Over the last two decades, forest bathing has taken Japan by storm. With the natural trend now gaining interest in the States and across the UK, forest therapy is certainly becoming more widespread. At first glance, forest bathing, or 'Shinrin Yoku' in Japanese - the act of taking a walk through the woods - seems extremely simple. But greater understanding of the health benefits of this practice, teamed with a wider appreciation of the healing properties of trees, brings a whole new perspective to a woodland stroll.
Originating in Japan in the 1980s, Shinrin-Yoku brings together the physical act of walking with a present, more meditative mindset. The Japanese have long understood the healing benefits of spending time within natural environments, with the country's city-dwellers flocking to alpine or rural scenery at the weekends to enjoy a steamy onsen - the natural hot springs that pepper the country and prove extremely popular. Forest bathing does not actually mean physically bathing in forest rivers or lakes, as the name might suggest. Instead, the use of the term 'bath' captures the all-encompassing experience of being within the forest, just like taking a long, soothing bubble bath. In this way, the term captures how a walk in the woods might instil similar feelings of contentment, restoration and wellbeing.
Rural traditions and folklore have often interpreted the forest as a mysterious space, imbuing wooded areas with a sense of magic that has made it an enduring setting for fables and fairytales. Drawing upon this cultural understanding, forest bathers acknowledge that time spent amongst trees is hardly a new concept; but recently, the positive health ramifications of forest environments have been backed by scientists. 'Shinrin-Yåoku' means to 'take in the forest atmosphere,' highlighting how important it is to be sensorily aware and engaged with the world around us and new research carried out in Japan and Korea has highlighted how being amongst the trees boosts our immune system and can improve mood, sleep, concentration and energy levels. With much of the world's population living in hectic, crowded cities, people are always looking for new ways to relate to nature in a creative, meditative way. This research reveals how walking and breathing underneath the forest canopy improves one's health, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress levels and boosting your immune system.
With all this in mind, how does one master the art of forest bathing? For those hoping to unlock its healing possibilities, make sure you enter the forest in a relaxed, calm, and meditative state. Try to have a few uninterrupted hours to spare, and wander aimlessly, following your senses rather than a fixed route. Leave your phone at home, so you won't be tempted to take photographs or text and if you're with a group, try not to chat. Walk slowly, breathe deeply and notice all the sights and smells surrounding you. Find a secluded, quiet spot, stand or sit for a few minutes, and let the beauty of the forest take over. Spend time observing the trees, listening to the rustling of branches and leaves, or the chirping of birds. Keep an eye out for wildlife and be mindful of the nature all around you. And then… relax.
Forest bathing works solo or in groups, and in recent years plenty of forest bathing clubs and associations have sprung up all around the UK. These gatherings often include group meditation, led by an experienced practitioner, and are a brilliant - and free! - way to explore England's great outdoors and make new friends. The English countryside is rich in wooded areas, from thick alpine forests to meadows or fields fringed with enchanting woodland, winding alongside rivers or atop peaks and mountains. Many of our Collection inns are perfectly situated for to indulge in some forest therapy; and with warmer weather approaching, what better way to reunite with nature and spend a little time down in the woods!
For those exploring the South West, how about venturing into the gorgeous Siccaridge Woods in Gloucestershire. Spring is the ideal time to enjoy its stunning carpets of bluebells; and it's not far Frome where you'll find our charming inn, The Archangel, perfectly situated as a base from which to try a spot of forest bathing.
Or escape to The Mayflower overlooking Lymington Harbour? You're a stone's throw from the Isle of Wight here, which boasts the ancient Newtown National Nature Reserve. With stunning wildlife - from red squirrels to ospreys - it's an ideal place to embrace the power of trees and appreciate the forest as a place to unwind, breathe and reflect.
Words: Anna Jamieson