< Back to blog

Highland Diary - November 2019

Forest Bathing - The perfect digital detox

I’d heard of the Japanese phrase “Forest Bathing” a few years back, but when the Duchess of Cambridge announced that the garden she co-designed for the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show was inspired by the forest bathing (or “shinrin-yoku”) I decided to find out a bit more. Is this something we should all be doing? And if so, what does it involve?

I’ve discovered that Shinrin-yoku – literally, a “forest bath” - first appeared in Japan in the 1980s and has become so widely followed there that it’s now been incorporated it into the Japanese national health programme. The leading expert on the concept is Dr Qing Li – president of the Society for Forest Medicine in Japan, and the author of Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing and the follow up Into The Forest.

Qing Li’s advice for the simple practice of forest bathing is to “Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savouring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in.”

So it’s simply taking a walk, or sitting - or even lying down if you like - amongst a quiet forest and allowing it to permeate all your senses. All mobile devices and links to the outside world should be left behind. And it doesn’t really matter how long your “forest bath” takes - but the longer the better, to really relax into the sounds and smells of the calming environment.

Studies in Japan and the UK show that practicing shinrin-yoku could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration, sleep and memory. He says it can help relieve illnesses including gastric ulcers, depression, anxiety and stress. Plus, antimicrobial essential oils released by trees and plants, “phytoncides”, has been found to boost the immune system. A study by King’s College London from January 2018 found that exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong in cities improved mental wellbeing, with lasting effects.

Interest in the concept is growing here in the UK. The Forest Bathing Institute was set up here in 2018 and their website describes the idea as ‘spending quality time, under the canopy of trees, in a forest, for health and wellbeing purposes’. The Institute now trains people to become shinrin-yoku guides.

In 2019 the Woodland Trust recommended that forest bathing should be included in the non-medical therapies prescribed by GPs to improve physical and mental wellbeing. The RSPB ran forest bathing events across the country this summer, and Forestry England has also endorsed the practice.

I can certainly vouch for the calming, mindful effect of even just a few minutes wandering through the forest at Rothiemurchus, breathing deeply and listening for the different birdsong amongst the trees. No matter how stressful my day, a little time spent amongst the trees always balances me and brings life into perspective.

So next time you feel a little overwhelmed by modern life, why not leave the phone behind, walk into the forest, and take a bath.