Who’s heard of forest bathing then?
Nope? Me neither. Well, until yesterday that is. When I first read the words forest bathing, I had visions of some kind of Roman-style public bath situated inside a forest. And I really didn’t fancy that.
It’s hard enough to get my wobbly bits out under the judgement of my own bathroom mirror. Stripping off and sitting with a group of strangers in a communal bath would be a massive no.
Neither is it about finding the biggest puddle and going for a swim in it – as Emily would have you believe.
I have an inquisitive mind, and having never heard of forest bathing, I did a little research.
It turns out, that I’ve been forest bathing for years without knowing it. And I seem to naturally gravitate towards spending time in my favourite little forest when I’m feeling stressed, anxious, and not 100%.
If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that there have been a lot of pictures of me, my girls and the dog in the forest recently. Having more fun is my New Years Resolution, and so far we’re sticking to it.
So what is forest bathing then?
Forest bathing comes from the Japanese art of Shinrin-yoku which literally translates into Forest Bath. Shinrin-yoku was developed in Japan in the 1980’s, after research showed that spending time walking through forests could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve memory and concentration.
Such is the power of spending time under the canopies of trees, that Shinrin-yoku is now one of the cornerstones of Japanese healthcare. And it could be ‘prescribed’ by GPs in Britain soon too.
There is a growing movement in the NHS called ‘Social prescribing’. Which is a more holistic way of treating people with mild long-term health conditions. The idea is that by encouraging people to spend time doing something like exercising, walking or gardening, there can be an improvement in their quality of life and general well-being.
The benefits of forest bathing.
I know I’ve already touched on some of the benefits of forest bathing above, but there are quite a few of them!
- improved mood
- decrease in anxiety
- improved feelings of health & robustness
- decreased levels of cortisone
- decreased levels of stress
- increased memory & cognitive function
- decreased heart rate
- decreased blood pressure
- improvements in immune function
There is some evidence to suggest that trees even have healing capabilities!
Don’t shake your head at me! I’ve not turned into a tree hugging hippy. (Not that there is anything wrong with that if that’s your thing.)
Honestly it’s not complete bollocks (which is what I thought when I first read it).
Stick with me on this.
Trees secrete natural chemicals, collectively known as phytoncides. And being around trees and inhaling the phytoncides, has been associated with improvements in the activity of our frontline immune defenders. Even ones that can fight cancer.
I won’t bore you with the details, because I know not everyone enjoys reading complex reports. But just in case you do, have a read of The effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. It’s really very interesting.
Fortunately, the benefits of hanging around a forest or area with trees for a while, isn’t just for adults. There is a whole load of research that shows how beneficial outdoor play and exploration is for children.
In a nutshell, spending time in nature helps children to develop;
And in addition to this, helps them to develop the capacities for problem solving and creativity.
How do you do it?
Undoubtedly, the beauty of forest bathing, is that you don’t need any special equipment to do it. And it doesn’t even have to be done in an actual forest.
As long as you’re spending some time around any kind of trees, you should feel some of the benefits associated with Shinrin-yoku. In fact one study showed a 13.4% decrease in cortisol (stress hormone) levels in people who spent 20 minutes just gazing at trees!
Additionally, it makes no difference whether it’s sunny, cloudy, warm, rainy or absolutely fucking Baltic outside. What matters is being around the trees.
Whether that’s in a local park for a picnic in the summer, or hunting for twigs to make snowmen’s arms in the winter, it all counts.
Interestingly, you don’t have to be around trees every day to reap the benefits. Studies have shown that the effects from forest bathing for 2 hours, can last up to 30 days.
So even if it’s something you can only do once a month, it’s worth trying to incorporate a forest bathing session somewhere in that month.
Where can you go?
First and foremost, you need to find an area with trees, that’s easily accessible to you. If you aren’t sure where, have a look on the map of suggestions found on The National Trust website. You can add in your postcode to see suggestions as close to you as possible, or further afield if you want to try somewhere new.
Secondly, you need to dress appropriately. I’m not talking hiking boots and huge rucksacks. But it’s it raining or has been raining, you’ll probably want to wear wellies, boots or trainers. Definitely wellies for the kids though if yours are anything like mine – they CANNOT walk past a puddle or patch of squelchy mud without jumping in it.
You know how to dress for the weather, I don’t know why I’m telling you what to put on your feet.
Thirdly, pack provisions. Not like you’re off on a 3 day adventure in the wilderness or anything. But a backpack with a few essentials is a good idea. These things are always in my backpack;
- Antibacterial wipes
- Dog poo bags (we have a dog)
- Mobile phone
Strictly speaking, forest bathing is meant to be time away from technology so that you can really connect with nature. But that’s not practical for me. Firstly because I’m a single parent, so I am the only adult on our little outings. Secondly, because I’m a walking disaster area with 2 children who have no fear. So I definitely need my phone in case of emergency.
And also for taking photos. (Shush)
Lastly, you need to think about the toilet situation. If where you’re going has public toilets nearby, that’s great. But before you go, check when they’re open. This isn’t such a problem if you just have boy-children. We all know how much they like to piss all over everything. So the opportunity to piss wherever they please with permission is not going to be passed up on.
Girl-children on the other hand, will probably need some kind of toilet. Unless of course they don’t mind squatting in a bush. Shockingly (?!) this is not a problem for my daughters. In fact I think they purposely don’t use the toilet before we leave home just so they can piss alfresco. (Hence the need for tissues.)
But you could always take a potty with you if you really wanted to.
What can you do in a forest?
Oh now. This is the really fun bit. You can do SO much in a forest!
Hide and seek.
Hide and seek is bloody amazing when there are so many trees to hide behind, or hide inside, or climb up and hide up there.
Then you have all the bushes, fallen trees, hills and ditches to hide in.
Little tip: before you start hiding, agree on a word that will be shouted by the seeker to signal that they’ve given up seeking. Or else you could end up seeking for hours.
This is without a doubt, our favourite thing to do in our local woods when we’re forest bathing. It’s easy to do, you don’t need to be a Queen’s Scout like yours truly here.
All you need is a tree with a low hanging branch and a bunch of fallen branches. Do NOT pull branches off trees if there aren’t any laying about.
Place some of the fallen branches upright from the ground to the lowest branch of the tree to form a frame. Then fill in the spaces with other fallen branches until you have a little hideaway. You can add a protective layer of ferns or leaves around the outside if you want to.
Eating a picnic under a tree is great. You don’t need to worry about the mess. It doesn’t matter if your children drop crumbs everywhere. And if a drink gets spilt it’s gone in 60 seconds.
It’s also a lot of fun for little ones too. Especially if they bring their teddy along for a teddy bear’s picnic.
My daughters’ school is one of many in the UK who have recognised the benefits of spending time outdoors, and introduced forest school sessions.
Whilst this is great, my girls love it so much they want to do it much more frequently than the curriculum allows. So we hold our own forest school.
We hunt for as many different leaves as we can find. Then try to identify the tree the leaves came from. We see which trees are the widest by putting our arms around them. We look to see how many different kinds of mushrooms we can see (without touching). Obviously, we do bivouac building, but we also cook outdoors, which is a fantastic way to teach children about fire safety and how to cook sausages without getting food poisoning!!
We use disposable BBQ trays for cooking during forest bathing. Firstly because they are really lightweight and easy to carry. Secondly, because they light instantly. Thirdly, because it’s easier to contain the fire in a small tray so less chance of starting a forest fire. And lastly, because it’s so convenient.
We place ours in a pit and check it’s level before lighting. Make sure it’s completely stopped burning before you pick it up. Or pour a load of water over the embers and leave for 5 minutes before binning.
The other upsides to forest bathing are;
- You get loads of fresh air
- The kids wear themselves out running around for hours
- Everybody sleeps better
- You night even absorb some Vitamin D
- There’s no age limit, so everybody can join in
- The house stays as tidy as it was before you left
- If you have a dog, taking it with you and letting it run around the forest with you for hours is great fun for them too.
So why not give it a go? Take a bit of time out with some trees and see how you feel. Remember, mud will wash off, but the memories will last forever.