A beginner's guide to forest bathing

Today's busy lives can have a significant impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle for a while, why not have a go at forest bathing? Despite the name you won’t need to pack your swimsuit: it simply means the practice of slowing down and immersing yourself in the forest atmosphere.

This handy guide will give you some top tips and places to go, so you can return to your roots.

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.

  1. 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).
  2. Try turning off your electronic devices. An hour or two of digital detoxing will help you to slow down and focus on your surroundings.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Forests in the South West

South East

Midlands and East of England

North of England

Rhaeadr Ddu waterfall among trees

Coed Ganllwyd, Wales 

Tucked away in a less-visited corner of Snowdonia lies Coed Ganllwyd – Wales’ answer to a tropical rainforest. The true highlight of a walk through the woods are the spectacular Rhaeadr Ddu waterfalls. Stand on the wooden bridge and marvel at the cascades, which are particularly dramatic after rainfall.

Pathway through trees at Black Glen Arboretum

Downhill Demesne, Northern Ireland 

Nestled on the Downhill Estate on the wild Northern Ireland coast is a small woodland haven that provides shelter from the windswept clifftops. Filled with the scents of bluebells and wild garlic in spring, the Black Glen arboretum makes an ideal oasis for those looking to get closer to nature.

 Sunrise in the woodlands at Fell Foot, Cumbria

Help protect the trees that protect us 

Trees are our natural armour in the battle against climate change. By looking after existing woodlands and planting new trees, we can grow a cleaner future together. Help protect the trees that protect us and donate to our Woodlands appeal today.