Everyone has those days, you know the ones – those days when you knock your coffee over at work, get bumped into in the street and forget to send a time-sensitive email. For that week when things are not going well and you’ve missed the bus home, you need to consider a forest bath.
Forest bathing is a rising trend, and with good reason – it could be an eco-friendly solution to the bottled-up stresses experienced by workers across the country, and it’s incredibly easy to do. In this article, we discuss the joys of forest bathing and where it comes from.
Where Did Forest Bathing Originate
As a country that prizes self-improvement practices and simplicity, Japan has a lot to teach the West about the pursuit of health and happiness and one of the best places for the uninitiated to start is with ‘shinrin-yoku’ – forest bathing. Shinrin-yoku literally translates to ‘forest bathing’, is a fun but very accurate description of this relaxing activity.
The practice of forest bathing under the label of shinrin-yoku began in Japan in 1982 as part of a public health programme, but, truthfully, humans have been practising variants of the activity unprompted for hundreds of years. The poetry from the era of British Romanticism the 19th century can attest to the benefits that nature had on the soul, but never before has this activity been undertaken by thousands as part of a knowing trend.
Some have linked the current popularity of forest bathing to recent surges in mindfulness. Shinrin-yoku is about learning to put your mental-wellbeing first and foremost, and it just so happens that nature is a free and accessible resource which can help us to achieve this.
How to Forest Bathe
Forest bathing is a simple process requiring you to take a few hours out of your day, occasionally, to go and wander in nature. It really is as easy as that. Some schools of thought will put an emphasis on leaving all your electronics at home, but it is understandable that not everyone would feel safe doing this and if you don’t feel safe you will struggle to relax. Instead, it is important to remember that you only get out what you put in, so, by all means, bring your mobile phone, but try to resist the temptation to start texting during your session.
To begin, head out towards a forest or wood and the rest is up to you. You could spend the time walking, resting or investigating plant life – acting on these desires can help to improve your self-confidence, especially after a long week of holding back frustration at work. Try to act on all of your senses, sight, smell, touch and hearing, enjoying a fully immersive experience of the forest.
Why Forest Bathing is Good for Your Health
Shinrin-yoku is very relaxing, which also means that it will reduce heart rate and blood pressure in those practising it. This can be very important for people who struggle with heart problems as the ability to unwind can be more than mentally beneficial, it could have lasting effects on predicted lifespan.
An added effect of forest bathing is that it encourages people to get out and enjoy taking physical exercise in nature. Instead of appreciating it from watching it on television. Forest bathing gets people off the sofa and out walking in the fresh air which is so important. However well ventilated your home or workplace may be, nothing can rival the positive effects of clean air on the body. This means that you should try to make wellness trips to clean air spaces like forests every now and then.
In any fitness regime, or diet, the majority of people see their best results near the beginning when they have the most weight to lose, and you can view your mental wellbeing as a similar muscle; while you may see the best effects from forest bathing if you engage only on your most stressful days, you could succeed in making long-lasting changes to your outlook if you practice shinrin-yoku regularly.
Problems in the UK
It is estimated by nhsforest.org that if Central Bedfordshire encouraged 10% of its population to exercise, by providing better access to good quality green spaces, it would save around £2.9m in healthcare costs. Currently, a lack of green space is preventing more people from enjoying the benefits of shinrin-yoku.
The NHS also reports that green spaces have huge benefits to physical, mental and social health, meaning that the public should aim to protect and improve its health by protecting its plants, woods and forests. If this isn’t convincing enough, then perhaps the statistic reported by Natural England regarding our children can convince you that we need to be putting plants in our cities;
‘more than 10% of children have not set foot in a park, forest, or other natural environment over the previous 12 months’ (2016)
This is termed by many as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, and it is something that we need to fix. If not by making the effort to travel to green spaces, then by incorporating more greenery into our cities, offices and homes.
We can do this by improving our collective respect for plant life, and our connection of nature, by adding planting to both indoor and outdoor spaces where we can. From window boxes and trough planters to desktops and cabinet tops. This begins with individuals, especially those in prominent positions. Perhaps you have the opportunity to raise the health, output and mood of your workforce by introducing some indoor office plants to your workplace?
1) Forest Bathing, by Dr Qing Li (book, 2018)
2) Prescribing Green Space, by nhsforest.org (pamphlet PDF)
3) Nature Makes You Better,by National Geographic(article, Feb 2019)