science is finally able to prove exactly why that is. And believe me, once you know the science behind it, that simple walk will become an even more uplifting and enriching experience.

 ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ is a Japanese term that translates as ‘taking in the atmosphere of the forest’ or is more widely known as ‘forest bathing’. This practice was developed in Japan in the 1980’s without scientific evidence. They intuitively knew that spending time in the Forest was good for your health and forest retreats were set up around the country. It has now become a cornerstone of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine and in the early 2000’s scientific research finally began into this practice. There are now volumes of research and evidence on the health benefits of spending time in Nature.

 

THE PRACTICE

So, what exactly is Forest Bathing? I hear you ask and get asked many times.

Forest bathing is essentially a practice of walking slowly and mindfully through Nature. In particular, walking amongst trees because they provide the most amount of healing and health benefits which I’ll explain shortly. With Forest bathing the distance covered in a walk is not important and you can be out in the woods for several hours yet only cover a small distance. In the process of slowing down you are able to pay closer and deeper attention to your surroundings and really connect with Nature through all of your senses. Inviting the environment in through hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

The more you allow yourself to slow down and free yourself from agenda, the more you begin to notice the fascinating life of the forest. There is a wonderful sense of aliveness here and a beauty that requires no human intervention at all. Nature simply exists and yet the processes it goes through to exist are nothing short of miracles. The vast array of colours, textures, shapes, patterns, plant life and creatures become more and more apparent as you begin to free your mind from its usual ties and consider the abundance of growth and life around you.

 

THE BENEFITS

It’s common knowledge that when people learn to slow down and calm the mind, this can have a positive impact on our mental and physical health. In this fast paced, stressful life we all seem to be a part of, Mindfulness is becoming a hugely valuable tool to overcome stress, depression, anxiety and fatigue. With Forest Bathing this health benefit is just the tip of the ice-berg (or as I like to say, the crown of an Oak tree!)

Forest Bathing has been scientifically proven to lower heart rate, lower blood pressure AND lower the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline. Not a bad start? As all of this takes place, it stands to reason that our sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight system that we spend a lot time in) begins to be supressed, while our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and recover) is enhanced.

When we are in rest and recover, we open ourselves to all kinds of benefits. Improved mood, better quality sleep and increased energy. Research into Forest Bathing has shown that all of this has been achieved when people spend time in the forest or in nature.

WHAT TO EXPECT

In a typical forest bathing session you will be invited to connect with Nature through a variety of different exercises or reflections. This usually involves participants spending time quietly sitting or standing and observing the environment around them. As the guide I am there to keep to a route and offer the invitations. The forest is very much the therapist and what people see, feel, experience is unique to the individual. Some exercises are quiet and introspective whilst others are more fun and playful.

There are opportunities to share insights and observations but this is not expected or forced. I also include some circle time and provide a hot drink and some snacks.

In every Forest Bathing workshop I have held, I am always deeply grateful to see a look of peace and contentment on the faces of the participants as they leave the forest.