Forest bathing is a balm for body, spirit and soul

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Using the healing power of trees: forest bathing originated in Japan and is rising in popularity. The idea is to train your senses and sharpen your awareness of nature.

What is forest bathing?

The first time you hear the term “forest bathing”, you’d be forgiven for thinking of a swim in a forest pond. But it actually refers to the experience of immersing yourself totally in the forest and consciously feeling its soothing effects: how it smells of fragrant resin. How many shades of green there are. How the woodpecker taps in rhythm against a tree trunk. How soft the moss is underfoot.

The Shinrin Yoku idea comes from Japan

The fact that walks in the forest do us good is no new insight. But forest bathing goes one step further: the aim is to tap into the healing power of the trees. The idea comes from Japan and is called Shinrin Yoku. It was initiated by environmental immunologist Qing Li who, after researching forest medicine for more than 30 years, has come to the following conclusions: spending extended periods of time near trees strengthens the immune system, boosts metabolism, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, reduces stress, improves concentration and may even help ease depression.

Conifers, such as pines, have a particularly strong scent. Spending time in their presence is a kind of natural aromatherapy.
Qing Li, founder of forest bathing, in an interview with Rowohlt publishers

The reason for this, he says, are phytoncides: these are oils secreted by trees to protect them from insects and fungi – and are also said to be good for the human immune system. Research is now being carried out in Europe too.

Anyone in Japan who suffers from stress or troubled thoughts can have their family doctor prescribe forest bathing as a therapy. This has been an integral part of Japan’s health programme for several decades.

Therapy options in Switzerland

There are a number of individual tourist regions and therapists in Switzerland currently offering forest bathing. In the 900-year-old Aletsch forest, for example, under the guidance of a Japanese yoga teacher you can “discover the liberating effect for your body, mind and soul.”

Dagmar Wemmer from Mosnang in Toggenburg calls her programme for small groups “mindfulness-oriented forest therapy”. The specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy reports good results. After just one hour, participants already feel calmer and more relaxed, their fears and feelings of being overwhelmed significantly eased.

In Dagmar Wemmer's experience, the effect is particularly high when Shinrin Yoku is combined with mindfulness exercises. This is because people in the western world find it particularly difficult to stay in the “here and now”, she says.

Spending extended periods of time near trees strengthens the immune system, boosts metabolism, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, reduces stress, improves concentration and may even help ease depression.
Qing Li, founder of forest bathing

How forest bathing works

If you want to try forest bathing for yourself, there are four things you can do:

  1. Stop the cycle of overthinking: don't ruminate about the past and the future. Keep your mind on what you’re currently experiencing.
  2. Don’t use the forest purely as a green setting for leisure activities.
  3. Don't keep up your usual hectic pace and pressure to perform by setting fitness records when jogging or Nordic walking.
  4. Leave your smartphone at home.

Instead – like a child – while away time as you gaze and wonder. Connect with the forest by soaking up all its colours and forms, sounds and scents.

Watch out for ticks

After the walk, check your body all over for ticks. The tick bite itself is painless and often goes undetected. However, it can cause dangerous diseases.

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