Getting outside and embracing nature is the perfect antidote to a hectic lifestyle. Here’s how to use the calming forest bathing trend to your advantage.
From the sound of a breeze whispering through the trees todappled sunshine peaking through the canopy, a forest can bean immensely serene place to be. But did you know that spendingtime peacefully in the woods is a scientifically proven concept thatcomes with an official name – ‘forest bathing’? The Japanese coinedthe phrase shinrin-yoku in 1982 (roughly translated as ‘taking in theforest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing’) and have turned it into a formof therapy thought to lower blood pressure, improve mood and focusand reduce stress. In fact, shinrin-yoku is now part of Japan’s nationalhealth policy, with around £3 million being spent on research and over 55 official foresttrails being created, with plans for many more. And it’s not only the Japanese who areheading for leafy areas. In Malaysia, the concept is known as mandi embun or ‘bathingin the forest dew’ and it’s catching on in South Korea, Taiwan and Finland.Here in the UK, you can now find holidays dedicated to finding your zen amongst forestsurroundings, plus get outdoor therapy from specialist coaches and loads more…
How To Use The Calming Forest Bathing Trend To Your Advantage Photo Gallery
On top of feeling less stressed, researchby The Wood Window Alliance reveals that82 per cent of people feel happier whensurrounded by greenery. But why?Hypnotherapist Edrina Rush (edrinarush.com) explains that we’re wired to beengrossed in nature and appreciate naturalsurroundings – especially when there’san abundance of greenery. ‘Green is thecolour we see the most in nature and it alsomeans balance, calm and harmony,’ sheexplains. There’s evidence your pituitarygland is stimulated, your muscles are morerelaxed and your blood histamine levelsincrease when you’re exposed to thecolour green. Rush adds that goingoutdoors helps manage our levels ofserotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulatesour mood, behaviour and appetite. ‘Toomuch serotonin and we can becomeirritable and tense, but too little serotoninand we can become depressed. Breathingfresh air [with more oxygen in it] can helpregulate our serotonin [which is affectedby oxygen], promoting wellbeing.’Happily, the feel-good factor triggeredby forest bathing can also have a positiveeffect on loved ones. ‘They are mostlikely to reap the rewards of our positivepsychological gain from spending timein forests,’ says Dr Saima Latif fromconsultancy Psychology Direct(psychologydirect.co.uk), who hasbeen working with Forest Holidays(forestholidays.co.uk).The wellbeing benefits of nature meantherapists are now even taking theirsessions outdoors. Walking Therapy,for example, is the brainchild ofpsychotherapist Jonathan Hoban(creativecounsellinglondon.com). Anotherpsychotherapist, William Pullen, founderof Dynamic Running Therapy, or DRT(dynamicrunningtherapy.co.uk) uses DRTwith clients in order to ‘replace the staticatmosphere of the therapists’ office with anoutside environment rich in life, change andpossibility.’ In his book Run for your Life:Mindful Running for a Happy Life (PenguinLife, £12.99) William explains, ‘The innatebond we have with the natural world isalways within us, no matter how strongour sense of estrangement.’ He adds thatwe’ve got a hereditary urge to connect withnature and that a simple way to use thehealing power of nature is to forest bathe.Makes a lot of sense…
As far as wellbeing trends go, this one’svery simple – you visit a forest, woodor natural area, walk and take in yoursurroundings to rejuvenate and restoremind and body. ‘Forest bathing is oneof my favourite self-love practices,’ saysChloe Kerman, 36, former fashion editorturned shamanic healer (chloeisidora.com).‘I encourage clients and friends to connectwith nature by walking in silence andallowing all of their senses to pick upinformation.’ Kerman likes to lie down atthe base of a tree and meditate – a processshe finds deeply relaxing and stressreducing. ‘I often leave a forest-bathingsession feeling happier, relaxed, in tuneand inspired with creative ideas andincreased energy,’ she says.But why do large, leafy places evokethese feelings? One study published inthe journal Public Health reveals thatbeing in a forest benefits acute emotions,especially chronic stress. As well asreducing feelings of anxiety, it helps reducethe risk of stress-related diseases. ‘Theforest environment lowers your bloodpressure, reduces your levels of stresshormones and increases levels of serumadiponectin, which helps prevent obesity,type 2 diabetes and cardiovasculardisease,’ says Latif. ‘The positive healtheffects of viewing natural landscapes onstress levels and on speed of recoveryfrom stress or mental fatigue, fasterphysical recovery from illness and long-term improvement of health and wellbeingare reported in research.’
Whether you live in a city and your nearestpatch of wooded greenery is a local parkoutside your office block, or your idea ofbliss is being immersed in a wildernessretreat, plenty of spas, hotels anddestinations are embracing nature to createa wellbeing environment fit for any forestbathing wannabe. (1) The Aqua Sana spa(aquasana.co.uk) in Sherwood Forestrecently underwent a multi-million poundinvestment to create a forest-bathingpampering paradise, which includes atree-top sauna with views around theforest canopy, rainforest showers, hottubs nestled amongst the pine treesand a forest meditation area.Or take your forest pursuits to Scotlandat the (2) Macdonald Forest Hills HotelSpa in Aberfoyle (macdonaldhotels.co.ukwhere you can fill your lungs with fresh airexplore the countryside, forests and lakesand even have a go at wild biking nextto the lochs.If you want to try forest bathing Malay-style, the (3) Datai Langkawi (thedatai.com) is made for exotic outdoor adventureThe hotel’s resident naturalist, IrshadMobarak – who has worked ondocumentaries for National Geographicand the Discovery Channel – leadscomplimentary nature excursions.For full forest immersion, (4) ForestHolidays (forestholidays.co.uk) offerstreetop cabins (with outdoor hot tubs!) thatsleep up to 10 people with locations acrossthe UK. Each location has woodland trailsand informative forest rangers.Alternatively, you can go back to basicsat an eco retreat, such as (5) Little WhiteAlice in Cornwall (littlewhitealice.co.uk),complete with a wild spa.
DO IT YOURSELF
You don’t need to go away to harnessthe power of nature, though. ‘Take longerwalks in local parks and be present to thesounds and surroundings,’ says Rush. ‘Gowhere it’s less busy and leave your phoneat home.’ She advises walking aimlessly,taking time to pause and listen to thesounds of birds and nature. ‘Touch leavesand walk barefoot to feel the sensations.’Sit and take deep, conscious breaths, too.While getting outside is preferable, arecent study by the BBC and the Universityof California found just watching naturedocumentaries can have a positive affecton mood – something which Dr Latif agreeswith. ‘Just viewing a forest scene has beendocumented to have a very positive effecton psychological healing and recoveringfrom stress, especially for those fromurbanised environments,’ she says.Filling your home environment withnatural light, plants and flowers can alsoimprove your connection with nature, asOlivia Heath, a biophilic designer, workingin conjunction with The Wood WindowAlliance explains. ‘Research tells us thatwhen we improve that sense of nature,directly or indirectly, it can create a morecalming, restful, restorative and energisingspace.’ Let’s get back to nature…
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