Are you familiar with forest bathing?
This wellness trend hit the headlines again over the weekend when it emerged the Duchess of Cambridge had helped co-design a ‘Back to Nature’ themed garden for the 2019 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
The ecotherapy, which originates from Japan where it is known as ‘shinrin-yoku’, involves immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a forest environment to help you reconnect with nature and slow down.
A couple of months ago I was introduced to the concept when a lively neighbour knocked on my door. She heads to the forest that’s right on our doorstep every morning come rain or shine, so when she invited me to join her on her early (I mean 6.30am early) jaunt I couldn’t possibly refuse.
I never imagined then that my maiden trip through the trees and foliage would end up becoming an integral part of my week but, quite frankly, it’s addictive and never fails to leave me feeling invigorated, joyous of mood and raring to start the day.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Spending time in nature has been linked to reduced stress levels and this 2017 study found that forest bathing helped lower blood pressure, decrease pulse rates, and reduce tension, anger and anxiety.
The RSPB even runs a dedicated two-hour forest bathing session at Lake Vyrnwy Nature Reserve in Wales, which is run by an experienced practitioner to help you relax and become mindful as you connect with the natural world.
As I’m consciously trying to start the day in a less stressed state – rather than waking up, wolfing down breakfast and immediately checking emails – forest bathing has become an integral part of my routine.
Below is why I enjoy it so much.
Forest bathing: 7 reasons to give it a try
You never know what you’re going to encounter. On our first trip, a beautiful baby deer emerged through the azalea and ferns. We’ve seen swans and their cygnets – there are two large lakes – nesting coots and very tame squirrels. I’m just waiting for an Adder to slither out from the undergrowth. It hasn’t happened. Yet.
Connecting with nature is enormously grounding and can calm a racing mind. TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham recently revealed how he enjoys sitting under an ancient oak tree. “When you sit next to an organism that’s 650 years old it puts you in your place,” he said. I agree, entirely. You can read our interview with him here.
There aren’t many people around at the crack of dawn but you do stumble across the odd dog walker, golfer, and runner. Everyone is so friendly and even the ducks seem to quack ‘good morning’ at you. People make time for conversation and aren’t distracted. It’s a refreshing contrast to the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Exposing yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning is a great way of resetting your internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm. I’m definitely sleeping better since I’ve started the walks. It dawned on me recently that I spend far less time outdoors since developing this chronic illness – prior to becoming unwell I spent most of my spare time bashing balls about on a tennis court or running – but that’s no longer the case as strenuous activity can set off my reactions. However, walking is the one thing I can do (touch wood) and an early morning stroll is a great way to build up my steps, which are horrendously low when I’ve been tapping away at my keyboard all day.
Every sense is awakened thanks to the smell of the pine trees, the fresh air, and the chirping birds and if the sun’s out your body can make that mood-boosting Vitamin D. It’s certainly a feel-good experience.
I have my best ideas mid-walk. Forest bathing also helps me enjoy the moment and clear my head of worries. It’s an easy way to practise mindfulness, which is wonderful for reducing stress levels.
Have you ever tried forest bathing? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.