Just a walk in the woods?
In this month’s blog our guest contributor, Nicola Scholfield, introduces us to forest bathing.
I know I’m not alone in feeling a lift in spirits after taking a walk in the woods – and studies have shown there’s real benefits to being out in the woods for both body and mind.
Not just in woods of course, research has shown that spending just two hours a week in nature can help us feel happier and healthier. Benefits associated with spending time in nature include reduced stress and blood pressure, improved concentration, help with insomnia, anxiety and depression. And there are many short daily practices we can bring into our everyday lives to feel a connection with nature – as we wrote about in our previous blog.
There are also other more immersive ways to tune into nature. Ever bathed in a forest, anyone?
Shinrin-yoku is a practice from Japan that translates from Japanese as “forest bathing” or “forest shower”, where guides lead participants on a gentle walk with activities to help them fully immerse their senses in the natural world (so no bathing suit required!).
In the 1980s, the Japanese government started a programme of studies in their Shinrin-yoku forests to measure the impacts that forest bathing has on participants. These studies showed clear impacts on people from walking in the woods – reducing blood pressure, lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol and improving concentration and memory.
Some of these benefits have been attributed to chemicals released by the leaves of trees – called phytoncides. These are essential oils that trees produce as anti-microbials that can be good for us too. Breathing in the “scent of the forest” – the forest atmosphere imbued with these oils – is now believed not only to boost our mood and but could even give a boost to our immune system too.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been taking time out now and then to forest bath in a local woodland. Unlike a usual walk in the woods, I usually leave the dog at home and turn off the phone to be fully present in the experience. I do bring a friend – for me it makes the experience more comfortable than being alone in the woods – though we agree not to talk until the end of our walk.
We wander, pausing from time to time to look more closely at the form of a leaf or tree, we sit noticing the scents and sounds of the woodland. It can be interesting to see how the behaviour of the birds and other creatures can change when they become used to our presence. I begin to feel a sense of calm as my attention shifts from the chatter in my mind to the sights, scents and sounds surrounding me.
For those who’d like to give it a go, here are some resources to get you started:
Last year I began training as a forest bathing guide, and we hope to be able to offer a walk to CPRE Bedfordshire members next summer.