There’s a new buzz word zipping through the ether like a honeybee on Red Bull.
When I first heard it, I had a vision (not a particularly pleasant one, for you or for me) of taking my swimming trunks and jumping into a cold woodland river. But it’s not. It doesn’t involve soap or shampoo either.
What is forest bathing?
The term originated in the eighties in Japan as Shinrin-yoku, where it refers to taking regular slow walks in specially designated forests to benefit your health and reconnect with the natural world.
Why forest bathe?
Because it has been scientifically proven to be beneficial in all sorts of ways. It can be effective in reducing anxiety and depression. It lowers your blood pressure, reduces your levels of stress hormones and increases levels of a hormone called serum adiponectin, which helps prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
How do you forest bathe?
Forest bathing involves more than just going for a walk through a forest. It means consciously enjoying a forest: taking time to wander; stopping to observe; breathing slowly and deeply; listening to the birds; touching the trees; feeling the moss; smelling the flowers; tasting the blackberries … In short, using all your senses to connect with the natural world.
Where can I go forest bathing?
Anywhere. Simply find your nearest forest. It can be small or large, deciduous or coniferous. You can do it alone or with your partner, neighbour, family, friends, dog … Some might prefer to forest bathe in a group. Personally, I would find that difficult. However, there’s really no specific prescription, no set actions or order, no special time of the day, month or season. The only thing that’s important is to slow down, take your time and follow your instincts.
So what is it like?
Actually I’ve been forest bathing for years without knowing I’ve been forest bathing. Ever since I was a teen I’ve enjoyed walking in the woods and taking time to enjoy them.
For me it involves finding a log, sitting down and just waiting, watching and listening. Perhaps closing my eyes, which helps me hear the sounds of the forest: the distant tapping of a nuthatch as it attempts to open a hazelnut; the high-pitched squeal of a shrew in the leaf litter; the scratch of a red squirrel’s claws on a tree trunk.
I’ve written elsewhere of some marvellous experiences when sitting still in a forest: a fox cub approaching and sniffing my boots; young muntjac deer appearing out of the bracken and gambolling just metres away; three different species of woodpecker in the same tree in front of me, at the same time.
And the scientific claims are absolutely true. After forest bathing I come away feeling physically rejuvenated, emotionally uplifted, and creatively inspired, and closer to a higher spiritual presence than ever I’ve felt in a church.
Give it a try …
… if you haven’t already. If you live in Belgium you may find a suitable forest on my other blog. And please let me know how you get on.