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Forest Bathing Benefits | How Shinrin-Yoku Can Sooth Your Body & Mind

Immerse yourself into the beautiful forest surroundings, and take the opportunity to breathe deeply, de-stress, and enjoy the wonders of a Forest Holiday.

The benefits of Forest Bathing

The calming power of the forest

Forest Bathing is a powerful antidote to the pressures of the modern world, proven to deliver lasting benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing, and creating within you a profound connection to nature. On a Forest Bathing experience, our fully qualified Forest Therapy Guides lead you through a series of activities that use the healing powers of the forest to help you re-balance your mind and body.

Originating in Japan - you may have seen it called shinrin yoku - Forest Bathing is an accepted part of Japanese preventative health care because of the mental, physical and spiritual health benefits it delivers. Also known as forest therapy, it draws on thousands of years of intuitive knowledge - we are part of nature and we have a deep need to feel that connection.

But does it work? Forest Bathing has been around as a concept in Japan since the early 1980's and scientists there continue to conduct a large amount of research into its benefits, concluding that it deserves its place in the Japanese health-care system. More general research into the area of nature connections suggests that the real and long-term benefits include, among other things, reduced stress, improved immunity, lower blood pressure and accelerated recovery from illness or trauma.

Currently you can enjoy Forest Bathing at Blackwood Forest. Our guides have been on an intensive residential training course and are certified in forest therapy by The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programmes. Before we undertook this long-term commitment to Forest Bathing, we wanted to be confident that it worked, so we examined the available research and spoke to academics to ensure that the benefits were real and lasting. We were impressed, and here we summarise what we found out about the benefits of Forest Bathing, or shinrin yoku.

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Why Forest Bathing is good for you

Top six benefits of Forest Bathing

The Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, or Forest Bathing, is good for both physical and mental wellbeing. It is proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness and free up creativity, as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness.

1. Reduces your stress

Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a professor at Chiba University in Japan, has been researching the benefits of Forest Bathing since 2004 and has found that leisurely forest walks yield a 12.4 per cent decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol, compared with urban walks. Participants in his studies have also anecdotally reported better moods and lower anxiety.

2. Improves your mood

Academics at Derby University have conducted a meta study of existing research which concludes that connecting to nature can be linked to happiness and mental wellbeing. Spending time in nature releases hormones that relate to the pursuit of joy, connecting to calm and avoiding threats.

3. Frees up your creativity

In one study by David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, participants saw a 50% improvement in creative problem solving after three days immersed in nature with all access to modern technology removed.

4. Boosts your immune system

Trees and plants emit ‘phytoncides’ which we breathe in when we spend time in the forest. These have been proven in studies by Qing Li, a Japanese shinrin yoku researcher, to enhance the activity of Natural Killer cells that help our bodies to fight disease.

5. Reduces high blood pressure

Forest Bathing has been proven to reduce blood pressure, a crucial factor in maintaining a healthy heart. A recent meta study in Japan reviewed 20 trials, involving 732 participants, which demonstrated that blood pressure levels in the forest environment were significantly lower than those in the non-forest environment.

6. Accelerates your recovery from illness

Nature can be a powerful catalyst in the recovery process. The most well-known study in this area by Dr Roger Ulrich, an architect specialising in healthcare building design, showed that even a natural view from a window reduced convalescence time by a day, compared to an urban view.

Forest Bathing - the mental wellbeing benefits

Why Forest Bathing is good for your mind

Reduced tension and stress, an improved mood, better powers of concentration and freer creativity are just some of the positive effects on mental wellbeing that Forest Bathing can give to you.

The Nature Connectedness Research Group at Derby University conducted a meta study of existing research into Forest Bathing and found that it supports a '3 circles' model - the circles relate to pursuit of joy, connecting to calm, and avoiding threat, each state stimulating different hormones. They found that our response to the forest is emotional. Nature balances the three circles, leading to happiness and mental wellbeing, which of course, impacts on our physical health too.

Natural England, the adviser for the natural environment in England, has also examined a range of studies that look at connections to nature and concluded, among many other things, that "most studies show spending time in or being active in natural environments is associated with positive outcomes for attention, anger, fatigue and sadness". It also highlights a study that shows children with ADHD concentrate better in woodland environments than urban environments.

A 2012 study in America demonstrated a 50% increase in creative problem solving by a group who spent four days in nature, disconnected from their electronic devices. The meditative nature of Forest Bathing cuts out the multiple distractions of modern life and frees up your mind.

Having introduced shinrin-yoku into their health care model, the Japanese continue to research its effects, putting scientific measures into every aspect of the experience. One of the scientists behind these studies, Yoshifumi Miyazaki from the University of Chiba School, concludes simply, that "stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy".

Forest Bathing - the physical wellbeing benefits

Why Forest Bathing is good for your body

Forest Bathing offers some surprising benefits to your physical wellbeing including lowering your blood pressure, boosting your immune system and helping you to recover from illness and trauma more quickly.

In 2016, a meta study concluded that the research available ‘shows a significant effect of shinrin yoku on reduction of blood pressure.’ Lower blood pressure keeps your heart healthy, preventing cardiovascular problems such as angina, strokes and heart attacks.

The trees and plants in the forest emit substances called phytoncides - think of them as wood essential oils - which have been found to boost the immune system. Studies by Qing Li, a Japanese scientist who has been carrying out shinrin yoku research for many years, showed that Forest Bathing increases the NK, or Natural Killer cell activity in people, with at least some of this effect coming from phytoncides. The effects were seen to last for about 30 days and, as these NK cells help to fight disease, the study concludes that regular Forest Bathing trips may have a preventative effect on the development of diseases.

The powerful effect of nature on patients recovering from illness is now widely accepted. Many studies have found conclusive evidence that exposure to nature speeds up convalescence. Even a natural view from a hospital window makes a difference, as demonstrated in well-known studies by Dr Roger Ulrich, which paved the way for many innovations, such as hospital gardens and even hospital forests.

Our increasing disconnect from nature and our decreasing levels of physical activity are beginning to have a profound effect on the nation’s physical health. The Forestry Commission report, We have stopped moving, brings together the research into this area and explains how our forests can be part of the answer. Time spent in the forest is time well-spent and Forest Bathing combines the physical and mental wellbeing benefits of being in the forest with the spiritual benefits of meditation.

Find out more about the science behind Forest Bathing here.

What Forest Bathing did for me

First-hand accounts of Forest Bathing

Our Forest Bathing experience at Blackwood Forest in Hampshire is led by a qualified Forest Therapy Guide, and has been receiving some amazing responses:

From Margaret H:

"It was a humbling and enlightening experience"

From Gemma H:

"An opportunity to pause from the everyday, using the peace and tranquillity of the forest."

And this, from Philippa M:

"We were invited to close our eyes as the Forest Ranger’s voice guided our various senses to focus on the world around us. This was such a reassuring, pleasurable and re-orientating exercise. Your focus is pulled towards natural sounds, smells, and feelings. It’s amazing how our brains ordinarily filter these out or ignore them completely, favouring everyday human distractions. Being given this time and having my attention drawn to focus on the world around me was incredibly relaxing and grounding and left me feeling lighter, positive, open and energised.

Imagine pressing pause on your daily life for a little while, or getting the chance to put your world into slow motion, to look at life through a different lens. For me, that’s what the Forest Bathing experience felt like."