Wildplaces, Walking and Wellness – Forest Bathing without a Bath!

Most of us know that beautiful places filled with flora and fauna are good for us.  When asking my nearest and dearest – the answer is ‘well…. It just is!’  But as a CBT therapist by day, yoga teacher by early evening and cabin non-city dweller by night and weekend, I wanted to know if people knew more about the ‘why’ it is good for you and why we all could do with a little more of it.

In the last 5 years there is a growing body of research on Shinrin-yoku which is simply translated into forest bathing.  In 1980’s studies at the Nipon medical school focussed on the benefits of immersion in tree filled forests on a regular basis.  The studies established the trees are releasing chemicals (phytoncides) which increase our capability of fighting off disease and turbo charge our immune systems.

The Nature Fix, by author Florence Williams goes further to say that this time in nature is even more beneficial if we can turn off from our technology and onto our connection to nature through our senses.

As a CBT Therapist I spend a lot of time working with clients to try to help them understand how their thinking, feeling and behaviour help or hinder their ability to improve their wellbeing.  As a yoga teacher I encourage students to connect to their body, breath and mind to improve their wellness and whilst this connection to all these aspects to self and our ability to relate to our world (friends and family) are extremely important, it occurs to me that a significant aspect being overlooked by many mental health professionals and yoga/mindfulness practitioners is this absence of our connection to the wider world of nature and wildlife.

With statistics within research carried out (NHAPS Study) showing that Americans spend a staggering 86.9% of time indoors with 5.5% being inside a vehicle – the outdoors seems to have become a place that is unfamiliar to us.

Some positive strands are beginning to weave into our UK lives with the introduction of Forest Bathing Walks which can be found on social sites such as Meetup.  We are starting to catch on to this for or young cubs too and outdoor nurseries with mud kitchens are taking kids out of classrooms and into the woods.    The RSPB have also introduced a series of forest bathing events last year and the idea has also been supported by Forestry England.

Will this be enough of a push to get us off the sofa and into the wilderness?  With the mental health crisis in the UK for both adults and children, it would be beneficial for GPs, Health Visitors, Teachers and others to offer support and guidance.  However, like any health initiative with positive benefits, this will take resources this country decision makers may not consider this as a priority.  So instead of funded, resourced projects there may have to be a ‘grassroots’ approach, with therapists, yoga practitioners, mindfulness teachers and others encouraging families and individuals to get in touch with their wild sides and spend time in their local woods.

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