Walking on a white, icy path. No destination. The cold air is clearing my lungs. The
trees are bending under the sparkling snow. The sun dances through the branches
and warms my face. I feel free, no pressure, no sounds, no people.
This how a forest bathing session can start. I wasn’t expecting any snow when I planned the trip, but it made the experience even more relaxing. All the white gave me a feeling of inner peace, which usually happens if everything is green. This is my recovery session after the holidays. Who is ready to go back to work after this period? Not me.
It is known that spending time in nature has health benefits, but how a ‘bath’ in the forest can actually help? Forest bathing became quite popular in UK in the last years; from books about the healing power of trees to the Forestry Commission of England, which recommends various forest paths for bathing. Forest bathing is originally known as shinrin-yoku. The practice is imported from Japan, where was developed during the 1980s. Shirin in Japanese means forest and yoku means bath, so shirin-yoku refers to bathing in the forest atmosphere or taking in the forest through our senses.
So how does one go about forest bathing?
There are no fixed rules. The whole idea is to detach from day to day life and recharge yourself. It is important to leave at home any electronic devices and to have time at your disposal. It doesn’t matter what season it is, what time of the day or what kind of forest are you going to. The closes forest to you will do its job. Once you are there, just wander and observe how different the trees are from one another, listen to the sound of the forest, smell the air and feel the trees, the grass, the sun. Use all your senses and be present.
At some point, you might feel the need to find a place to sit down. When you see the perfect spot, you will know it. Spend as much time as it feels right to you. You might just sit and take all in, or you might want to walk a bit more, eat something or meditate.
When you are ready to go back to the real world get out of the forest and embrace the world. This technique is great for restoring energy after a chaotic period, such as the holidays. If you want to return to work refreshed instead of grungy this is something to try.
It makes sense for humans to feel good in nature, but there is also scientific research, which
demonstrates that the healing effects of the shinrin-yoku are not just ‘cookies’. The scientifically proven benefits of shinrin-yoku include:
• Boosted immune system
• Reduced blood pressure
• Reduced stress
• Improved mood
• Increased ability to focus
• Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
• Increased energy level
• Improved sleep
In 24 forest from Japan (280 participants) were conducted several filed experiments to prove these benefits. In each experiment, 12 subjects walked in a forest or an urban area and then
the next day they switched. Cortisol, blood pressure, pulse rate and heart rate were measure
in the morning, before the walk and after it. The results show that “forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.”
If you want to read more in depth about the science behind the forest bathing, the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy offers on their website a great number of researches available in a pdf format.
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