If you’re not familiar with the concept of forest bathing, then you might be surprised by how simple it actually is. Contrary to what the name alludes, forest bathing does not involve taking a dip in the water. However, it still very much involves the process of cleansing, but for the mind. It’s simply taking yourself out into the forest and woodlands to give yourself time to de-stress and reconnect your senses with nature and overall, improve your mental wellbeing.
You might even find that you’re already practicing forest bathing already in your daily life to a level. For many people local countryside and landscapes offer much needed serenity and escapism in uncertain times. Even more so with the recent lockdown. Getting outside and having that time to gather your thoughts and be at peace has never felt quite so valuable.
Where does forest bathing come from?
The concept originated in Japan in the 1980’s as a physiological and psychological exercise which became known as shinrin-yoku. Which as you might have guessed translates to forest bathing.
It came into play as locals verged on burnouts with Japan’s tech boom presenting a newer, more fast-paced working life. The impact that this form of ecotherapy had on the wellbeing of Japanese workers proved to be so significant that forest bathing became officially prescribed by the government to improve residents’ quality of life.
How does it work?
There are many scientific ideas on how natural environments impact our mental health. The variety of natural shapes, the movement, the colours all stimulate feelings of comfort and relaxation. However, the actual process itself works so well because of how our modern day lives are structured. With the digital age we’re always on the go, interacting with people, planning and streaming. Our minds are constantly racing. So, with the temptations of laptops, TV and mobile phones so highly intertwined to our home lives the great outdoors and local woodlands offer a complete escape from all of that. It’s overall more peaceful, less noise less air pollution and less people.
Forest bathing is not only for the benefits of your mental health but also has physical benefits. Studies have proven that forest bathing has the power to slow down your heart rate, lower blood pressure levels and stimulate your immune system. All of these in adverse circumstances can be associated with stress and can cause further issues such as heart problems, obesity and depression.
How do I use forest bathing to improve my own mental health and wellbeing?
The aim is to achieve a state of mindfulness. To connect with the nature around you using all five senses and allow yourself to live in the moment peacefully. For some, that might be as straightforward as going for a walk. However, for some people to really gain from the experience and switch off it takes a little more. So, if you struggle to unwind then here are some practices to consider trying out.
● Turn all devices off - To truly disconnect from the craziness of daily life, this is a huge help. We all know how easy it is to lose time scrolling through social media or getting tied up in work emails. Turn it off and live in the moment. If listening to music does help you, then there’s space for an exception. But it’s definitely still worth turning all notifications off to stop any temptation or distractions.
● Go slowly - This is your time for yourself. Slow down the pace a little and take time to absorb your surroundings. Designate yourself the time to go forest bathing so that you don’t rush the process. You’ll often find that you notice certain things that you haven’t before. Even if you’ve been visiting the area for years.
● Sit down - Stop for a moment, in a quiet spot and just sit. Take in everything around from the tallest trees to the tiniest flower petals. Feel the ground that you’re sitting on and enjoy taking a break and the weight off of your feet.
● Take deep breaths - Your breathing plays a huge role in how you’re feeling. We can all relate the feels of anxiety coming with shortness of breath. So, to regain control over your anxieties or to simply relax, try to take deep breaths and solely concentrate your mind on your breathing pattern.
● Open your eyes - You might think of a lot of relaxation techniques putting emphasis on closing your eyes and drifting away to somewhere else in your mind. However, forest scenery with it’s calming movements and colours has been proven to stimulate relaxation. So, keep your eyes open to keep connected with your surroundings.
● Think about your senses - What can you smell? What can you feel? What can you see all around you? You’d be surprised at how effective this can be at re-energising your brain.
Where can I go forest bathing?
There’s no right or wrong for this one. It’s completely different for everyone and will hugely depend on where you’re located. Pretty much any forest or woodland area will do the trick and even if that’s not quite accessible to you the beach and countryside will work as alternatives. If you live in a city and can’t easily access woodland or forests then use parks, botanical gardens or river-side or canal-side spaces. The important thing is that you are in a quiet area where you can relax without disruptions.
Here are a few woodlands and forests around Scotland that we think are worth checking out.
● Glen Affric – Inverness-shire
● Mar Lodge Estate and National Nature Reserve – Braemar/Deeside
● Kinoull Hill, Perth
● Tentsmuir Forest – Fife and easily accessible from Dundee
● Calais Muir Woods – Near Dunfermine, Fife
● Maspie Den – Central Fife
● Murrays Wood and Garshellach Forest – near Stirling
● The Hermitage of Braid – Edinburgh
● Bonaly Country Park – near Edinburgh
● Cairnhill Woods – Glasgow
● Auchenshuggle Woods - Glasgow
● Queen Elizabeth Forest Park – Trossachs (accessible from Glasgow and Stirling areas)
● Glentress Forest – Scottish borders, near Peebles
● Galloway Forest Park – Dumfries and Galloway
Forest bathing is also suitable for children. It’s a great way to encourage the importance of looking after your mental health and wellbeing from a young age.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that we need to be more connected with nature so forest bathing is even more important now than ever. If you would like to share your experiences of forest bathing, woodlands you love to visit or other top tips then please feel free to let us know.
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16 July 2021