With International Forest Bathing Day falling on 12 September, I thought I would explore this intriguing idea, which for many people has become a way to improve wellbeing.
The expression “forest bathing” is memorable and striking, but could also be confusing. Not only is there no need to get wet, but you don’t even have to be in a forest. The expression is used to cover different ways of connecting with nature and the outdoors. Thinking about bathing, I think of words like cleansing, immersive and soaking. So maybe this is an opportunity to feel your mind “cleansed” as you “immerse” yourself in the natural world, and “soak in” the sights and sounds of a forest, a field or a single city tree. Unlike a shower, where the focus is on speed, bathing is more about slowing down and going deeper, absorbing: as is forest bathing as a form of nature connection.
And why forest bathing? Forests do have a particular place in popular imagination. They are hushed, places of stillness, a world of their own. They enfold you in their shade. So again there’s the idea of an immersive experience of nature – but as we know, that’s in no way limited to forests themselves. I used to walk regularly in a wood. There was a hush, a feeling of being enclosed, away from the open fields which surrounded the wood. Walking there regularly I got to see it in all different moods and times of year. But now that I live nowhere near a wood or forest, I still immerse myself in nature all the time.
Founded two years ago, the Forest Bathing Institute is working to develop forest bathing in the UK: running forest bathing gatherings at places like Leith Hill, Kew Gardens and the RSPB Sandy reserve, and training people to become forest bathing guides themselves. Another important aspect of their work is cooperating with six UK universities on research into the impact of forest bathing. Lived experience and testimonials can be powerful, but assessment, monitoring of measurable impacts, is needed if forest bathing is to gain the recognition and funds it deserves. To this end, the UK’s first peer-reviewed research paper into forest bathing’s health benefits has recently been published. It reveals clear impacts on mood, emotions and also heart rate.
And forest bathing is growing rapidly. Organisations like the National Trust & Forestry England promote and explore forest bathing. Many Forest School programmes in different locations draw on forest bathing. With forest bathing videos on You Tube, you don’t even have to be in nature – instead you can try immersing yourself in the natural world from your desk or chair.
The more forest bathing grows and the more research is done, the more questions will be answered. I wonder if people who live in urban areas benefit most from forest bathing, as a welcome contrast to their everyday? I wonder if forest and woodland will be proven to have a stronger impact than other natural settings?
Thinking of forest bathing reminded me of the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire: trees planted to form the shape of a built Christian cathedral. As in a built cathedral, this becomes a reflective, contemplative space, somewhere to think what matters.
Do you have any experiences of forest bathing to share, or thoughts or questions? It would be great if you’d like to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002