True or false: the average Brit spends 90% of their time indoors. Whilst at first shocking, you might not be surprised in the end to hear that in a world where digital comes first, there’s truth behind the statistic. For many of us, the unfortunate reality is that much of our days are spent tied to a screen or fulfilling obligations that pull us away from nature, and our health is suffering as a result.
Not all is lost though, as research in England has revealed that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature has been linked with improved health and well-being, whether it be a combination of walking through the park to the shops or spending dedicated time absorbing your surroundings in the woods. If your ears are pricking up at the thought of reduced stress levels, a boosted immune system and lower blood pressure, may we present: forest bathing. Thanks to Basubu, a one-stop-shop for the world’s best yoga and meditation retreats, Charlotte of Team Zoella was able to try it out firsthand- keep reading for the full low down:
But first, what is forest bathing?
According to National Geographic, “The term shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”) emerged in Japan in the 1980s and was encouraged as both a physiological and psychological exercise. The purpose was twofold: to offer an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to reconnect with and protect the country’s forests.”
The concept came about after scientific studies by the Japanese government found that two hours of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory- pretty powerful stuff. The studies also focused on phytoncides- chemicals released by plants and trees to protect themselves from insects and germs- which in humans help to boost the immune system as a result of their antimicrobial properties. Breathing in forest air has also been shown to increase the level of natural killer (NK) cells in our blood which are used to combat infections and cancers. This data led the Japanese government to introduce ‘shinrin-yoku’ as part of its national health programme, and an important foundation of preventative medicine.
Forest bathing is not about exercise, getting in your 10,000 steps or conquering a new route to hike, it is simply about immersing yourself in nature and leaning into the five senses- sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. By focusing on our senses,we bridge the gap between us and the natural world.
Author of the book Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing, Dr Qing Li advises that no matter how beautiful your surroundings, you do not need technology present to capture the view. “Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind.” Says Li. “You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savouring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in.”
If you find other purposefully relaxing activities designed to de-stress the mind (such as meditation) difficult to connect with, forest bathing could be a great alternative in combining both mindfulness and meditative elements. Whilst during a traditional meditation it’s encouraged to let your thoughts come in and out of your awareness, mindfulness focuses on the benefits of being actively aware of your surroundings and how you feel in the moment. Forest bathing is the perfect union of the two, making for a welcome and somewhat rare opportunity to both check-in with yourself, let thoughts of your day-to-day float by, and focus on the beauty that is often right under our noses.
Fancy giving it a go yourself?
A step-by-step guide to forest bathing
- Choose a forest, near or far, to explore and know your route whilst leaving your phone behind.
- Focus on the breath, ensuring your exhales are longer than your inhales to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and begin the relaxation process.
- Wander around the area and take in your surroundings, stopping where you feel called to and bring your awareness to the senses.
- Close your eyes for 30 seconds, and then slowly open them, looking from the ground up and slowly taking in your surroundings. First observe any movement or anything your eye is drawn to on the ground, then take your gaze slightly higher, and repeat until you are taking in the sky and treetops. Bring your awareness to how the clouds move, notice the branches and leaves in the canopy and notice any bodily sensations, feelings and emotions as they come. Focus next on your feet and any sense of being grounded and connected to the Earth.
- Continue walking, pausing and connecting back with your surroundings when you feel called to. Remember to connect with your senses, listening to birds chirping or leaves rustling. Perhaps try touching the bark of a tree or the soil below your feet or smell some flowers if you spot any.
- Finish your experience with some more directional deep breaths and try to bring your newfound groundedness back into city life with you as you adjust back to urban noises and triggers.
Whilst part of the beauty of forest bathing is how accessible and easy it is to practise alone, guided tours can be the perfect way to allow yourself to completely disconnect from reality and empty your mind with the guidance of someone else. Charlotte from Team Zoella was kindly invited to participate in a forest bathing and yoga experience via Basubu, an online marketplace for wellness retreats and holidays, hosted by Xenia of Brighton Yoga.
“The itinerary looked idyllic, with plans to start the day early with some Qi-Gong inspired movements and a short walk before stopping for a feel-good yoga flow. This would be followed by a further walk through the rolling, open Sussex fields surrounding Stanmer Park, heading to more remote areas of the forest for the full bathing experience. Luck was on our side as far as the weather was concerned, heading into the woods on a beautiful sunny day at the end of April just as the bluebells appeared in full force, covering areas of the forest floor as far as the eye could see.
As there was so much planned within the schedule, the experience as a whole took around 4-5 hours which definitely threw me into the deep end of forest bathing and the sensory practices that come with tuning into nature. Having such a long experience definitely had pros and cons- the pros being it gave time to fully adjust from the digital world and provided a full, noticeable detox from technology. As for cons, it feels like a bit of a double-edged sword. Whilst meeting new and like-minded people was a lovely aspect of an activity like this, the length of the experience did naturally encourage conversation and the mind to begin to wander which I felt did inhibit some of the mindfulness benefits of solitude and tuning into the senses from feeling all-encompassing.
For me, the most grounding part of the experience and one which truly allowed me to sink into the good vibes of nature was the yoga flow we practised in one of the rolling fields that surround Stanmer. We were incredibly lucky with the weather on this particular Sunday and I have to say Shavasana in the sun has to be the most elite feeling ever. I hadn’t thought about the different textures that would feel noticeable under a yoga mat outdoors, and although the long grass made for a more challenging downward dog (already not my area of expertise), it provided a great opportunity to feel more attuned to nature, lap up some vitamin D and let go of the stresses of the day-to-day. For any yogis who have never practised outdoors, I really recommend it!
I was unfamiliar with what Qi-Gong was and what this would add to the practice of forest bathing, and for those also in the dark, here’s what you need to know…”
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Qi-Gong, pronounced “chi gong,” was developed in China thousands of years ago as part of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves using exercises to optimise energy within the body, mind, and spirit, with the goal of improving and maintaining health and well-being. Qi-Gong has both psychological and physical components and involves the regulation of the mind, breath, and body’s movement and posture. The breath becomes slow, long, and deep, movements are typically gentle and smooth, aimed for relaxation, and mind regulation includes focusing one’s attention and visualisation.
“Although at times feeling unnatural to be moving so freely (and often with our eyes closed), in a public setting, I found I was able to let go of day-to-day pressures, anxieties and insecurities thanks to being in a group and flow through each movement without worry. It was really invigorating to do so and let go of the pressures that exist about how we look to one another and simply ‘be’. If I took one thing away from the experience as a whole it was that we often have an innate wisdom and inner peace within us that with a little work we can return to at all times. Sometimes it might be harder to find than others, but forest bathing and surrounding yourself with nature allows you to re-centre yourself, balance your nervous system and come back to this internal calm more easily.
Overall, I loved spending this time in nature- far more than I would have done otherwise- and carving out a specific portion of my week to soak up the benefits of being amongst a forest. I left feeling calmer, refreshed and with a newfound appreciation for the well-being benefits that are so often overlooked on our doorsteps. They say nature is healing, and it’s true!”
To book your own forest bathing experience with Brighton Yoga, check out their upcoming events on Basubu, or browse their incredible selection of worldwide wellness retreats and experiences to secure a slice of peace for your mind, body and soul. Namaste!