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During the 1980s, Japan started using its woodland areas as healing spots after realising that simply spending time in them could help stressed-out citizens. This is how “shinrin-yoku”, which directly translates as “forest bath”, was invented. And now, Japanese doctors can even prescribe this natural therapy to patients.
Forest bathing is a mix of meditation and showing your appreciation for the outdoors. All you need is a green space – whether it be a forest, park or woodlands – and an open mind.
Jen Grange, who owns Lakeland Well-being in Cumbria and runs forest bathing sessions, says, “You move slowly through the forest, engaging with all your senses as you go, focusing on the sounds, smells, colours, textures. This deeper connection with nature is very beneficial for our health and wellbeing.
“I love forest bathing as it helps me to slow down my body and mind, and notice the beautiful nature around me. It is a great escape from technology and the pressures of daily life. I always feel calm and relaxed afterwards, like I have an inner smile.”
The activity is a hit with pop star Justin Bieber and the Duchess of Cambridge – it inspired the design of Kate’s Back To Nature garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2019.
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What are the benefits?
Simply walking around the greenery and, quite literally, taking time to smell the roses is scientifically proven to reduce stress, increase energy levels and the ability to focus, improve sleep and reduce blood pressure. It can also boost the immune system through the phytoncides emitted by trees and plants.
Inhaling these organic compounds, which plants release to protect themselves against germs and insects, can give us increased resilience against infections, including viruses and colds, according to research carried out by the Japanese government.
It’s believed the benefits of one session can last up to a week.
What happened when we tried it?
When I told my sister Abbi I was taking her forest bathing, her first question was, “Will it be like when the sisters in Fleabag go to a retreat?” Well, yes and no.
After meeting our instructor, Jen, she encouraged us to start by “walking mindfully”. In other words, really, really, really slowly. As we caught each other’s eyes while struggling with our balance, we couldn’t help having mini-giggles.
However, after 10 minutes, we were listening intently to the leaves crunching beneath our trainers and getting lost in our own worlds while “feeling-up” trees and describing them as “soft, with hard bits”, trying not to snicker like schoolkids.
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At the end of each “activity”, which included looking around, smelling the plants, collecting objects we enjoyed and listening to the rainfall, we were invited to a sharing circle to discuss our findings.
Doing this in the rain sounds hellish but I actually found it enjoyable (I was just glad I hadn’t washed my hair that morning or I’d have been fuming).
When Abbi said looking up at the sun through the trees was like seeing a “kaleidoscope of the forest”, she was praised. I was jealous.
Being positively encouraged to touch and smell whatever intrigued us was a strange experience after being told to do the exact opposite during the pandemic. It was even weirder when a couple walked past as I showed Jen my rock collection.
At the end of the session, we spent half an hour sitting by a lake in peaceful silence. I felt so blissful, I probably couldn’t even have told you my job title, let alone what I was stressed about earlier that day.
I was reminded that the world is bigger than me as sailboats floated through the water. No matter what’s going on in my life, nature will continue to do its thing and it will be there for me when I need time out. That’s a comforting thought.
As I continued with my day, I felt positively lighter from my experience in the forest and made a vow to force myself away from my laptop and into my local park during lunchtimes.
The great thing about forest bathing is you can do it anywhere and you don’t need to fork out for an instructor if you don’t want to. Just leave your phone at home and take a walk in a green space – but instead of having a destination, take time to explore anything you want to with your senses (although we don’t recommend biting into bark).
It’ll never be boring as each time you go you’ll spot different things and even the weather can change the experience.
Where can I do it?
You can practise forest bathing by yourself or join a group session, where you’re supported with a series of mindful invitations by a qualified guide.
Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa in Keswick, the Lake District, offers a forest bathing experience and is an ideal location at which to become one with nature.
With 400 acres of woodland that are home to deer and llamas, as well as calming waters, there is plenty to explore – and once you’re done with the great outdoors, there’s a lot on offer indoors. A luxury spa, cocktail bar and gourmet restaurant mean the relaxation doesn’t end when you leave the forest.
The hotel has been used on ITV’s Long Lost Family and The Real Housewives Of Cheshire, so there’s a chance of spotting celebs too – although you may be feeling too Zen to actually say hello…
A 2-hour bathing experience is £110 per person (based on a minimum 2 people). A 2-night Forest Bathing Spa Break costs from £395 per person (based on A minimum 2 people in A standard room), including B&B, dinner, A 55-minute treatment, use of the spa and the 2-hour forest bathing experience.
Visit armathwaite-hall.com and lakelandwellbeing.co.uk
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