Into the woods: Finding peace and healing through forest bathing

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Nature therapy advocates praise benefits amid a mental health crisis.

LONDON, June 10: Amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life, a practice known as forest bathing is gaining popularity as a therapeutic escape into nature. Advocates of this form of ecotherapy tout its simplicity: being calm and quiet among the trees, observing nature while breathing deeply.

With mental health concerns on the rise, particularly evidenced by a significant increase in patients accessing mental health care in England, individuals are turning to nature as a refuge from the stresses of daily life. According to the NHS, five million patients sought mental health care between 2022 and 2023, marking an increase of over a million in just five years.

Susanne Meis, forest bathing manager at Kew and founder of Meet in Nature, emphasized the importance of firsthand experience with forest bathing. She noted the profound impact it has had on individuals, with some crediting it for saving their lives and others highlighting its transformative effect on their relationship with nature.

The concept of forest bathing recently gained attention at the Chelsea Flower Show, where London designer Ula Maria’s Forest Bathing Garden earned a gold medal. Maria described the garden as a sanctuary for those affected by muscular dystrophy, offering solace and reflection. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) hailed it as an immersive, relaxing, and calming environment.

According to mental health charity MIND, forest bathing has demonstrated benefits for both adults and children, helping to reduce stress and improve overall health and wellbeing. However, they stress that it should complement other mental health treatments.

Dispelling misconceptions, Katie Mills, founder and director of Forest and Family, clarified that forest bathing does not involve nudity but rather a deep connection with nature. She highlighted its growing global popularity and emphasized the immense benefits of nature immersion.

Originating from the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku in the 1980s, forest bathing involves slow, mindful activities that engage the senses. Dr. Qing Li, the pioneer of this practice, emphasized its unparalleled influence on health, stating that no medicine compares to a walk in a beautiful woodland.

Forest bathing activities include observing colors in nature, smelling fragrant leaves, and experiencing different textures, all done with mindfulness and intention. Each forest bathing session can vary in duration, ranging from 10 to 15 minutes to several hours over multiple days, providing flexibility for individuals to tailor their experience to their needs.

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