We all know that walking and spending time outside in nature is good for us, but I wonder how easy you find it to slow down your thoughts and become aware of the sights and sounds around you. There’s nothing wrong with listening to music or a podcast while we’re exercising outside but there’s more and more evidence to show that we gain huge health benefits from really connecting with nature and using all our senses to do so.
Trees are crucial, and evergreen forests especially. Forests have a higher concentration of oxygen than urban areas, and plants produce chemicals called phytoncides, which are natural oils designed to protect them from fungi, bacteria and insects. According to Dr Qing Li, a Japanese medical doctor and researcher, spending time in this forest environment can reduce stress, anxiety, depression and anger, aid sleep, strengthen the immune system, improve cardiovascular and metabolic health and boost overall well-being. He says, “Wherever there are trees, we are healthier and happier – it isn’t about exercising, it’s just about being in nature.” His book Forest Bathing – How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness explains the findings of his years of research and how to do forest bathing in order to gain the most benefit.
The concept of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing originated in Japan where most people live in densely populated cities but in fact much of the country is covered in beautiful forests.
Whilst evergreen forests are perfect, anywhere with trees, even an urban park, can help to calm the mind and ease tension in the body. For those who can’t get outside for some reason, infusing essential tree oils in your home can be helpful too.
Here are a few ‘how-tos’ and ideas for forest bathing:
- Involve all your senses, your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Try using them one at a time. For example, close your eyes and just listen. You may be surprised that you can even hear a falling leaf touch the ground.
- Move slowly, breathing into your belly. It’s amazing how shallowly we breathe when we’re anxious or simply just busy during the day.
- Spend time and connect with a favourite tree. Touch it, sit with your back against it and enjoy its strength and sturdiness.
- Lie on the ground and look up through the canopy. As you connect with the earth, feel yourself becoming one with it. If you find it difficult to switch off or slow down your thoughts, try distracting yourself by looking for patterns and colours in the leaves, plants and trees.
In an ideal world, we would be spending three or four hours at a time immersing ourselves in nature but according to Dr Qing Li, even 20 minutes can provide benefits to both mind and body.