In my last column, I wrote about my love of gardening as a therapeutic activity and the benefits it can have for us all.
Another nature based therapeutic activity that I am also very interested in and I try to implement into my own personal life as well as my professional life is a technique called ‘Forest Bathing’.
This is something that cultures all over the world have practised for as long as time itself.
In Japanese, it’s called ‘Shinrin-yoku’, in Mandarin it is ‘Sēnlínyù’ and in Korean it’s known as ‘sanlimyok’. Translated for us it is simply ‘Forest Bathing’.
It is something our own ancestors practised but sadly has been lost in modern day life, but more and more people are turning back to our roots in hope of calm and a way of finding peace in this chaotic world we live in.
Some countries have designated woodlands and forests purely for the purpose of relaxation and connecting within nature.
Large corporate companies are even enforcing Forest Bathing on their staff for their own benefits as much as the obvious benefits to their working environments.
Many people would comment that they walk to work or school or that they walk their dog every day, this is great but how many of us do it mindfully?
Mindfulness is the latest buzz word and thankfully people everywhere seem to be becoming more and more aware of it and its uses in everyday life.
But how many of us actually make an active decision to be fully present and in the moment? How many people are not thinking about those ever useful ‘what ifs’ or planning what they may or may not have for dinner that night and low and behold how many people are even actually aware of the dog that they are walking!
So, what is it? What is Forest Bathing?
Well here is the science bit;
Trees naturally give off something called ‘phytoncides‘ or ‘wood essential oils’, these oils when inhaled have been scientifically proven to have a beneficial impact on our nervous systems. This means that quite simply being within a wooded area we can see our blood pressures drop, stress levels reduced, mood disorders be more balanced and our overall quality of life improved.
Now, to fully benefit from these natural feel good oils we need to be fully aware, we need to stop, breathe, and take a moment to become fully present. We need to be aware of or inhales and exhales, we need to think about our surroundings and quite literally submerse ourselves in nature – just like we would in a warm, bubbly bath!
Studies show that we would need to spend at least 15 minutes mindfully breathing in this environment on a regular basis to get lasting results.
I recognise that most people find it very difficult to be mindful, the pace, stresses and responsibility of everyday life are often hard to switch off from and during my studying of Forest Bathing I have learnt many different ‘invitations’ that can be learnt to encourage mindfulness in nature and help us to be grounded to the present moment and really benefit our lives. These are very simple techniques that anyone can learn and really can be used in our everyday lives. A simply start is ‘shaking off’ – it’s quite literally a good shake off, a brushing off of our day, our thoughts, our problems, and our worries before we step into that woodland. If you watch an animal that’s been held in captivity being released you will quite often see that one of the first things it does is give itself a really good shake off!
I live, work and breathe in a natural environment and I have spent a great deal of time not just in the woods but in other natural environments, be it in the mountains, by the sea or in a meadow and I know that there are benefits to us as humans in all natural environments not just in the woods. Mindfulness in nature could even be practised in a desert! To learn more about Forest Bathing you can take a look at this website www.shinrinyoku.co.uk
These long and lazy Summer evenings are the perfect opportunity to give Forest Bathing a go. There are many beautiful, natural places to visit around us. There are parks, gardens and woodlands everywhere for us to visit. So why not consider giving it a go after dinner, while its still light – take the children and all see what you can discover when you are fully present and take note on just how great this practice makes you feel!
I will be running a Forest Bathing session at Thorp Perrow Arboretum on Saturday 19th August, this is a ticket only event so early booking is advised.
– Faith Douglas, Curator
Photo credit: all Thorp Perrow