for those who love the outdoors

11 January, 2023

Shinrin Yoku - or Forest Bathing - is it for you?

Shinrin Yoku is the Japanese way of connecting with nature as a form of ecotherapy for mind and body. Although ‘time out in nature’ has been a cornerstone of the Japanese way of life for centuries, the term Shinrin Yoku emerged in the 1980’s to mean “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere through the senses”.

Monkey Tail trees keep silent vigil at Hergest Croft

No actual water bathing is involved with the philosophy of Shinrin Yoku, and neither is physical exercise such as hiking or walking. The ethos of Shinrin Yoku focuses on the immersing of the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch) in the woods or the forest to connect with the powerful energy vibrations from trees (known as Yuugen). In this way we may experience a ‘balm’ to heal and balance the mind, body and soul.

Forest 1
The forest glades on Credenhill (Herefordshire) remind us that we need space around us to grow and thrive.

Why Shinrin Yoku could be for you

Sounds a bit ‘tree hugger’ for you? The physical and mental benefits are many and scientifically proven when we surround ourselves with the characteristics of this type of environment. The truth is, irrespective of fitness status and ability, the mind and body work hand in hand to be in equilibrium. In the modern world we have mostly lost that connection with the natural environment, especially as people gravitate towards living in big towns and cities and earn a living through the digital world. It’s no mistake then that we need to actively seek out the natural world with which we are innately in sync.

You don’t have to look back very far in history to see that medicines and healing rituals were mostly based in nature and the forest. Mixed depression and anxiety in the UK is the most common mental health disorder, not least during the post-Christmas and New Year lull when the longed for lighter days of Spring feel like a marathon distance away.  As people question the effectiveness of modern prescription medicines to cope with financial stresses, personal and well-being issues we find ourselves seeking alternative answers and are prompted to question our lifestyles, be it lack of exercise, excess alcohol consumption, overuse of social media or chronic poor quality food choices - very often all of these in varying degrees.

Foliage
Exquisite foliage details in the woods on Garway Hill, Herefordshire.

The tree of life

Across millenia, and deep-rooted in many cultures around the world, the tree has been symbolic in both religion and folkoric narrative and intrinsic to medical therapies. Not only do a trees’ branches reach to the sky and bear fruits, but the roots reach down to the mythic underworld. Trees are a life force that emit energies of safety, security and stability. Many of us can recall happy childhood memories of tree climbing and treehouses, a time in life that we are forced to leave behind as we assume ‘adult’ responsibilities.

Tree at Patterdale Bridge
If trees could talk they would have tales to tell (Patterdale Bridge, Nidderdale, Yorkshire)

No sweating involved 😀

A fundamental point to make is that Shinrin Yoku is not physical exercise, like hiking, or jogging. It is the simple act of being in nature, a fundamental way to reconnect with our key senses through sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch; a way of finding, and crossing, the bridge into the natural world.

We are very fortunate in the UK to have a fine network of well-maintained paths and walking routes for all ages and abilities in our forests (www.forestryengland.uk). If you cannot get to such a place, you can even bring the forest indoors.

Shaggy Inkcaps
Shaggy inkcaps in the shade of the trees at Dol Idris (Cadair Idris, North Wales)

Bring it indoors!

It’s not always possible for all manner of reasons, or even desirable, particularly in our cold, grey winters, to get outside into nature. Some simple ways to enjoy some of the outdoors when we are indoors:

Digital-free time – set yourself time, ideally a 48 hour window, when you limit time scrolling through social media. 

Birdsong and sounds of the forest – look up a channel on You Tube to relax you for 30 minutes or so, there are many to choose from.

Calm your mood by listening to calming music – consciously choose tracks that are neither melancholic nor invigorating, but are soothing.

Inhale the scent of eucalyptus, menthol or lavender oil and surround yourself with plants to receive similar benefits to breathing in the phytoncides that trees emit to promote feelings of calm.

Tend to and nurture indoor plants and pot new ones – watch them grow, notice the patterns on leaves and inhale the aroma of the potting earth.

Around the home:

Wherever possible, focus on using wooden bowls, wooden chopping boards and other wooden kitchen utensils.

When looking for soft furnishings, concentrate on green colours and designs, reminiscent of plants and leaves.

Quite simply - it works

There has been research into the happiness of those living in areas surrounded by trees. In fact, it has been proven that patients in hospital wards recover more quickly when they have a view of green spaces, than those patients who do not.

  • Blood pressure decreases and stress levels lower within three minutes in a natural environment.
  • People who live in neighbourhoods with trees experience fewer crimes, feel safer and are more emotionally and physically healthy than those who live in areas without trees.
  • You don’t have to go outside - bring it indoors!
Glades on Garway Hill
The late autumn sun shines through the trees at Garway Hill, Herefordshire

FIVE easy steps for starting your Shinrin Yoku journey:

Whether you spend twenty minutes, an hour, or even longer, surrounded by trees you have connected with nature and taken the first steps to restore that broken bridge to contentedness.

  1. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves and branches of the trees.
  2. Look up at the different greens of the canopy of trees if its springtime or summer.  Alternatively, if it’s mid-winter, notice the light filtering through the branches and the wonderful architecture of tree.
  3. Smell the fragrance of the forest, the damp earth and leaves and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides.
  4. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. 
  5. Feel the natural elements.  Dip your fingers or toes in a stream, alternatively shut your eyes and feel the breeze against your face or place your hands on the trunk of a tree.

So, turn off your devices, take a short stroll in the woods. It really doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are savouring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in to bathe your soul.

Merlin
Who know what secrets are hidden within the woods at Castell Coch, near Cardiff



Andrea Harris

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