Retuning to nature.
While ‘forest bathing’ may conjure up images of a steaming tin bathtub under a blossomed tree canopy – which we would love too – forest bathing in this sense is much more simple in some respects, yet much more complex in others, read on for more from Andy Hamilton:
There is a theory doing the rounds that we humans are so finely attuned to each other that, on a subconscious level, we might be able to pick up on the smallest changes in facial expression or vocal tones and worked out the “vibe” or feeling of a room. Be it a pub on a Saturday night, a couple’s house just after they have had a row or even that feeling you get when you first stand inside a house that you want to buy. Yet before I met up in my local woods with Rachel, a forest bathing practitioner, I had never paid much attention to the fact that different areas of woodlands can also feel very different too. In fact just being around certain trees can actually change your mood for the better. This is at the core of shinrin yoku the Japanese term which roughly translates as forest bathing or forest wellness.
We humans have been around trees since we started to walk upright and yet, the idea of forest bathing to improve our health and well-being is a relatively new concept. The clear benefits of even just a few hours amongst trees more than just allude to the fact that really, we shouldn’t be cooped up in our cars, offices or houses all the time; instead we might be happier in our ancestral home, the woodland.
Dr Qing Li, a Japanese Academic, certainly thinks so which is why he pioneered the development of shinrin youk back in the 1980’s and why he still takes his students out on regular forest bathing sessions today. With much thanks to Dr Li, the practice has really taken off and between 2004 to 2012 Japan spent $4 million on furthering his research. They found that spending time around trees can be transformative reducing anxiety, boosting your immune system and giving long lasting feelings of well-being.
The practice is spreading across the world thanks to forest bathing practitioners like Rachel. During our stroll, she told me the basics of the simple practice; informing me to use every sense in the forest eat something, touch, listen, get right up close and smell and really pay attention to what is around. I took her advice, but felt like I needed to experience this as a solitary activity and so decided to put in into practice in the back garden of the house I grew up in. I also wanted to see if the benefits could be found in a setting familiar to most – an urban back garden.