Taken from the Japanese term ‘shinrin-yoku,’ forest bathing (also translated as ‘nature bathing’ and ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’) has been a much-loved practice in Japan since the 1980s, and is now collecting a following in the UK.
At its core, forest bathing means immersing yourself in nature and consciously engaging with the landscape. It can be as simple as spending time with nature and absorbing the atmosphere of the forest, or as complex as an expertly-led series of activities by an experienced practitioner.
Although Japanese in origin, forest bathing leaders in the UK might draw on Maori, Buddhist or Mayan teachings. These philosophies go back hundreds of years and connect us with an attitude to nature that is very different from our own.
What are the benefits of forest bathing according to published research?
Rewards of forest bathing are both high and convincing, with top quality studies putting the practice under the microscope.
Leading body for medical research, The Japanese Society for Hygiene, carried out a series of field experiments over the course of two years. The research used good control situations and esteemed physiological and psychological tools to test participants’ responses. Control scenarios included watching footage of the natural environment, interacting with urban environments, and being at rest indoors.
The results were incredibly favourable, with forest bathing activities coinciding with lower blood pressure, heart and pulse rate, and salivary tests showing reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Experts in the UK corroborate these findings, with research in the Royal Society for Public Health concluding that forest bathing reduces stress levels in a study with just-shy-of 500 participants. Dr. Morita et al. state ‘shinrin-yoku may be employed as a stress reduction method, and forest environments can be viewed as therapeutic landscapes.’
Which sense matters?
Though research is good at showing a correlation between nature and wellbeing, things get murky when it comes to the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows.’
For example, a seminal study from the 1980s found that people who had a view of nature outside hospital windows recovered faster from operations than people with a view of industrial environments, or no view at all. This study is often called upon because it isolated sight from all other senses.
But as the research by the Japanese Society for Hygiene shows, when subjects can touch, smell, hear and experience the environmental-chemical impact of being in nature, the impact on our physiological stress-levels and psychological profile is profound.
Where can you do forest bathing in the UK?
There are a few ways of answering this question.
Many would argue that forest bathing should only be led by a qualified shinrin-yoku practitioner. Others would say that you can effectively forest bathe wherever you have a collection of trees. And still more would say that focused interaction with even a single plant can produce the benefits outlined in the research on forest bathing.
For those of us lucky enough to live within walking distance of a forest or seascape, venturing into nature is no problem. Some popular sites for British forest bathers are Brownsea Island in Dorset, Fingle Woods in Devon, Cragside in Northumberland and Box Hill in Surrey.
Bloombox Club and the awe-inspiring power of Nature
When we are confronted with the scale, variety, strangeness and beauty of the natural world, we are reminded of the majesty of nature.
At the top of a mountain, by the sea, or in the middle of a woodland, it is easy to be reminded of the comparative smallness of our daily stresses: attention is taken away from our interior lives and negative ruminations about the self are replaced with awe and compassion for other people, places and things.
But most of us don’t have the option of hiking up a mountain before work every day …
If your jungle is more concrete than green, you may be able to experience the benefits of forest bathing (or supplement them during the week) by greening up your interiors.
Select plants by wellbeing benefit at our online store: support respiratory health with Breathe, find plants for focus and tranquillity in Restore and find plants to build a relationship with in Boost.