When you hear the word “bath”, perhaps a running tap, soap suds and candles come to mind. It might be your long-awaited moment of peace and quiet after a busy day at work. You take off your clothes, dip your toes and slowly enter the tepid water and a state of relaxation. The benefits of a warm bath I am sure are many but I wonder how much it can actually do to your soul if it’s only under an hour and within the four walls of your bathroom.


Let’s talk about a different kind of bathing. Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, involves taking the time to connect with yourself and the forest, bridging the gap between your mind, body and soul and the natural world. It is not a hike nor a run – it is an aimless and slow walk which allows nature to wash over all five senses.


It has a unique biological impact which isn’t found when the same exercise is performed in other environments. This is largely due to phytoncides and Mycobacterium vaccae. Phytoncides are the reason why we are able to enjoy the warm, humid, woody scent of cedar or the fresh, clean scent of pine. Trees release phytoncides to protect them from bacteria, insects and fungi… Phytoncides are also part of the communication pathway between trees: the way trees talk to each other. The concentration of phytoncides in the air depends on the temperature and other changes that take place throughout the year. The warmer it is, the more phytoncides there are in the air. Mycobacterium vaccae is a substance in the soil that we breathe in when we walk in the forest and which improves quality of life by lifting energy levels, cognitive functioning and mood.


By 2050 it is estimated the 66% of the world’s population will be living in cities. The average American will spend 93% of their lifetime indoors. Our separation from nature is a bitter reality of the modern world and with it comes several health risks. But the good news is that even only two-hours of forest bathing can bring about so many health benefits which can last up to 30 days, including lower blood pressure, heart rate and levels of cortisol. There are studies which conclude that it may even have a preventative effect on the development of illnesses such as depression and cancer. In some parts of the world there are even forest therapists who, after assessing your general health with a doctor, can work out what walking plan will best suit your needs.


Nevertheless, in truth, you don’t need much to take part in this ancient Japanese tradition. It is meant to be a simple activity you can enjoy anywhere in the world, come rain or shine. One that doesn’t depend on anything but yourself and your capacity to connect with your surroundings. Leave your phone and take deep, fresh breaths. Lie on the ground, walk mindfully, smell the woody aroma or even hug a tree. Whatever it is, and for however long, get in tune with the forest, access the magic around you and activate all your senses. You won’t regret it.

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