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Forest bathing

"Taking a forest bath is really simple, and unlike the name suggests, you don’t need a bar of soap and a towel."

In Japan there is a practice called shirin-yoku, which literally means “forest bathing”, or to bath in a forest atmosphere. Shirin-yoku was developed as a response to karoshi, a Japanese word for “death by work”. In the 1980’s Japan had an epidemic of deaths and illnesses from work-related stress and exhaustion, and forest bathing was implemented into the national healthcare system. It has remained a vital part of preventative healthcare and therapy since. Forest bathing isn’t an edgy new trend, in fact people have been retreating to nature as therapy for centuries. There’s something so universally calming and restorative about being enveloped under a leafy green ceiling and hearing the gentle trickle of water in a stream. The average person today spends twenty-four hours per week online, and it’s estimated that 75% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. We are becoming more disconnected from nature than ever. Forest bathing is the perfect way to switch off from the news, social media, work and other people - to disconnect from everything and reconnect with yourself.

Taking a forest bath is really simple, and unlike the name suggests, you don’t need a bar of soap and a towel. It’s different to going on a sweaty hike as the aim is not to walk far, but to take things as slow as possible. The goal is to engage all five senses to fully immerse yourself in your surroundings, and to observe things you wouldn’t usually notice. Look at how the roots intertwine around the tree trunks; listen to the birds sing and the crunch and crumbling of leaves and dirt under your feet; smell the earthy scent of bark; taste the freshness of the air; and feel the cooling moisture of the forest on your skin. When you focus on engaging every sense, you distract the internal chit-chat of the mind and restore a sense of inner balance and calm. The recommended time for a forest bath is two hours, but even half an hour is enough time to soak up the benefits.

Nature is a free therapist, and science agrees that immersing yourself in a leafy green environment soothes our stress, boosts our mood and is great for our overall wellbeing. Forest bathing has some wonderful benefits on your physical and mental health, including reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol stimulates the fight or flight response mode and overexposure to it has been linked to increased blood pressure, heart disease, depression, anxiety and impaired memory. Relaxing in nature can also strengthen the immune system, not just because it lowers stress, but also because of the phytoncides, or essential oils, emitted by trees and plants. People who take regular forest baths have also noticed improved sleep, a boost in creativity and the ability to focus more.

The beauty of forest bathing is that it’s free. The only thing you need to spend is your time. You don’t need to travel far, if at all, to take a forest bath. Take yourself to a nearby forest or park, walk down a country lane or even sit in your garden. If you are looking to get away to recharge the batteries, a forest bathing retreat could be just what you need. As Japan is the home of forest bathing there are some amazing trails and retreats to be found there, but there are also some incredible forest bathing retreats closer to home in the UK and Europe. Think of a weekend full of guided meditations, yoga, tai chi and lots of feel-good food in a lush forest setting.

It’s more important than ever to put the smartphone down and reconnect with nature. A regular dose of forest bathing could be just what we need.

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