Random fact about me: I love bathing. In the bath with bath salts and candles and a good book. In the sea, be it English shores or overseas. Even a quick dip in a river. When we lived in North Yorkshire, I enjoyed the occasional dip in the River Swale. Now, I’m adding a new form of bathing to the list. Forest bathing.
Forest Bathing, What’s That Then ?
Literally translated from the Japanese shinrin-yoku, forest bathing or nature therapy, is the practice of spending time with nature in order to create a relaxed state. A feeling of well being. The idea is to be present in the moment, immerse in your surroundings and calm your mind. Studies have backed up the idea with science; intentionally spending time outdoors can lead to better physical and emotional health.
Japanese researcher and author Yoshifumi Miyazaki has spent three decades researching shinrin-yoku and has concluded that the benefits go far beyond a sense of peace. As humans, we were designed to live in the natural environment. The man made environment doesn’t provide what we need to thrive. Getting back to nature shouldn’t be seen as indulgent. It’s really getting back to our true selves.
Navigating our way through a worldwide pandemic, I think we’ve all become a lot more aware of our health and how precious it really is. Ironically, lots of the things we’ve had to do to safeguard our physical health-social distancing, isolation, mask wearing – has had a crushing, negative impact on our emotional well being. Finding a place of sanctuary and peace is more important now than ever.
I touched on this in my post about ditching resolutions and having a January recharge instead. You can’t always control events unfolding around you, but you can nurture yourself and manage the impact.
How Do You Do It?
I’m not an expert, just a cheerful enthusiast. But I think the key is to be intentional and to embrace the experience to get the most out of it. A few things to think about might include…
- Find a location that appeals to you. Despite the name, it doesn’t have to involve a forest or woodland. Any green space will do- a garden, a park, even a graveyard!
- Dress for the weather, especially if you intend to stay out for a little while. It’s hard to enjoy the experience if your hands are cold or your just getting soaked.
- Mindfulness is key, but it can be hard to switch off. I try finding something to see, something to touch, a sound and a scent. It feels really forced at first, but gets easier.
- Focus on your breathing. This is a tricky one, I’ve tried yoga and could not do any kind of controlled breathing. But a few deep breaths and concentrating on making your exhale longer than your inhale really does make you feel better. No idea why, but give it a go. Thank me later.
- Make time to do it regularly. Because mindfulness gets easier the more you practice it, and because you deserve time out in a place that you enjoy. On that note…
Forest Bathing Inspiration
Places I’ve been that lend themselves to a bit of nature therapy, in the U.K and beyond include…
Local Area: I’m lucky enough to live on the edge of Salisbury Plain so I’ve plenty of woodland and fields to wander, not to mention local walks like the Bulford Kiwi. When the Plain is busy with military exercises I’ll head else where; maybe to a historic church yard . What’s on your doorstep?
Brecon Beacons National Park: Forest, mountains and waterfalls and miles of rugged open space. Climbing Pen Y Fan is optional, but a great experience.
Horesell Common, Surrey: A recent discovery for me, but a lovely place. Very dog friendly too, if you like to go about your day with some four legged company, as I do.
Herren Hausen Gardens, Hannover: My favourite and often visited gardens from my time spent in Germany.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh: The Royal Botanical Gardens are only a few miles from the bustle of Edinburgh city centre, but it’s a different world. The best thing here is that several gardens have been created in vast, heated green houses. Perfect when the weather isn’t playing the game.
Kielder Water & Forest: The largest forest in England, home to some stunning wildlife and a a great place for star gazing. Winner!
The Harz Mountains, Germany: Miles of open space, forest and mountains.
I hope I’ve inspired you to give forest bathing a go, or even just to get outdoors a bit more. Even in January. It can be hard, can’t it, when it’s chilly and a bit grey. Hang on in there though, Spring will be here before we know it.