You may have seen a lot in the media about forest bathing, the latest wellness trend to hit the UK. In recent years we’ve become accustomed to hygge (a Danish and Norwegian word for cosiness and warm feelings, usually through spending time with family and friends) and fika (a Swedish word for a coffee or tea break and snack, taken with friends or colleagues).
But suddenly forest bathing is everywhere; this Japanese practice, known as shinrin-yoku, has nudged us away from auto-pilot routines of rolling news coverage, smartphone addiction and competitively busy calendars. The Japanese adopted forest bathing as a way to get into nature, with the phrase coined by Forestry Minister Tomohide Akiyama in 1982 as a promotion for the country’s vast forests.
The concept really works: surrounded by a canopy of trees, listening to birdsong or crunching leaves underfoot, you do feel you’re immersed in the forest itself. But there are some rules: don’t get absorbed by your phone or camera; don’t try and plan a route; just aimlessly wander at a slow pace and see where you end up.
Being around nature is scientifically proven to have a positive effect on our moods. Writing for the Global Landscape Forum’s Landscape News, journalist Gabrielle Lipton explained: ‘Phytoncide chemicals emitted by trees can help reduce cortisol levels, strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, boost creativity and aid sleep. Exposure to the non-pathogenic bacteria in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, can release more serotonin in the brain.’
What’s more, research from Aarhus University in Denmark has revealed that children with the least access to green space are 55% more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder in later life, compared to their peers with regular access to green space, such as forests, parks or gardens. The study was conducted on one million Danish people and looked at the green space available nearby when they were aged 0-10. It followed the subjects from 1985-2013 and monitored them against the likelihood of developing 16 common psychiatric disorders.
The good news is that you don’t need your own garden or acres of forest to feel the benefits – if you only have a small park or slice of woodland to access, you aren’t disadvantaged. Of course, being outside has lots of general advantages: you can’t beat a bit of fresh air and that feeling of clearing your head and taking a walk or sitting on a bench without being chained to a desk or just in the confines of four walls. The change of scene and removal of indoor distractions can also tie into mindfulness. Forced to get away from technology and urban sprawl, you give yourself the chance to breathe again.
Forest bathing shouldn’t be a fad; this is a hugely positive lifestyle change that doesn’t cost any money but can help everyone.
Written by guest contributor Polly Allen for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).