The concept of 'forest bathing' first emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”). The purpose was twofold: to offer an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to reconnect with and protect the country’s forests.
This magical concept has since travelled across the globe, and more and more we are beginning to understand the therapeutic effects spending time in nature can have on our mental wellbeing.
Whilst true forest bathing involves, of course, spending time in an actual forest, amongst natures raw romantic beauty, obviously not everybody has access to that all the time.
So can you hack forest bathing? Can us city dwellers cultivate the same therapeutic effects of 'true' nature by, say, spending time in a park? Well the short answer to that is yes.
For the first time it seems, researchers have established a threshold at which spending time in nature starts to be associated with good self-reported health and high self-reported well-being: 120 minutes per week. Also reported are the positive effects of things like sitting on park benches, not just heading out into remote wilderness.
Essentially forest bathing can be as simple as walking in any natural environment and consciously connecting with what’s around you. Walking meditations are a great way to open up your mind to and truly 'absorb' the scene around you, whilst not becoming distracted by thoughts, anxieties or city sounds.
There are many ways to maximise your time spent in nature, even for Londoners like me. Here are my favourite ways to hack forest bathing day-to-day:
1 - Exercise outdoors. Especially in the summer this can be a beautiful way to multitask; feeding your body and mind simultaneously! I teach a Glasshouse Yoga pop-up in the summer, and there is nothing like Yoga surrounded by flowers and birdsong; it's magic.
2 - Fill your house with flowers! Don't just think of those potted cheese plants as adding something to the aesthetics of your flat, think of them as a necessity. EVERY room in the house should have some level of greenery in it, to keep our primitive brains consistently feeling like we're 'in nature' on some level. Try to do a bit of research and see if you can add plants that have air filtering properties too - if you're a city mouse, you need it.
3 - Cloud gazing. This is, in my opinion, the best city alternative for forest bathing. Lying down and looking up at the clouds might just be one of the only uninterrupted views you have of nature where you live. All you need is a park, or a rooftop, and as much time as you've got!
4 - Follow the water... Marine scenes score particularly high for the mental wellbeing feeling effect, so if you live by the sea, a river, lakes, or even a pond, spend some time there on your lunchbreak, or really whenever you can.
Words by Laura Pearce, Kin Founder, positive Psychologist and Senior Yoga Teacher. Research linked in article.