Before the Duchess of Cambridge unveiled her garden and concept behind it at The Chelsea Flower Show this year, most people had never heard of ‘forest bathing’. But it’s becoming a hot topic as the benefits of being surrounded by nature are increasingly understood.
Kate is a passionate nature lover and understands the link between children’s mental health and the great outdoors. “I really feel that nature and being interactive outdoors has huge benefits on our physical and mental wellbeing, particularly for young kiddies,” she said in a video posted to the Kensington Royal Instagram account. “I really hope that this woodland that we have created, in a huge collaboration here, really inspires families, kids, and communities to get outside, enjoy nature and the outdoors, and spend quality time together.”
Using the great outdoors as a restorative way to disconnect from an ever ‘on’ society is gaining support. There are even suggestions ‘being in nature’ could one day be prescribed to aid recovery from ill health on the NHS.
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The practice of forest bathing as we know it now originated in Japan in the 1980s as shinrin-yoku. It’s sometimes translated as nature bathing and remains an important form of health care in Japan. The concept is very simple, to go out into nature and be open and deliberate in your appreciation of your environment. To inhale the smells, take in the sights, feel the textures of the nature around you, listen to the birds a little more carefully than you usually would.
Shinrin-yoku became a respected health practice after research showed it to have actual proven health benefits. As one study found, just being in a forest or wooded environment helped to promote lower concentrations of cortisol, reduce pulse rate and blood pressure, and regulate the way our body reacts to stress. There have also been restorative effects found for those who are recovering from illness and a boost in energy levels and improved sleep. In children, even those who have disorders which make concentrating difficult, time spent playing, looking and touching the forest increased their focus afterwards and lead to a calmer child. When it comes to moody teens time out in woods with technology firmly left at home us a great idea as another study noted how young adults recorded significantly decreased levels of both depression and hostility after being in a forest. For the most benefits you should aim for 120 minutes every seven days which could be a two hour walk at the weekend or 30mins a day in an urban park.
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Such is the popularity of forest bathing there are now groups and teachers who will take you into the woods and talk you through when and how you can focus your mind on the environment around you. But you by no means need to involve another in the practice to reap the benefits.
The main take-away facts are that you immerse yourself and connect with the nature around you, that means no phone, no email, not even any taking photos! By taking away the distractions of the modern world and seeing properly in the way our ancestors did, you will enjoy the peace which the practice promotes. Take a moment to sit on a log, rock or stone, remove your shoes so you can feel the forest floor. Look around you and take in the details of the trees, plants, wildlife. Listen to the sounds of the forest and how the light plays through the scene. You can gain as much benefit from sitting and observing as walking, the movement is not the important factor here, it’s all about location.
You may notice your breathing deepen and slow, your shoulders relax and mind feel more relaxed and calm. If you feel yourself wanting to reach for your phone then there is even more reason why you should continue with the moment and break the habit of always being ‘switched on’. If you are with friends or family try and agree not to talk for some time so everyone can experience the environment in their own way and make their own observations. It can be interesting to discuss these later but it’s important to make your own way to begin with.