Forest bathing in a woodland environment has the potential to transform our wellbeing for the better.
Emma, a karma yoga volunteer at Eco Retreats, recently attended a Social Forestry course with the Open College Network and is hoping to use her certificate to introduce forest bathing and mindfulness activities in the forest at Eco Retreats. To continue our forest wellness theme after our recent article on the benefits of ecotherapy, she shares some of her learnings here:
I am sure anyone who has stayed at Eco Retreats will agree that experiencing time in forest can be truly enchanting, as we walk back into our daily lives feeling peaceful, relaxed and at one with nature.
Enjoying the present moment and being truly present and mindful in an environment free from wifi, phonecalls, meetings and the pressures of modern life can be a challenge within the lifestyles we now live. This is leading to increasing mental and emotional health issues, as people’s energies are slowly drained by the never ending buzz of information that surrounds them. The forest is a place to recharge and find ourselves again, to reconnect with our inner essence.
Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, was introduced from Japan and is being increasingly used as a healing tool by doctors and therapists. The practice involves walking through the forest mindfully. In 1980s extensive scientific research by the Japanese government found that 2 hours spent forest bathing led to a reduction in blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improved concentration and memory beyond the usual correlations between fresh air, exercise and wellbeing. Trees release chemicals called phytoncides which help plant communities grow and stay healthy. These chemicals also boost our immune system, and our bodies automatically take in the right “dose” we need for our wellbeing. While forest bathing, our emotional, physical and spiritual senses are affected in a non-invasive way, which can give us a sense of feeling alive again.
Forest bathing is not like a hike, exercise or nature walk – it consists of walking slowly and attentively through the forest, using all your senses to soak up its special atmosphere. Gentle guided meditations help to quieten the mind and deepen our connection with our surroundings. It can be challenging: your mind might wander, and your pace will involuntarily pick up, but eventually you slow down. The forest bathing experience usually ends with a Japanese tea ceremony and a conversation focused on sharing. In essence, forest bathing feels like taking a deep breath, allowing your shoulders to drop, your body and mind to relax and just enjoy the feeling of being outside.
Spending time in the woods changes the way we feel and think – our biological intelligence and awareness increase, and we start doing what’s best for ourselves. We are genetically hardwired to prefer nature (as opposed to urban environments). This is due to our evolutionary background: we have spent far longer living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle (about 12 million years) than we have living a settled agricultural lifestyle (about 12,000 years), let alone an industrial (about 200 years), or post-industrial (about 50 years) one. Incredibly, the forest acts as psychologically restorative environment — a place that helps bring about recovery. Baseline levels of functional resources and capabilities are restored, those that were diminished through stress, overuse or under-stimulation. Research has even shown that urban areas with more plants and vegetation correlate with a lower crime rate and that people are nicer and happier.
Forest bathing has so much potential to nurture our connection to nature, and ultimately ourselves. This is fundamental if we are to change our mindsets and lifestyles to rebuild a cooperative system, which is so direly needed within the climate crisis we are facing. You can find your local woods at the Woodland Trust and tips for forest bathing at the National Trust.
To assist in incorporating forest bathing and other mindfulness practices into your lifestyle at home, we are currently developing a community platform! Together, we want to better support you in making small changes in your everyday life! Join us to translate the inspiration of the forest into more peaceful and meaningful living. Watch this space for updates!