Imagine walking through a lush forest. The tall trees enveloping you and the soft forest floor cushioning your feet, damp from recent rainfall. Now breathe deeply. Notice the woodsy scents, the citrusy notes, and the overall freshness of the air.
It is no secret that here at Rockholly we are big encouragers of the outdoors. With the deep forests, beautiful coastlines, and panoramic views, the UK has much to offer, but we aren’t the only ones who believe that the outdoor world can be a powerful resource for us to create happier healthier lives.
In Japan, they are such firm believers in the good of the outdoors that from 2004 to 2012, the Japanese government spent over 3 million pounds studying the physical and mental benefits of spending time in forests. They’ve found the results to be so compelling and beneficial that there is an entire Japanese practice focused around spending time among the trees – forest bathing.
What exactly is the Japanese art of forest bathing?
Forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku, is the act of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Even more simply put – just being with trees.
Despite its recent gain in popularity, forest bathing first became part of the national public health program in Japan in 1982. Yet, perhaps our current notification-driven culture has left us feeling overwhelmed and with a strong desire for a different sort of connection.
Immersion in the forest is a way to clear your mind and allow your senses to take the lead. Forest bathers can practice mindful walking, but simply sitting under a canopy of trees has benefits. It is a moment to feel grounded and to reconnect – to see, hear, and feel nature.
This means no strenuous hiking, no logging of miles, no counting steps on an activity tracker, no competition against others. The goal is not to accomplish anything, but rather, the art of simply relaxing in nature.
The method has proven so beneficial, in fact, that it has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine today.
By simply immersing ourselves among the trees, forest bathing has proven effective in lowering our heart rate, decreasing blood pressure, and reducing stress hormones, while simultaneously increasing immunity as well as improving overall feelings of wellbeing.
To start, just find some green
One of the best parts about forest bathing is that we don’t need to alter our lives dramatically to be in nature. Even city dwellers can benefit from the outdoors with the increasing presence of urban parks.
A recent study demonstrated that English populations with the most green space in their surroundings had lower levels of mortality. This is in part due to the increase of physical movement, but also in addition to the release of phytoncide, an essential oil found in plants and trees which has been proven to increase our immune response. And there’s also the psychological benefits.
Stepping away from our desks during the workday into these urban green spaces can help increase the flow of energy, offer deeper and clearer insight into the current problems that we are facing, as well as reducing overall stress levels, especially if you work in a technology-driven world.
And if you find yourself not in an urban space, but in a proper forest? Even better.
A group effort
While forest bathing is most certainly an activity that can be done alone, you may choose to elevate the experience by joining a community of forest bathers. Create a club of your own to encourage others to get outdoors or find a list of certified guides. Experienced guides cultivate a mindful setting for the forest bathers, helping you to fully explore with your senses. They teach you to notice the scents of the forest, the feeling of the forest floor below your feet, or as the clouds above break way, to appreciate the warmth of the sun on your closed eyelids.
Start them young
Forest bathing is also a perfect activity for children. If we could make the outdoors part of every child’s life, we can teach children to use nature as a way of grounding, a place to spark creativity and imagination and to instill the desire to be active. When life gets hard for them as it inevitably will in time, these are the important places that they will remember when they are older, and the places they will always be able to return to.
This weekend, set aside your phone for a different type of connection. Let the noise of emails and social media slip away, slip on your rain jacket, and join us in an afternoon of forest bathing, where mindfulness meets nature. We hope you return refreshed, inspired, and with a greater sense of resolve.