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Why forest bathing and tree hugging is the new wellbeing trend that will boost your mental health

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If you’ve wondered what exactly forest bathing is, it was translated from the term Shinrin-Yoku which is a form of sensual immersion, gentle movement, meditations and simple yogic breathing, each attuned to the time of day, season and weather.

It’s known as ‘nature therapy’ is centred around wellness by escaping the hustle and bustle of an urban environment. Forest bathing helps you focus on your key senses and surroundings which might mean hugging trees, smelling plants, breathing in fresh woodland smells and listening to chirpy birds.

And forest bathing has actually been proven to make you happier, calmer and therefore improving your mental health. In Japan it’s seen as a preventive health care technique as it increases your serotonin levels, boosts your immune system and has a positive effect on blood pressure and energy levels. Basically, it’s a kind of wellness miracle that we should all be doing.

Of course, we all kind of knew this already. We’re constantly being told that mental wellbeing is aided when we spend more time outdoors and luckily, here in the UK we are surrounded by some of the most incredible green spaces and there are plenty of places you can try forest bathing. The team at the Spread Eagle Hotel in Sussex run a 24-hour forest bathing experience with Swedish teacher Helena Skoog who was born and raised in the forests of Sweden and has spent the last four years living off-grid in ancient forestry in Sussex. The forest walk will see you become completely immersed in the surroundings, finished with a two-hour rejuvenating yoga session.

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Then there’s the two hour forest bathing experience at Armathwaite Hall Hotel & Spa in the idyllic Lake District, which involves a guided meditation session to allow guests to tune in with their surroundings and awaken their senses, followed by an educational exploration of taste, sense, movement and slowing down through connection with nature and participation in sharing circles with the other guests. The experience finishes with a tea ceremony, which helps guests to reflect on what they have learnt. 

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For the devoted fans of forest bathing, it’s even possible to design your holiday around the practice, for example at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, La Fortuna de San Carlos in Costa Rica, which is set in more than 900 acres of lush rainforest reserve and allows guests to explore the verdant jungle surroundings and natural flowing mineral springs. 

Of course, you don’t need to book into a fancy experience or far-flung holiday to enjoy the numerous benefits of forest bathing. On the contrary, the most important thing is to get out into nature and soak in your surroundings – something which can be done without expert guidance and for free. You’ll want to find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed and make sure to turn your phone on silent and resist the urge to document the experience on social media. The whole point is to flood the senses with the sounds, sights and smells of the forest, so be sure to keep note of everything you see, hear and smell to maximise the benefits. 

And while this kind of experience is an ideal way to try forest bathing, Dr. Qing Li of the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo suggests that you can absorb the therapeutic effects of forest bathing simply with a walk in a woodland area – you just need to use your senses to engage in your surroundings. Nature photography, den-building, painting and star-gazing are all ways that will help you to connect.

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Just make sure you the ‘do not disturb’ setting on your phone switched on.

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