Walking on stones, smelling the trees, lying on log beds and gazing at leaves- this is Shinrin–yoku, meaning “forest bathing”, a medicine derived from simply being in the forest.
The concept was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
With many forests coating a green landscape, walking tours in designated forests are popular in Japan. And with the growth in healthier lifestyle attitudes and natural therapies, Shinrin-yoku has taken root with walking tours for groups led by specialist forest therapists. These tread along ancient pilgrim routes such as the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama, home to the Kumano Kodo and its network of Unesco-protected pilgrim routes dating back thousands of years.
Forest Bathing involves gazing at trees, deep green breathing, mindful walks through lush green valleys, listening to birdsong and the appreciation of the beauty of a wild flower. This sensory immersion in a natural healing environment promises mental and physical rejuvenation.
Researchers, primarily in Japan and South Korea, have conducted studies on the health benefits of spending time amongst the trees, demonstrating that forest bathing positively creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting the immune system.
Japan is also renowned for other natural therapies:
Hot spring bathing in a natural hot spring onsen in Japan. Here it is the tradition to bathe naked in these popular springs. Japan is home to 10% of the worlds active volcanos
Rui-katsu (tear seeking) involves groups of people watching sad movies and crying together to release stress.
Moss Meditation (philosophical meditation) involves staring at green moss for positive mantras.
Alternatively, closer to home in the UK, the New Forest is following the same path. From your base in a luxury forest cabin or tree house you can sample this ancient art of re-connecting with nature.
Or you can practice Shinrin-Yoku in your local park. Here are a few tips to help you bathe in the forest…..
If you have to take your phone, put it on silent and hide it in a pocket – you need to be completely present in the moment.
Wear low shoes or preferably bare feet to feel “at one” with the earth – you will be more aware of the earth and nature beneath you.
Walk aimlessly, don’t plan your journey – this will help to empty your mind and appreciate what’s around you.
Don’t rush, use all your senses – breathe slowly, notice the aromas around you, the colours, shapes of leaves, flowers and trees. Look and see in all directions, hear the sounds. Pause to hear your heart beat and feel at peace. Enjoy!