Forest Bathing

What Is Forest Bathing?

As clichéd as it might sound, I have decided to set myself some goals to focus on this year, one of which is making time to look after my own wellbeing.

For little miss people pleaser, overthinker and natural worrier over here, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. For me, self-care looks like running a hot bubble bath, popping on a face mask and whiling away the hours getting lost in a good book.

And while that will always be part of my routine, I wanted to focus on something bigger – a better way of clearing the head. Journaling, meditation, exercise or whatever else it may be, wellbeing looks different for everyone.

How one person decides to indulge in a little self-care is going to differ from the next. However, one thing that kept appearing was reconnecting with nature, so when the opportunity presented itself to try out a Forest Bathing session, I jumped at it.

Forest bathing or Shinrin-Yoku is a natural wellbeing therapy originating from Japan. It literally translates as ‘forest-bath’, meaning to bathe in the forest atmosphere or take in the forest through our senses.

Research shows that being in nature for just two hours per week can have a significant benefit to our health. Forest bathing takes this one step further, with mindful and sensory invitations to connect with nature and reflect on our experiences.

It is a perfect opportunity to relax, unwind and connect with the natural environment. It allows us time to switch off from the pressures of life and simply be surrounded by the healing energy of the forest.

Engaging in sensory experiences allows us to connect with nature, connect with our intuition and find inspiration in the natural world. Forest bathing can be enjoyed at any time of year and is a wonderful way of tuning in to the seasons and cycles of nature.

If you don’t have access to a forest, you can achieve similar benefits by taking a walk in your local park.

A beautiful and holistic experience to benefit both physical and mental health and wellbeing, the scientifically-proven benefits include: reduced stress (lower levels of cortisol), improved mood, boosted immune system functioning, reduced blood pressure and pulse rate, increased heart variability meaning the circulatory system can respond well to stress, increased ability to focus, accelerated recovery from surgery or illness, increased energy levels, and improved sleep.

“Phytoncides are essential oils emitted by trees and plants to protect them against germs and insects. They are particularly prevalent in pine forests. Inhaling phytoncides boosts our immune systems by increasing the number of frontline immune defenders called natural killer cells (NK cells) in our bodies, giving us resilience against disease, including viruses and colds,” explains Jen.

Unaware of what to expect, I was a little sceptical at first, but as soon as I’m greeted by Jen’s friendly face, I immediately relax.

A quick medical consultation form and we’re ready to go. A short walk and we arrive at our forest bathing spot where we start with some slow deep breathing, becoming aware of how the body feels at that moment.

Once we slow down our thoughts, we move on to the body with a slow mindful walk. As we do so, I’m encouraged to notice movements in my body: contraction of muscles, an awareness of balance, how the body adapts to the terrain underfoot.

As we walk I start to become aware of the sensations of the ground under my feet: pressure, lumps and bumps, hard, soft, uphill, downhill.

Next, I’m invited to sit, close my eyes and focus on the sounds surrounding me as Jen guides me through a relaxing meditation while encouraging me to listen to the sounds near and far; birds singing, leaves rustling in the wind, cars in the distance.

Doing this allows all of the senses to open up. The smells of the forest surround me as I take in deep breaths of the fresh air. I open my eyes and, as if for the first time, notice the trees, birds and sky above me.

As we continue to walk through the forest, Jen invites me to explore my curiosity, to examine the details and to feel the nature around us. We pick the leaves from the ground, feel the air on our skin, run our fingers across the roughness of the bark and feel the different textures.

As we meander our way down towards the lake, Jen invites me to look up. We’re so used to living full steam ahead, in our phones and in a rush – this part allows us to switch off, slow down and appreciate the natural beauty of the world we live in.

When we reach the lake, we’re invited to pick a spot that grabs our attention and spend 15 minutes reflecting.

“You may like to sit by a tree or lie down on the grass. Look up at the canopy and the sky. Watch the branches move or the clouds drift by. Notice the pace of nature? Is it peaceful and calm or wild and windy? How does this make you feel? If your body wants to, try some slow stretching, becoming really aware of being in your body,” Jen explains before leaving me to it.

We conclude our forest bathe with a friendly chat and a mindful cup of tea to reflect on the experience.

Research has shown that the immune-boosting effects from one session of forest bathing can last up to a week. A whole weekend of forest bathing can boost the immune system for up to one month. You can develop your own forest bathing practice by scheduling in some time each week to be in and connect with nature.

Keep an eye out for Lakeland Wellbeing’s future forest bathing events and retreat days, which often align with the solstice and equinox. Lakeland Wellbeing has other therapies to support your wellbeing, including Reiki, which can be a wonderful way to enhance your connection with nature.