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Forest bathing - Discovering the benefits of wandering through a forest

Forest Bathing Little eco footprints

I recently stumbled across the concept of 'forest bathing', an activity widely practised in Japan. Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is basically a short wander through a forest. The benefits of forest bathing include relaxation, stress relief, mental clarity and even increased immune function.

For months, if not years, I’ve been telling myself I should embrace daily meditation. However, despite knowing of the relaxation benefits, I find meditation almost unbearable. I’m not very good at sitting still and quietening my thoughts. However, going for a wander in the bush – that’s something I can easily manage.

To forest bathe, you go to a forested area and wander. Walk slowly, breathe, smell, listen, touch and look. It’s as simple as that.

Apparently, 15 minutes of forest bathing is all you need to start seeing the benefits.

I’ve been squeezing in a quick forest bathe most days. I find a few moments wandering through bushland puts everything into perspective. Until recently, I attributed this fresh perspective to the fresh air and connection with nature, but apparently the smell of bushland is a major contributor to the health and well-being benefits. That forest smell, called phytoncides, or wood essential oils, is considered to have similar relaxation benefits to aromatherapy.

Besides walking, forest bathing also includes taking time to simply sit. On each forest bathing visit, I choose a spot to briefly sit and be still. I watch for wildlife and wind down.

I appreciate that not everyone lives next to a forest. Wandering through a garden or parkland has similar benefits. When working in the city, I used to duck down to a local park for a few minutes, particularly when stressed or needing to concentrate. The benefits of that quick visit far outweighed the hassle of taking time out from an already busy day.

So, next time you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, find a forest to smell or, at the very least, a garden to sit in.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 21st September 2013.

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