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How to Practice Shinrin Yoku and Forest Bathe this Summer
Indoors, we tend to use only two senses, our eyes and our ears. Outside is where we can smell the flowers, taste the fresh air, look at the changing colours of the trees, hear the birds singing and feel the breeze on our skin. And when we open up our senses, we begin to connect to the natural world. - Shinrin Yoku – The Art and Science of Forest Bathing by Dr Qing Li
The power of nature is astounding, and it's often something that we forget about in our busy lives, or don’t truly ackwoledge as something our wellbeing can benefit from. Diet, exercise, sleep… we hear these all the time for optimising our health. Forest bathing? Not so much. But forest bathing may be something you’ve been hearing more of very recently as interest surrounding this intriguing term has peaked again.
Shinrin yoku literally translates as forest bathing in Japanese, a term coined in the 1980s when the Japanese started giving a name to the practice of connecting with nature by walking through the forest with mindfulness. But connecting with nature has been a part of Japanese culture and histroy since ancient times. Today, as an officially recognised therpay in Japan and a major part of the country’s national healthcare program, now forest bathing advocates are trying to push for it to be a part of our healthcare here in the UK.
Even Kate Middleton is a fan of shinrin yoku. In May, her garden at the Chelsea Flower Show was inspired by the practice. Also back in May, the founder of the Forest Bathing Institute in the UK, Gary Evans, spoke to 40 doctors at Frimley Park hospital, Surrey, about the benefits of forest bathing.
The concept of basking in nature and reaping an enhanced wellbeing from the practice can feel a little woo-woo, and it’s easy to be skeptical, but the potential benefits you may experience are based on scientific evidence.
Some of these benefits include a decreased risk of heart attack, protection against obesity and diabetes, more energy, better sleep, an uplifted mood, decreased stress levels, decreased depression and anxiety, reduced inflammation and clearer skin. Forest bathing also helps your body create natural killer cells, aka NK cells. These seek out and destroy cancer cells and bacterial infections in the body. They can target a viral infection inside one of your cells, and do this without destroying the cell itself. The result is an improved immune system, and they even produce anti-cancer proteins, as shown in this 2007 study.
Another 2015 study by the Journal of Environmental Physchology suggests that nature makes you feel more alive. “Being outdoors was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.”
A 2010 study by Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine showed that the practice of shinrin yoku lowers blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels. This means more feelings of calm and less of stress and anxiety. High cortisol levels for a prolonged period can lead to adrenal fatigue, amongst many other potential health issues.
People are becoming more aware of the detrimental effects stress can have on our mental and physical health. The concept of forest bathing is to slow down and connect to nature, and in our modern world, escape from the technology and the ‘go, go, go’ fast-paced lifestyles we’re all living. Disconnecting and taking the time to use all your senses within a forest can do wonders for your mental health, allowing you to return to your life with a newfound wonder and appreciation for nature and what it can do for you.
Here are three ways you can get out there and practice forest bathing this summer:
1. If you want a guided set-up, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have a series of forest bathing events to take part in over the summer.
2. Get to a forest and do it on your own. What makes forest bathing so great is its simplicity. It is a time to reflect, relax and be at peace in the world. The idea is not to go hiking about and exert yourself – it’s to slow down and connect to the beauty around you. See the sun sneaking through the trees, feel the rain on your skin (Natasha Bedingfield knew what she was saying), and breathe in the natural, woody essential oil smells. The idea is to walk a moderate distance (2.5 km in two hours, 5 km in four) and take it all in. Oh, and do what you want. True freedom. Get lost in a book, lie on the floor looking at the sky through the branches and leaves. Let the forest take you to a place of deep relaxation.
3. If you don’t have a forest or woodlands area nearby, Dr Qing Li, chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, offers the following simple advice to practice forest bathing in your nearest park or nature reserve: “Leave behind your phone, camera, music and any other distractions. Leave behind your expectations. Slow down; forget about the time. Come into the present moment. Find a spot to sit on – on the grass, beside a tree, or on a park bench. Notice what you can hear and see. Notice what you feel. Stay for two hours if possible (though you will notice the effects after twenty minutes).”
So, there you go, another excuse to get out and enjoy the sun this summer.
Written by Jess Burman
BA (Honours) Writing