To you and I, a tramp through your local woods…. Easily enough done, yet easy to forget how wonderful it feels and more so easy perhaps to feel too busy to bother in the first place; so perhaps not that easy…! There is evidence to suggest now though that a “forest bathe” is a great form of therapy, for the mind, body and soul!
While the benefits of regular exercise, especially outside and in nature are known, a growing body of research is evidencing the benefits to mental wellbeing and health from exposure to forest and woodland environments in particular. Known as shinrin-yoki (http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html), this is a well researched type of therapy developed in Japan in the 1980's and forms the foundation of preventative healthcare and healing in Japanese medicine.
When I'm not massaging my lovely clients I get out in my local woods (https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/wood/10316/elnup-wood/) and having just returned from a decent tramp, I can vouch for all those benefits! It’s simply an assault on all senses in the most positive way.
A true sight for sore eyes, absorbing the lush verdant leaves all around, the brown earthy hues of the soil and tree trunks, the glimmers of glorious blue sky through the canopies of leaf coverage and if you’re lucky enough, the sunbeams filtering through the gaps creating an unearthly, mystical forest magic to the whole scene.
The lovely bird song, rushes of breezes through the trees sounding almost like the sea, the ebb and flow of the tide, the rushing of the waves, the rhythmic swaying of the branches swaying in the wind. All music to the ears tired of traffic, music, radio, that internal infernal voice even…
Smells of the forest enhance the experience - the earthy soil and the catches of scent of some flower or other, as does the feel of the sunlight on your skin, the soft breeze across your face and fresh air moving your hair and blowing away the cobwebs... The enforced deeper breathing means you are almost ingesting the air you take in, using it as nourishment to feed your way – tasting life itself in all its glory!
Forest bathing forces you to be present. You have to tend to your step to avoid the tree roots, the unexpected dips of the uneven pathway, to pay attention to your footfall if you want to avoid the nettles. You are scanning your horizon almost sub consciously, plotting your next move and direction. You are half aware of your entire surroundings, checking are you safe, is anyone around.
However, you are also soaking in the pure presence, of being in the moment. It is almost a meditation in motion, if you allow it. If you can let the relentless chatter in your mind switch off for a while and focus on the job in hand, tramping through the woods, you are in a state of pure mindfulness. A far more easy exercise in mediation than the formal version, for me at least. And I like to use these tramps as just that, as a walking meditation.
The body is getting a fine work out, the mind is idling in a semi meditative state and the soul is soaring from taking in the blissful benefits of nature’s bounty all around via all five senses. This reflects the precise state of what is known as ‘flow’ in positive psychology, the ideal state that according to its founder Mihaly Csikszentmihályi, makes our lives more happy, creative and successful. One you might recognise as ‘being in the zone’.
While part of the brain that manages stress can get over stimulated in urban and city environments, natural environments soothe this, producing positive changes such as a lowering of blood pressure and adrenaline in the body resulting in a reduction in physical stress and depression, to name but a few of the many improvements for the body, mind and spirit.
It seems the added bonus to walking through forest and woodland is that certain trees and plants secrete chemicals known as phytoncides which have a known beneficial impact upon humans linked to improved immune defence as they inhale the smells! Notable plants include garlic and pine so get yourself down to Fairy Glen in Parbold (http://www.westlancs.gov.uk/leisure-recreation/parks-and-countryside/parks-and-countryside-sites/fairy-glen-appley-bridge.aspx) for the wild garlic and/or Formby beach forest reserve (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/formby) for the pine trees, both in abundance!
So what’s not to like about forest bathing?! It’s free, and if you’re lucky enough, local to you. As if you needed any more reasons to get down to the woods and thrill in the experience of being immersed in nature! You might want to try it some time, and the next time, approach it with a different perspective!