The Japanese practice of forest bathing has been shown to decrease blood pressure and cortisol levels | Source: Qii House

Forest Bathing: How a Stroll in Nature Can Make All the Difference

On average, we spend 90 per cent of our lives inside. And with many of us juggling work responsibilities and other commitments with seemingly less time, many of us exist in a perpetual state of stress and mental overdrive.

That’s where forest bathing or forest therapy comes in. While the name might lead you to believe the practice involves taking a dip in a lake or river in the forest, the term actually refers to bathing by taking in the forest through sight, sound, touch and smell. A highly contemplative practice, forest bathing is a sensory immersion in nature and a practice we should all consider trying to reconnect with the natural world.

Unlocking health benefits in nature

Despite the simplicity of the practice, nature bathing offers a range of health benefits. Through spending time in nature in an almost meditative state, research has identified both psychological and physiological benefits to nature bathing. In addition to feeling calmer and decreasing anxiety and depression, nature bathing is also linked to decreased cortisol levels the ‘stress hormone’, reduced blood pressure and an improved immune system.

While nature bathing only requires a present mind and a nearby patch of nature, there are also dedicated classes you can attend so you can fully reconnect with the natural world.

One such organisation is Perth-based Mindful In Nature. Offering guided forest therapy sessions in Kings Park, as well as mindfulness and nature retreats in Western Australia’s southwest, Mindful In Nature, aims to facilitate an awakening of the senses while reducing stress levels through complementary exercises.

Combatting ‘karoshi’

Also known as ‘shirin-yoku’, forest bathing originates from Japan during the economic boom of the 80s. Often working six out of seven days a week, Japanese workers experienced intense and long working hours which gave rise to an increasingly common phenomenon known as ‘karoshi’: death by overwork.

Backed by government-funded research, the practise of forest bathing emerged as a formal therapy to combat the karoshi which often transpired in Japanese workers suddenly dying from work-related cardiac arrests, strokes and suicide in some cases.

Today, there are more than 1,500 accredited forest bathing guides globally who enjoy the physical and mental benefits of taking a calming and meditative stroll in nature.

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