There's a Japanese export that's worth taking notice of. It's not the latest gadget or food craze, in fact it is the perfect antidote to the stresses of everyday life. Find out about Forest Bathing, its far-reaching benefits and how to create your own experience of Nature Bathing with a simple walk…
Forest Bathing as a named activity was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. It comes from the Japanese term 'shinrin-yoku' which means taking in the forest atmosphere. With more than a fifth of the Japanese population reporting a regular working week of 49 hours, the Japanese government officially recommends Forest Bathing as a way for its super-stressed citizens to shake off the worries of life in hectic metropolises. Companies are quickly lining up to deliver organised bathing experiences, with city dwellers paying thousands of pounds for a week of forest immersion.
Walkers have always known about the general calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits of a walk in the woods, but in the past several decades there have been many scientific studies that are demonstrating the mechanisms behind these healing effects. The scientifically-proven benefits of shinrin-yoku include a boosted immune system, reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, improved mood, increased ability to focus, accelerated recovery from surgery, increased energy level and improved sleep. Those that practice the art of Forest Bathing on a regular basis report deeper and clearer intuition, increased energy, an increased feeling of connection to nature, improved friendships and an overall increase in sense of happiness.
Some organisations in the UK are in the early stages of piloting dedicated centres for Forest Bathing, but I do wonder whether this organised approach may defeat the object of a true connection to nature in its raw form.
Instead, we have developed our own principles of the generic countryside equivalent – Nature Bathing – which you can experience on any walk. Follow our 9 key principles (spelling BRILLIANT) as set out below and embrace the benefits of feeling even closer to nature.
Inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale. The art of breathing has been long associated with meditation and yoga, and controlled breathing is an important part of well-being. Controlled breathing within a woodland as part of Nature Bathing is a wonderful way of boosting these benefits. Trees are our natural companions, helping to balance our atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting vital oxygen. The clean air of a woodland is a far-cry from the polluted air of our roads and cities, and is a wonderful treat for the lungs. To top this off, individual trees emit scents and compounds that have specific benefits which Forest Bathing experts term the 'forest exhalation medicine'. Be it pine or oak, you can be sure to enjoy a scent-filled tonic for mind, body and soul.
Relaxation is a skill that takes practice, an art that we need to rekindle and rediscover. When was the last time that you did nothing? Not watching the TV, listening to the radio or browsing the web, just nothing. Allowing the mind to be completely still and at rest. The key for beginning to learn this skill is all about pace. Slow is the answer, and the pace of a woodland is a great way to practice this. For five minutes, adjust your pace to the pace of the trees, and let the woodland teach you how to be still.
Walking is the perfect form of exercise for noticing the world around you. Unlike driving or cycling, there is time to look around and appreciate your surroundings, noticing a pretty flower, a beautiful rock or an exotic-looking fungus. Nature Bathing takes this to the next level. Simply take the time to look in a relaxed way at a single thing for a long moment. Gaze at a single petal of a flower and notice every detail; shape, colour, texture, size and scent and wonder at the glory of nature.
We all know that a 'brisk' walk is on the menu in terms helping your fitness, but for a Nature Bathing experience you need to think again. Nature Bathing is not about getting from A to B, it is about lingering for longer. Shinrin-yoku is not about exercise. It is not about hurry. Instead in an unhurried way, you simply need to allow your feet to wander.
Our sensitivity to sound is inevitably less acute in modern life, as we learn to screen out the background noise of our homes, streets and towns. Whilst Nature Bathing, it is important to reconnect with your full sense of hearing. Close your eyes and tune in to the sound of the breeze through the trees, the gossip of the birds, the distant call of a deer, the scurrying noise of a squirrel travelling through the canopy or the singing of a stream.
Walking with friends or family is a lovely thing. There's time to chat and catch up, sharing all the news since you last met up. But what if instead you tried one walk where you just shared each other's company rather than each other's news? Share your thoughts and experiences of your time in the woodland, staying in the moment rather than taking your thoughts to past experiences or future plans. Exist only in the moment. It is for this level of connection through which Nature Bathing achieves the proven strengthening of bonds between people.
When you've mastered looking and listening, why not up your game by adding some of this information to your long-term knowledge. Learning something about your natural surroundings is the perfect way to build a stronger connection with nature and to tackle the modern problem of nature deficit disorder. What will you learn this year? Perhaps you will learn to identify the song of a blackbird, the paw prints of a badger or the smell of wild garlic…
If you have a regular woodland haunt it is very easy to stop noticing your surroundings. We're all guilty of walking in a blinkered way, concentrating on navigation or letting your mind drift to matters of everyday life. Instead, take time to notice your surrounding afresh and keep track of the changes. Change of seasons will give you a bounty of new discoveries from flowers, berries, fungus and plants, all waiting to capture your attention.
Our sense of touch is quite often one that we neglect while out for a regular walk. Aside from the unpleasant surprise of a bramble thorn or nettle sting, we tend to restrict ourselves to looking rather than touching. Perhaps a hangover from the rules of our childhood? Shinrin-yoku invites you to use your sense of touch to explore the world of nature. What does the texture of bark feel like? Feel the weight of an acorn in your palm. Focus on the feel of the breeze on your cheeks or the sensation of raindrops as they fall on your arms. If you're able to find a safe place you might also want to experience the feeling of mud between your toes or the sensation of cold brook water running over your bare feet.
There you have it, nine simple principles to help you develop your own Nature Bathing experience. All that's left to do now, is to select a walk from a website like AllTrails and set to work to become BRILLIANT.