Forest bathing is the practice of spending time in the forest for better health and wellbeing. Decades of research have proved it improves health, makes you feel happier and creates a sense of calm and overall wellbeing. It’s a way to connect with nature, whether it’s walking mindfully through the woods, taking a break in your local park, or walking barefoot on your lawn if you have one.
It’s not an exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It’s just about being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. When we open up these senses we begin to connect to the natural world.
Forest bathing in the true sense of the term, is about immersing yourself under, and with, trees. But the benefits of this idea can also be felt by another big trend, which is filling your home with house plants and spritzing rooms with essential trees oils. Even these small actions can help reduce blood pressure, lower stress, boost energy and boost your immune system.
Forest medicine expert and author of Shinrin: Forest Yoku: Bathing, Dr Qing Li from Japan, has spent years doing groundbreaking research into this topic and discovered the life-changing power of trees and their ability to bring positivity into our lives. In one particular study he took two groups of men and women on a 3 day forest-bathing trip. He also took two groups for a 2-hour walk in the forest. He also took them on a walk in downtown Tokyo where there were no trees. The tests revealed that:
- Although walking anywhere – whether that be a forest or an urban environment – reduces anxiety, depression, anger and confusion, it is only walking in a forested environment i.e. one with many trees, that has a positive effect on vigour and fatigue.
- A two-hour trip to the forest had as similar an effect as the longer excursions, meaning that you don’t have to spend huge amounts of time in a forest/wood to experience the benefits. Two hours is enough.
- Women’s moods and emotions seem to be more greatly affected by forest-bathing than men’s. This was related to measurable stress hormones, which in women fell after forest-bathing, and greatly increased improvement on their mood.
- The average sleep time of participants after 2-hrs forest-bathing increased by 15 per cent, or 54 minutes.
- People were significantly less anxious after a two-hour walk in the forest.
- Quality of sleep was better after forest-bathing.
- Afternoon walks improved the quality of sleep more than morning walks.
It’s no secret that high levels of stress are directly linked to anger and irritability. We all know it because we’ve all felt it. The extreme busyness of modern life, combined with the ‘always-on’ mode which smart phones have put us into, takes it’s toll significantly on our moods, temperaments and abilities to cope with life’s ups and downs. We become less resilient. Coupled with not having enough sleep, or just not sleeping well, which so many people seem to struggle with now, it’s no wonder depression and the use of painkillers and anti-depressants has rocketed. Intelligently, in his book, Dr Li asks
How do you begin your day after a night of not quite enough sleep? Do you stand vacantly in the kitchen drinking coffee in the vain hope it will kick you into action? Do then rush out the door to catch a train or zoom off in your car to get to work or drop the children off to school (and then rush to work)? Are there then a million and one things you have to do as soon as you get into work that you should have done yesterday?
How does that make you feel? Happy and relaxed? Full of energy and enthusiasm for life?”
Of course, it’s not possible for many of us to get out into the forest or the wood first thing in the morning, or even early evening. But there are ways to begin and end our days better which sets us up for living rather than surviving (try reading our piece on morning routines here for ideas). And when you can, even more so in these long, light evenings of summer, as well as at weekends, get outside into nature. And if you have children and and a partner and think it’s totally impossible, why not try going to bed a little earlier and taking it in turns with your partner to get up 30 minutes earlier to go outside and take a stroll, ideally near some trees or a park, before the day begins. If you have no partner, find some time for this when your children are at school or having a nap in the pram.
Forest-bathing can encompass lots of incredible ways to make you feel better about yourself and life. When you change your mood, everything changes around you. Don’t feel it has to be hours on your own in a magnificent wood. Whilst that would be wonderful, it may not be practical for you right now. The lessons shown above reveal that even getting outside in the morning for 30 minutes to reconnect with yourself (and ideally with nature) before the day really begins, works wonders on stress levels. Just make a commitment to yourself to try one of the ideas shown here, whatever you can make fit with your lifestyle right now. Here’s how to do Shinrin-Yoku, or forest-bathing in the park:
- Leave behind your phone and any other distractions
- Leave behind your expectations
- Slow down, forget about the time
- Bring yourself into the present moment, be fully here.
- Find a place to sit – on the grass, beside a tree or on a park bench
- Notice what you can hear and see
- Notice what you feel
- Stay for 2 hours if possible, though after 20 mins you’ll begin to feel the benefits