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Forest bathing

health, nature

By Jonathon Howard

As we emerge from isolation during the Covid pandemic, now is a good time to exercise both your body and soul.  Something that might take your fancy is ‘Forest bathing”.

The concept of forest bathing emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku. Contrary to the name, it has nothing to do with water baths, but simply means to walk amid a forest atmosphere. With Shinrin-yoku, you find a natural area, see the trees, notice the season, breathe deeply, and relax both your body and mind.

So it is not simply a ‘bushwalk’. It means actively taking in the forest through your senses. Acts such as listening to the sounds of nature, sitting meditating in a green space, or taking the time to notice your surroundings are all examples of shinrin-yoku.

Unknowingly, I think I may have practiced ‘forest bathing’ for many years. In the bush where I grew up, there is a large old turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) that I used to sit under for an hour or so. I would marvel at all the tree hollows, watch the animals, and just have some ‘me’ time.

I am in my fifties now, but I still take time out to visit that tree.

The practice of forest bathing has garnered a lot of scientific interest in recent years. Studies show that such forest therapy is a way to reduce modern-day stress and anxiety. Indeed, I have a PhD student who recently finished her study on the psychological benefits of various open space settings in Sydney. She found parks with the highest natural complexity also had the highest wellbeing benefits for visitors.

It seems such forest bathing is not just for wilderness-lovers; the practice can be as simple as walking in any natural environment and consciously connecting with what’s around you. Sure… you can have a more structured meditative experience if you wish.

But the key message is time spent immersed in nature is good for us.

So get out into a forest. Discover the birds in the trees, look at the beauty in tree bark, and feel the leaves beneath your feet. It is an opportunity to walk away from your daily anxiety and tensions to a feeling of calm and inner strength.

Photo: Bathing in the Stanley Forest, by Kirsten Coates.