More than ever, more of us are enjoying walking for pleasure, exploring our local areas and reconnecting with the simple joys in life. But are we fully paying attention and soaking in our surroundings? At SOFIA LATIF, we support any form of connection with nature so today we want to introduce you to forest bathing – which despite the name, doesn’t involve water or getting undressed so can definitely be done in winter.
WHAT IS FOREST BATHING?
Forest bathing, known as Shinrin-yoku means “bathing in the forest atmosphere” or “taking in the forest through our senses” – a relaxing, healing activity incorporating mindfulness and meditation. It was introduced in Japan in the 1980s by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as a preventative initiative to help reduce stress levels and sickness absences amongst its workforce, caused by a relentless work culture. This concept of Shinrin-yoku isn’t unique to Japan. In fact, forests and forest bathing are a big part of Scandinavian and Nordic wellbeing too – both of whom embrace slow living and cosy, content living such as Hygge. Over the last few years, forest bathing has begun to increase in popularity here in the UK and there are many locations across the country for us to engage in this practise.
Mindfulness and meditation do take time before you’re able to fully immerse yourself in them but being outside in nature – which is a safe space that nurtures and grounds us – does make it easier to do. Being mindful allows your mind to focus and fully attend to what you’re doing and feeling, exactly where you are and creates space in your head to think about how you want to respond to something without just reacting to it. Walking and practising mindfulness and meditation in a forest environment is not only an excellent opportunity to connect with nature but has a positive effect on both the mind and body.
THE BENEFITS OF FOREST BATHING
- Forest bathing encourages us to live in the moment. It makes us feel better and enables us to reconnect with ourselves and what’s around us.
- Phytoncides, chemicals released by trees and plants boost our immunity, reduce concentrations of stress hormones, cortisol and enhance the activity of white-blood cells.
- It helps us to reduce/avoid stress and aids in fighting anxiety and depression by promoting positive hormones and lifting our mood as it enables us to switch off from any unwanted thoughts. Research has shown green spaces reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, and increases serotonin levels, a calming hormone.
- It helps to improve heart and lung health, including lowering blood pressure through the release of some oils from tree bark.
- The fresh air helps us to sleep.
- It increases our focus, concentration and memory.
- It refreshes and rejuvenates us by boosting our energy and vitality levels.
- It reawakens our senses.
- If we can appreciate and be thankful for all that is around us, it can promote gratitude which brings peace and happiness into our lives.
- It can induce a feeling of awe. Research shows that people have higher wellbeing on days when they have positive experiences of awe, compared to days with no awe.
OUR TOP TIPS FOR FOREST BATHING
- Dress comfortably – wrap up warm, wear suitable footwear and don’t forget to apply SPF, even in winter.
- If you are in the company of others, avoid talking so that you can really pay attention to the environment and experience the stillness.
- Switch off your mobile phone.
- Just wander aimlessly, letting your body just take you.
- Slow down and be present in the moment. Pause from time to time – stop, stand or sit.
- Close your eyes and take long deep breaths. Pay attention to the physical sensation of your breathing, focusing on breathing in and out and the way your nose, mouth, chest and stomach are feeling.
- Focus your senses and notice how you are feeling. Use mindful observation to look around and pay attention to all the different colours, shapes and textures of nature which surrounds you. Watch the birds and wildlife. Look at the sunlight through the trees, and feel the warmth of the sun or the cold air. Listen to the sound of the trees swaying in the breeze or their falling leaves. Touch the tree trunks, wild flowers/plants and feel the texture of the ground and crunch of the leaves underfoot. Smell the fragrance of the forest – a wonderful aromatherapy experience!
Even if you do not live near a forest, these tips can be applied. Simply head out into nature, somewhere peaceful, whether that’s a quiet park, countryside fields, on the beach, on or by water. You might like to try Earthing (also referred to as Grounding) – a therapeutic technique whereby you walk barefoot or place your hands on the earth, grass or sand for at least thirty minutes. This works by free electrons in the earth flowing freely into the body. Gwyneth Paltrow and many of her Goop community (including medical professionals) are big fans of this as it’s thought to decrease inflammation and reduce free radicals in the body, arthritis, insomnia and depression.
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HAVE YOU TRIED FOREST BATHING?
We’d love for you to tell us in a comment below!