Get lost in the sights and sounds of nature with forest bathing

Get outdoors and feel the wind through your hair, the sound of birds over head and experience a sense of calm.

Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 6:39 am
Forest

During the Covid-19 pandemic when lockdown hit many people turned to mindfulness as a way of coping with stress and anxiety.

An increasingly popular way to do this is to experience mindfulness surrounded by nature, or forest bathing as it is often referred to as.

Forestry England describes it as a ‘Japanese practice that is a process of relaxation; known in Japan as shinrin yoku. The simple method of being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and wellbeing in a natural way’.

Helena

It was developed in the 1980s following scientific studies conducted by the Japanese government.

The results showed that two hours of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and improve concentration and memory.

It also found that trees release chemicals called phytoncides, which have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, boosting the immune system.

As a result of this research, the Japanese government introduced ‘shinrin-yoku’ as a national health programme.

All pictures: Beth Mercer Photography

It is seen as the most natural way to calm your senses by surrounding yourself with a beautiful forest setting and allowing your body and mind to destress while reconnecting with nature.

Helena Skoog was born and raised in the forests of Sweden and has been living off-grid in ancient forestry in Sussex for the past six years.

She hosts the sessions at the Spread Eagle Hotel based in Midhurst, which can offer overnight experiences as well as day experiences.

The hotel has partnered with Helena, who skilfully guides guests through a series of sensory invitations which enables them to connect, in the present moment, with themselves and their natural surrounds.

She said: “It is a voyage of sensory immersion, I base this immersion upon the 54 senses and sensitivities.

“The sessions typically consist of a radical and profound adventure into the languages of nature, partnered by nature herself, and accessed through direct cognition as opposed to pre-conception.”

The 54 natural senses and sensitivities include: sense of weather changes,; the chemical senses such as smell with and beyond the nose and taste with and beyond the tongue; the hearing senses including resonance, vibrations, sonar and ultrasonic frequencies; and a sense of light and sight, including polarized light.

It is something that Dr Michael J Cohen looks at in his book ‘Reconnecting With Nature’.

Whereas most of us are used to walking around a wood or forest with forest bathing the importance is to take time to really focus on the natural world, from the rays of sunlight catching on leaves to birdsong echoing from the canopy. Helena said the benefits of forest bathing is it offers a ‘freedom from any false sense of separation from all that is’ going on around us in our daily lives.

Pre-coronavirus sessions consisted of one to ten people.

She said: “I have held sessions throughout Sussex including private woodlands where I live. Experiences are currently on hold until later this year.”

Describing what she enjoys most about forest bathing sessions she said: “Walking barefoot upon the soft forest floor, listening to the music of the trees and watching the play of light and magic upon my eyes.”

A study published by the Nature journal in 2019 stated that ‘spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing’.

With thousands of incredible forest locations around the country in the UK we are actually quite spoilt for choice as to where we can undertake forest bathing.

Forestry England advises that once you have found a destination that works for you, you should visit outside of peak hours to achieve optimum quiet time to relax.

It said: “Try bathing early on a weekend morning or on a weekday afternoon whilst the kids are school.”

It has also put together a number of tips for beginnings to get the most out of your experience.

These include:

Turn off your devices to give yourself the best chance of relaxing, being mindful and enjoying a sensory forest-based experience;

Slow down. Move through the forest slowly so you can see and feel more;

Take long breaths deep into the abdomen. Extending the exhalation of air to twice the length of the inhalation sends a message to the body that it can relax;

Stop, stand or sit, smell what’s around you, what can you smell?;

Take in your surroundings using all of your senses. How does the forest environment make you feel? Be observant, look at nature’s small details;

Sit quietly using mindful observation; try to avoid thinking about your to-do list or issues related to daily life. You might be surprised by the number of wild forest inhabitants you see using this process;

Keep your eyes open. The colours of nature are soothing and studies have shown that people relax best while seeing greens and blues;

Stay as long as you can, start with a comfortable time limit and build up to the recommended two hours for a complete forest bathing experience.

While the original study and the National Trust recommends sessions should last for two hours it adds that if you have a busy schedule then even just 10 minutes in nature can help you to feel refreshed.

As with most mindful practices it is about stopping, listening, clearing your mind and absorbing the sights and sounds around you.

Over the last few years forest bathing has begun to gain popularity in the UK, with more and more people wanting to get back into nature.

Many of us naturally head outside as a way to unwind and feel refreshed, but the benefits of ‘nature therapy’ are also backed up by countless scientific studies. In 2018 academics at the University of Derby found that improving a person’s connection with nature led to significant increases in their wellbeing.

For more information visit:

Spread Eagle Hotel - hshotels.co.uk/spread-eagle

Forestry England - forestryengland.uk

National Trust - nationaltrust.org.uk

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