The science of nature
Forest bathing or ‘shinrin-yoku’ was first developed in Japan in the 1980s, following scientific studies conducted by the government. The results showed that two hours of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and improve concentration and memory. They also found that trees releases chemicals called phytoncides, which have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, boosting the immune system. As a result of this research, the Japanese government introduced ‘shinrin-yoku’ as a national health programme.
Over the last few years forest bathing has begun to gain popularity in the UK. Many of us naturally head outside as a way to unwind and feel refreshed, but the benefits of ‘nature therapy’ are also backed up by science: in 2018 academics at the University of Derby found that improving a person’s connection with nature led to significant increases in their wellbeing.
Top tips for forest bathing
Forest bathing is no more complicated than simply going for a wander in your local woods or park. The only difference is that rather than walking for exercise, you take the time to really focus on the natural world around you: from the rays of sunlight catching the leaves to birdsong echoing from the canopy. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Pick a quieter time of day. There’ll probably be fewer people around if you go to the woods in the early morning or later in the evening. Depending on your schedule you could also try weekday afternoons (outside of the school holidays).
- Try turning off your electronic devices. An hour or two of digital detoxing will help you to slow down and focus on your surroundings.
- Take your time. Wandering slowly through the trees can be very meditative, or you can settle down on a log to really take in your surroundings. If you stay still and quiet enough you’re also more likely to see wildlife, such as deer and birds.
- Use all of your senses. When did you last touch a tree trunk and feel the rough bark, or notice the way sunlight catches the leaves, or try to pick out all the different types of birdsong around you?
- Pay attention to your breathing. This is a great way to relax and clear your mind, so you can focus on what’s around you. Try closing your eyes and taking ten slow, deep breaths in and out, then gently open your eyes and bring your awareness back to the forest.
- Stay as long as you feel comfortable. Two hours is the recommended time for a forest bathing session, but if you’ve got a busy schedule then even just 10 minutes in nature can help you to feel refreshed.