Over the past few months many of us have found solace in getting outside and spending time in forests and woodlands. Being in nature makes us feel better, but how can we maximise the benefits of time spent in the great outdoors? Dr Qing Li is a world-leading expert on forest medicine and a renowned champion of forest bathing, a practice that is growing in popularity in the UK.
What is forest bathing?
Forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, is the Japanese practice of spending time around trees and being mindful of your environment. This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Outside is where we can smell the flowers, taste the fresh air, look at the changing colours of the trees, hear the birds singing and feel the breeze on our skin. And when we open up our senses, we begin to connect to the natural world.
Of all our senses, sense of smell is most primal. As well as having a higher concentration of oxygen, the air in the forest is also full of phytoncides. Phytoncides are the natural oils within a plant and are part of the tree’s defence system and the way the trees communicate with each other. When walking through the Heart of England Forest and exposing yourself to this natural aromatherapy, you could also be boosting your mood, lifting anxiety and improving your immune system.
What are the benefits of forest bathing?
- Reduces blood pressure
- Lowers stress: Levels of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline decrease after forest bathing
- Improves Sleep: The average sleep time of participants after a two-hour forest walk increased by 15% percent
- Improves heart health
- Lowers blood sugar levels
- Improves concentration and memory
- Improves mental health: A walk anywhere will improve your mood but a forest walk gives it an extra boost
- Boosts energy
- Boosts immunity: Phytoncides have been shown to boost natural killer (NK) cells that fight infection
- Helps you lose weight
How do you forest bathe?
- Find a spot – There is no one-size-fits-all answer for where to do Shinrin-Yoku. You want to find somewhere that makes you feel safe and at peace, with clear walkways and ideally a variety of plants, sounds and smells to focus your senses. The most important thing is to get out there and give it a go, learn what works best for you
- Walk slowly – I recommend walking slowly for beginners, ideally 2 hours to walk 5km, this way you can really tune into the forest environment
- Engage your senses – Which birds can you hear singing? Is the wind rustling the leaves in the trees? How does the sunlight filter through the tree canopy? How many different shades of green can you see? Can you smell the phytoncides given off by the trees? Why not place your hands on the trunk of a tree, how does that feel? Breath in a few deep breaths, how does the fresh air taste as it enters your lungs?
- Take it further – Once you start using your senses you begin to notice more and more, but if you want to take this further why not try a little gentle yoga at the end of your walk, or sit in stillness at your favourite point.
Discover more about Forest Bathing
There are forest bathing courses and experiences available in the UK, and you can read more in Dr Li’s book ‘Into the Forest: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness’.