Forest bathing

Forest bathing

Let’s dive into the woods!

In this episode I have met Cornelia Lohf who is a certified coach, preventive health care guide and gives guided tours in forest bathing. Cornelia comes originally from Germany and has lived in different parts of Sweden for the past 30 years. She has always loved the forest and in the past five years she has discovered and become a guide for forest bathing (Japanese: Shinrin Yoku) and it’s virtues.

In this episode we discuss
– what forest bathing is and how it is done
– where it comes from
– what kind of positive effects the forest has on human health
– how forest bathing is different in different season
– why forest bathing and mushroom/berry picking in the forest are two different activities

Brew yourself a cup of tea and enjoy this podcast episode in Swedish or read our English summary below. We have woven into this blogpost a few of our favourite microscopy designs from forest plants.

The origin of forest bathing

Forest bathing was developed in Japan in the 1970s when officials noted the deaths of many young Japanese people. They observed that the cause of these deaths was high workload combined with little time for quality rest. Doctors started to prescribe forest bathing to these people and the positive benefit on the human physiology and the lowered stress level was noted. Since then forest bathing has spread to other countries and is even prescribed as a remedy to stress related diseases by doctors in for example Germany.

podcast guest Cornelia
Forest bathing guide Cornelia Lohf in a forest in Västerbotten, Northern Sweden.

Why is the forest so relaxing

As Cornelia explains there are many different aspects that make the forest an important resource for human health. It is the size of the trees and the forest on its own that gives us a feeling of protection and safety. The sounds of the forest help us to relax. There are molecules released from the trees such as terpenes that also have positive impacts on the human body. Extended visits to the forest  lower heart rate, and strengthen the immune system. This has been proven today by correlative studies. However, we do not know much about the mechanism behind these effects on the human psyche. We furthermore know so little about the effect that different types of forests, such as plantation forests versus natural forests, as well as different forest composition with broad leaf trees or needle trees have on the human health. There is still a lot of potential for further studies to discover why the forest has such a benefit on as humans.

How a forest bathing session looks like

In my interview with Cornelia she explains that the objective of the forest bathing session is to take the speed out of our day. The visitors leave their phones and watches behind and Cornelia takes care of the timing. On her guided tours she firstly invites her visitors to arrive in the forest. For this the visitors are invited to slowly walk into the forest. After a while Cornelia gives a sign to the group and the forest bathers slow down the speed of their steps. After another while another sign to half the speed of their steps. Then she gives everybody a moment to themselves. It takes a few sessions of forest bathing to get used to just being in the forest without an agenda and without an objective. This is also how forest bathing is different from a visit to the forest to pick mushrooms or berries. It is a moment for mindfulness, awareness and for taking in nature with all our senses without having any other objectives.

Pine needle pattern printed on linen

Experiencing nature with all senses

During a forest bathing session, you can be invited to sit down and close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the forest. The song of the birds, the cracking of the wood and the branches and leaves swinging in the wind. Another possibility to start being in the moment is when Cornelia gives her visitors a cone and an extended time to observe this cone: to smell it, to look at it in detail. As she says, some will even start playing music on it. When you have time to focus on just one thing, you can explore it in depth and discover a new dimension of it.

Birch bark pattern on a convertible bag

Seasonal variation

Forest bathing experiences can vary depending on the type of the forest as well as the season. Cornelia describes that especially in the spring the forest is filled with more sounds, such as the cracking of the growing wood for example and the song of the birds. During autumn the smells and visual impressions are stronger with mosses and mushrooms releasing their smells, and the leaves of the trees or the bushes taking on many shades of colors. Cornelia also takes her visitors to the forest in winter. When the snow has fallen visits are shorter. However there is still plenty of things to discover: which color does the snow have? How much green can you see? What do you hear through the soft cover of the snow? For highly sensitive people especially the winter can be a perfect time to start forest bathing at the experience is more subtle.

Pine wood design on a notebook

Away from the city

To really experience the forest during forest bathing Cornelia recommends to go further away from the city. This insures that all human noises such as traffic for example are blended out and you can fully focus on the sounds of the forest. You will start to hear and experience the forest in a new way and discover that there is not just silence. Cornelia has worked together with a person who measured the heart rate of her visitors before and after forest visits. After five forest bathing sessions there was a remarkable decrease in heart rate noted. Many of Cornelia’s visitors report that experiencing the forest in this new way has been unexpected and very relaxing.

Design from a heather stem on a tote bag

Experience the forest

Forest bathing can be done  individually or in groups. Maybe a perfect occasion to do it with your family, your colleagues, or your association. You can book forest bathing in many different parts of the world. Cornelia gives both lectures about forest bathing as well as guided tours and more information can be found on her web page. She also recommends books to learn more about the forest in a popular science way. Shinrin Yoku, The Songs Of Trees and The Hidden Life of Trees are three of them. We have discussed the latter book in our recent Plant Book Club Podcast.

We hope you will enjoy and discover the forest in a new way at your next visit!

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