by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 22nd November, 2018
Looking for a place to unwind, connect with nature and potentially even heal yourself? You've come to the right place.
Forest bathing is a practice that originated in Japan in the 1980's and was initially called (and still is by many) Shinrin-Yoku, which then translates to Forest Bathing. It's a practice designed to force you to calm down, unwind and take in the beauty and tranquility of nature and through doing so, improve your health both mental and physical.
Generally during a forest bath you will not be trekking up mountains or slugging through mud, these trips are meant to be as relaxing as possible - a slow stroll through the trees to recalibrate your mind. This often is a lot harder than it seems - we're programmed throughout our day to day lives to always be looking for the next task to complete, but forest bathing requires us to step back and become present, which can come as a shock initially. No phones are allowed to prevent distraction, for obvious reasons.
There are lot's of different benefits to forest bathing but truly the experience is ultimately what you make of it, your attitude when approaching this task is what will determine whether you gain anything from it.
Many people for example, find that forest bathing is beneficial for their mental health, and this is backed up by research. One study found that levels of anxiety and depression were lowered in participants to partook in forest bathing when compared to those who walked through a built-up urban area, to be replaced by better focus and an overall more positive outlook.
It's also been suggested that forest bathing may help improve energy levels and tackle sleeping problems. You may have noticed that taking a deep breath while on a beach or someplace equally natural and tranquil leaves you feeling revitalized and invigorated- this is for a reason. Forest bathing has been shown to trigger the release of certain hormones that energise us during the day but leave us able to fall asleep when it comes to night, a much better alternative to coffee.
It's not just the mental benefits either. Many people have found that forest bathing reduces tension within their body, allowing them to breathe easier, stretch more and even relieving chronic pain or damage such as a pulled muscle. This could well be because of the reduction in stress and mindful practice, but some have suggested that certain compounds given off by trees, called terpenes, may help to reduce inflammation within the body.
Really, you can forest bathe anywhere that you can find a quiet spot with a few trees. Although there are specific courses and companies that will offer you a more "authentic" forest bathing experience, overlooked by guides, if you're just starting out, finding a peaceful location out in nature and free from distraction is just as good.