What is Shinrin Yoku:
Shinrin Yoku or Forest Therapy literally means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” Developed in Japan during the 1980s has now become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japan. I happened upon the idea whilst researching the benefits of walking and being outside whilst developing my “Netwalking Sessions“. As I live near the New Forest it made more sense for me to use my surroundings but what health benefits do the forest present?
A lot of my research led me to American websites and Forest Bathing spots when a name I recognised popped up. Forest Holidays, has 10 stunning log cabin locations across the UK nestled in Forestry Commission sites. The website has a comprehensive set of guides on Forest Bathing, the benefits, Forest Bathing at home and they even offered Guided Forest Bathing in 2 destinations in the UK. What were the chances that one location was near me?
Blackwood Forest is located just outside Winchester in Micheldever and just under an hour away from us. Hidden deep within a stunning 270 hectare beech forest with the most peaceful, tranquil views it certainly is a little haven. Being a gardener and bonsai enthusiast I knew David would be the perfect companion for the day.
Guided Forest Bathing :
Our guide, David led the group (consisting of Daddy Moo, myself and 2 other gentlemen) on a gentle walk through the forest whilst stopping to offer ‘invitations’. These invitations are activities that are designed to heighten our sensory awareness. The first invitation was to close our eyes and use our other senses “Concentric Listening”. The idea is to expand your awareness whilst engaging your auditory sense with the nature around you. We stood still, listening carefully to everything immediately around us. After a few moments David invited us to change the direction we were standing (using north, south, east, west, however I’ve no idea if I was stood in the correct direction but this is far from the actual point of it.) When you turn off one of your senses, in this case, sight it’s always surprising how much your others pipe up. The heat from the sun on certain parts of your face or arms, the feel of the tall grass around your calves, the smell of the meadow, the rustling leaves, an aeroplane flying past and the feel of the spongy moss under your feet. All things I usually take for granted or dismiss as my mind is somewhere else. This invitation has an incredible way of making you feel calm and relaxed. You automatically notice your mind stops racing and your breathing changes from natural to long deep breathes saving every moment and completely filling your lungs with air.
My favourite invitation was “Gratitude Altars” where we made small altars of gratitude out of natural and beautiful things we found nearby. I’m not at all creative in these kind of situations so I started to build a stick den like we have built many a time as a family. It even reminded me of one time we filled the car with big sticks to build a den in the garden, happy times. Then as I was building I noticed the trunk I’d used as mainframe had 3 King Alfred’s Cakes on it. A kind of fungi used in fire building, Charlie and Megan are always on the lookout to be the first to find one and without even trying I’d used a tree with 3 on. It was spiritually symbolic and instantly made me feel grateful for my family, sticks and a fungus which create unity shared experiences and memories.
If you are returning to the same spot again and again try and maintain them whilst thinking about what you are grateful for as you rebuild and reshape them.
Forest Bathing, three hours that changed my perspective on the world around me providing both a sense of peace and balance. What better way to end Forest Bathing than with a group chat about our experiences, thoughts and feelings over a Japanese style tea ceremony, using foraged plants (in this case willow leaf and mint). Simple, clean and fresh flavours over an open fire, bliss.
Forest Bathing at Home:
The invitations are devised to develop a meaningful relationship with nature, enhance your mood and clear your mind. We spend so much of our time connected to phones, computers, rushing from school to gymnastics, Scouts and at some point eating and sleeping and that’s just my Monday! It’s not surprising we burnout. Adding some kind of Forest Bathing into our weekly (hopefully daily routine) is a great way to come down, feel at one with nature, absorb the positive energy of trees (go on give a tree a hug) and cleanse from the inside out.
Here are two of the invitations I took part in during our Guided Forest Bathing session which self-employed, home workers could easily adapt into their busy day with maximum wellness impact. The “Sit Spot” and “Wandering” you could even add onto the end or beginning of a netwalking session with small business friends. I think there is great power in bringing networking and the outdoors together. All you need is a natural place (beach, forest, meadow) or even in your garden and ideally aim to spend 20 minutes on either invitation.
This is a perfect invitation for your garden, especially if like our wildlife-friendly one you are surrounded by a diverse ecosystem. Practice spending time there just sitting fully engaged with what is going on around you. Make this your daily relaxation time whereby you can leave the hustle-bustle of life behind. When you work from home, not only is it lonely and you don’t speak to anyone it can be super stressful too with no-body there to vent at having a “sit spot” in your garden that you can come to relax and absorb the tranquillity and calmness around you for 20 minutes then return to the office raring to go.
If you visit daily or weekly you will start to notice more the changing seasons, new sights and sounds, your feelings and the connections you feel with nature. Since our Forest Bathing visit, I have started to add a sit spot into my daily routine normally over my morning coffee.
This is one of the simplest Forest Bathing invitations all you need to do is find a trail, in a forest or natural area which you can easily get to from your home. I’m lucky enough to live on the edge of the New Forest, personally, I think somewhere accessible by foot would be perfect if you have to get in a car to go there it will begin to feel like a chore/time drain, therefore, the likeliness of you keeping this up long term is limited. Choose a route about a mile long with a diverse ecosystem with different types of environment (meadows, woodland, water) and that the area is quiet.
Let your instincts take over with absolutely no agenda other than to be fully present at that moment, start walking. Practice a quiet presence, open all your senses; touch, smell and sound, whilst mindfully move through the landscape. Remember physical exercise is not the primary goal, you aren’t looking to increase your heart rate so don’t rush. The main aim is to make Forest Bathing a regular activity enabling you to develop a meaningful relationship with nature, clear your mind and relax.
I do hope you will try either “Sit Spot” or “Wandering” and if you do let me know.
If you are interested in joining in with some Netwalking from Potterne Park to Moors Valley through the forest and passed the meandering lake the upcoming dates are listed as events on my Facebook Business Page.
Thank you to Forest Holidays for providing David and I with an amazing experience and our guide David for opening our eyes, ears and hearts to Forest Bathing.