Updated: Sep 1
Taking a walk in woodland is not a new thing - people have been doing it for leisure for centuries. But it wasn’t until the 1980s when people actually started to study the potential health benefits of deliberate, slow, mindful time spent in nature that our understanding of the true power of what became known as ‘forest bathing’ really began to emerge. This study originated in Japan - a country where despite 80% of the population living in urban areas is actually 68% forested (compared to the UK’s 13%). The forest bathing movement is taking off around the world, so here’s our guide to ‘shinrin yoku’, what it is, and where you can do it in the UK.
What is ‘forest bathing’?
The translation ‘forest bathing’ comes from the original Japanese term ‘shinrin yoku’ (shinrin = forest, yoku = bath) and contrary to popular belief amongst the uninitiated, does not actually involve getting wet! Quite simply, the concept of forest bathing is to immerse yourself in the quietness of a woodland and to allow your senses to take in the sounds, smells and sights of the forest as you connect with the environment around you. As your mind and body relax you will become attuned to things you may not otherwise notice on a normal walk - rustling in the undergrowth, the sound of the wind, the petrichor rising from the damp earth, birds singing, twigs falling. Spending time tuned into nature like this has been shown to reduce blood pressure, stress, depression and anxiety, boost the immune system and help improve sleep and creativity.
Whether you choose to sit, stand or lie down, go alone or with a friend or two is entirely up to you. Alternatively you may choose to join an organised forest bathing walk where your guide will help you become ‘present in the moment’, teach you breathing techniques to help you slow down, show you through the forest, introduce tactile surfaces and help you tune into the sounds and smells of nature. Up and down the country there are small groups that meet regularly, national organisations and private, qualified forest therapy practitioners who run their own sessions starting at around £25 per person for a two hour guided walk.