Theres no doubt in my mind that the woods or forest is my spiritual home. I love the countryside, I love the beach, I even enjoy a walk up a mountain from time to time, but it is in the forest that I really feel my soul relax and my senses come alive. I can walk for hours and still go further. I find peacefulness and a sense of harmony amongst the trees that I do not find anywhere else. To me, when in the woods, it feels like the world is working exactly as it is supposed to be.
For me, no two walks in the forest are the same. It obviously looks different depending on the season - are the leaves a bright and vibrant almost iridescent green of first spring, a deeper richer green of summer, or reds, golds and browns of autumn?
It also smells different too, especially if it has recently rained or been dry for a long time. And it sounds different, depending on the time of day, the birds signing, the wind. Add in the weather – are you seeking shade amongst the trees or is it a job to glimpse the sun? Is there a warm summer breeze or are you wrapped up against the biting north wind? Is it an early and misty dawn and you are sharing the woods with the deer or foxes, or is it later and there are families and dog walkers a plenty? I find it fascinating and rejuvenating and also it is where I do my best thinking.
So it was a nice surprise to hear about Shinrin-yoku which is the Japanese practice of Forest-bathing! This started in Japan in the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of their health care. It is especially recognized as a legitimate practice for preventative healthcare and as a way to accelerate healing.
There have been many scientific studies in the last couple of decades into the healing benefits of being in natural places. They have found for example that some trees give off compounds that naturally help to boost our immune system.
Some of the other main benefits include
- Reducing blood pressure
- Improved sleep
- Improved mood
- Reduced stress
- Accelerated healing from surgery or illness.
Whilst it may sound like an ‘alternative therapy’ surely it is more about returning to a place where historically not all that long ago, humans would have spent a great deal of time, if not pretty much all of their time. The more we ‘advance’ the more time we spend in towns and cities, in front of screens, sedentary and cut off from nature, and even each other, each having a far more singular experience than ever before. We have changed our lifestyles far quicker than evolution would have, so perhaps there is a large part of our being that cries out for the wild, natural places of the world and why, for me at least, going to the woods brings a sense of connection and belonging.
So give it a go this week, go alone and breath deep, or take the family and jump in puddles, switch off the phones, relax, have fun, who knows, you may just feel so much better. And if you do not have access to woods, then go to the park, walk the fields, find somewhere you can just be with nature and take a little time for you and your health.