I was invited to my first forest bathing session during the Summer 2020. We met up in a gorgeous woodland not far from Kingsbridge and it was bright sunny day so the ground was dry underfoot. As a long practicing tree hugger and hedgerow herbalist, I was curious as to what it would entail.
The official name for nature therapy or forest bathing is Shinrin Yoku. ( a mouthful to pronounce!)
What is the meaning of shinrin yoku?
Shinrin is a Japanese word meaning “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. It was developed in Japan during the 1980s as an official form of therapy.
It may sound simple, but forest bathing offers a timeless truth – time spent in a forest and amongst nature reduces stress and promotes a feeling of wellbeing.
There is even a healthy body of research supporting the idea that forest bathing can help alleviate depression, stress and anxiety, lowering levels of the harmful ‘stress chemical’ cortisol, as well as having a positive effect on everything from blood pressure to your resting pulse.
What are the benefits of shinrin yoku?
Studies by the Japanese government found that as little as fifteen minutes of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and improve concentration and memory.
They also found that trees releases chemicals called phytoncides, which have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, boosting the immune system, reducing allergies. As a result of this research, the Japanese government introduced ‘shinrin-yoku’ as a national health programme to reduce stress, anger, anxiety, ADHD, depression and sleeplessness.
Forest bathing also benefits our immune system function (increase in natural killer cells/cancer prevention), and cardiovascular system (hypertension/coronary artery disease).
Since then, forest bathing has become popular in the UK. Of course many of us tree huggers naturally head outside as a way to unwind and feel refreshed.
How to Forest bathe
You don’t need to go to a forest or woodland to practice Shinrin-Yoku, you can do it in your garden or at the park..
Just follow this short guide…
Step 1 – leave behind your phone, camera or any other distractions, so that you can be fully present in the experience.
Step 2 – Leave behind your goals and expectations. Wander aimlessly and slowly, allowing your body to take you wherever it wants. You are not going anywhere. You are savoring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in. This is not about fitness or exercise.
Step 3 – Engage all 5 senses. Pause from time to time, to look more closely at a leaf or notice the sensation of the path beneath your feet. Touch the tree bark. Notice the sunlight and shades of green. How many birds or insects can you hear? Smell the phytoncides (natural aromatherapy chemicals released by the trees). Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream.
Step 4 – Find a comfy spot to take a seat and listen to the sounds around you. See how the behaviour of the birds and other animals changes when they become used to your presence. Lie on the ground. Put your hands on your belly and observe your breathing. You can take a flask of tea along to sip quietly and smell the rising vapours. Notice the flavours on your tongue – how do they differ when sipped in nature vs indoors when you’re rushed? Some people take along a small snack. You can also do T’ai chi, meditation, breathing exercises or drawing while outside.
Step 5 – If you go with others, make an agreement to resist talking until the end of the walk, when you could gather to share your experiences.
The most important thing is to find a place that resonates with you. Maybe it’s the scent of damp soil, or the sound of running water. Maybe its a place that reminds of a happy time in childhood. These places will be special to you and your connection with them will be strong and you’ll feel most relaxed and connected to Nature. These will be your personal therapy places where you can bathe all your senses.
And of course for the times when you can’t get outdoors, you can enjoy the powerful aromatherapy oils in skincare products, massage oils, bathing elixirs and more. For recipes to create your own blends, read this article. You can use a forest blend of essential oils in your diffuser or vaporiser to recreate the forest effects, they also improve breathing during times of colds and flu. A gorgeous aromatherapy hand cream is an easy way for granny to enjoy the benefits of forest bathing when she cant leave the house. Lots of ways to bring nature, indoors!