Forest Bathing may create images in your mind of delving into watery woodlands or taking a soothing dip among the trees but this kind of bathing in the forest is derived from a Japanese activity known as Shinrin-yoku, meaning “taking in the atmosphere of the forest”. It is a form of nature therapy that allows you to dive into a woodland experience that will gently stimulate your senses and leave you feeling less stressed and in a lighter mood, it may also increase your energy levels and help improve your sleep. We have known for a long time that a walk in the woods makes us feel good but, in Japan, a lot of academic research has been done to back up this intuitive reaction to spending time among trees.
On a sunny afternoon in July, a group of Fingle Woods volunteers and staff took the opportunity to try out a session of Forest Bathing. Led by Mark and Camilla of Aquafolium, the gentle journey started at Fingle Bridge with a wander through the meadow beside the river. Stopping under one of the large trees, Camilla explained that “everything we do is by invitation, so please take part if you want to”. Mark then described the upcoming walk as an “interaction with nature”, asking the group to shrug off their tension and leave that stress behind. Finding and connecting with a natural object, such as a tree or a patch of grass, everybody had the chance to wind down and let the wild features take the strain. Once in the woods, the group were asked to de-focus their eyes and use their peripheral vision; becoming aware of the world around them, listening to the surrounding sounds and absorbing the light filtering through the leaves in the high canopy. The first stage of the connection with the woods was being made.
Continuing with the stroll, Mark spoke about the potential boost to human health that can be gained from the scents of the forest. The air was tingling with the aroma from the oil of the Douglas fir trees which, it is understood, fortifies the immune system. He continued, “the sense of smell works on the same area of the brain as the recollection of memories”. Recent research suggests this knowledge can help to better understand cognitive decline related to ageing.
Moving further into the woods the bathers studied the trees standing high above and admired the detail of the cones and leaves before reaching the river where they gathered on a pebbly beach. In tune with the flow of the river and the cooling breeze, sockless feet were dipped into the refreshing water of the Teign. The gentle chat continued as the sounds of the tumbling water were soaked up and the mood mellowed.
After a walk back to the meadow, a tea ceremony took place. Time to sit together and reflect on the Forest Bathing experience with a cup of freshly brewed tea foraged from Douglas fir, mint and birch sap; the essence of the forest.
Aquafolium is a new social enterprise, working across Devon. They will be running two Forest Bathing walks at Fingle Woods on Sunday the 26th of August as part of Dartmoor Walking Festival – to find out more and book your (free) place visit – https://woodlandtrusttickets.cloudvenue.co.uk/forestbathingatfingle.
by Matt Parkins