2020 has been a monumental year, to say the least. Many of us have had our lives turned upside down and we’re constantly being presented with new and exciting ways to relieve stress. What if I told you that there’s a not-so-new experience that has been scientifically proven to relax the mind and body, amongst other medical benefits; help you to connect with nature, and it’s all completely free?
WHAT IS FOREST BATHING?
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which translates as forest bath, emerged in the 1980s as a scientific method of boosting mental wellbeing, but has been practiced in many different communities throughout human history. More and more people live in urban areas and even those who are lucky enough to live in the countryside spend the vast majority of their time indoors, completely separated from the wonderful power of nature.
Despite its name, it doesn’t actually involve any bathing in water, although this would add a whole host of other benefits! Forest bathing refers to the experience of bathing your senses in nature whilst walking around a forest. You might think that you’ve done this many times before when walking the dog or going for a picnic, but to reap the rewards of forest bathing, you must engage in a more purposeful practice.
“Time spent under the trees’ canopy is a critical factor in the fight against diseases, of the mind and body.” - Dr Qing Li
SO WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM A FOREST BATHING SESSION?
Forest bathing sessions are very productive alone, or if going with friends, it’s most beneficial if you limit your talking until after the session. You can also do guided sessions, where a forest bathing tour guide will walk with you through the forest and direct you in order to get the most out of your experience.
The aim of a forest bathing session is to leave the stress of daily life behind and simply exist in the present moment, so that means no shopping lists or to do lists or any other kind of lists! You simply walk aimlessly in the forest and – this is the key bit – engage in the experience with all of your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, taste and touch? Can you see the dappled sunlight filtering in through the leafy canopy above? Can you hear the sweet song of nightingales, or the gentle rush of a stream nearby? Can you smell the sharp scent of pine, taste the fresh air and touch the soft leaves, bursting with life? Most importantly, how does this make you feel?
When forest bathing, leave all electronics behind and try to really connect with nature and with yourself, taking a moment to slow down and relax. Deep breathing further encourages your body to relax and you should allow yourself at least a few hours if you can, to give your mind and body the chance to really be at peace. Try to walk without a set direction in mind, rather just wander around, taking in everything the forest has to offer: touch the plants, dip your toes in a stream, lie down beneath the trees, engaging in mindfulness. Some people also choose to do activities when forest bathing, such as meditation, breathwork and yoga, amongst others.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FOREST BATHING?
Forest bathing combines the healing powers of nature with the intelligence of trees to create a holistic preventative health care method. A practice that originated in the East, western doctors and even royals now stand behind its benefits. Matt Hancock, UK Health Secretary, has backed ‘social prescribing’ in the NHS, which aims to prescribe positive experiences and activities, such as gardening and volunteering, over medication. There is talk of forest bathing being included in this type of prescription to boost wellbeing of patients suffering from all manner of ailments.
Medical studies have shown that engaging in the practice can have the power to fight against cancer, strokes, gastric ulcers and others illnesses. It increases the activity of natural killer cells, boosting the immune system, and increases the level of the hormone adiponectin (low levels of this hormone are associated with some metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease). Forest bathing also has a huge effect on mental wellbeing: one study conducted by Japanese scientists, for instance, showed that forest bathing decreased pulse rate and stress chemicals, indicating the relaxing effects of the experience. The test subjects also had lower scores for depression, anxiety, fatigue and confusion (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27493670/) after taking part. All other studies conducted so far have echoed these results, as well as demonstrating positive changes to sleep, creativity, memory, energy and concentration.
"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts." - Rachel Carson
On a spiritual level, forest bathing nourishes the mind and soul in a way that only Mother Nature can. Escaping the pressures of life, entering a state of deep relaxation and regaining balance in a hectic world are all achievable through this practice. Humans are part of nature and therefore can draw strength and tranquillity from their natural surroundings; studies have shown that the colours of nature, especially green and blue, help people to relax. There’s something extra special about trees in particular, and therefore the forest. Trees create breathable air, provide materials for medicine, such as tea tree oil and aspirin, and release phytoncides. What on earth are those, you ask? Phytoncides are the natural oils within a plant, and they’re part of a tree’s defence system against bacteria, insects, and fungi. Amazingly, they also boost the human immune system! Just another way in which nature is created in perfect harmony.
Forest bathing may seem very simple, but it’s an incredibly effective way to create peace in your life and to treat yourself to a much-needed dose of deep relaxation. Here at SoulSimple we are blessed to sit on the edge of the magnificent Woodchester Park - a 420 acre secluded valley, featuring a cascading succession of 5 stunning lakes surrounded by beautiful ancient woodland. Through our SoulNatutal day retreats, we offer forest bathing sessions to help you to relax, unwind and de-stress in the most natural way possible!
For further information, please visit www.soulsimple.co.uk/soulnatural-healing-in-nature