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Forest Bathing or If You Go Down to the Woods Today

Thursday, October 29, 2015

For some time now, I have noticed that when and where I choose to walk is dependent on my mood. Conversely, my mood is effected by the location of my walk; I always feel uplifted being close to nature. I feel exhilarated when I hike in the mountains, I feel peaceful walking around the local country lanes, I feel childlike at the beach, but my favourite places to walk are forests and woods. I don't know whether this was due to me bonding with The Hobbit when I was six years old, or I just feel so good when trees surround me; like a hug from the Earth.

I have a confession; I have no idea how to deal with rudeness. I was always bought up to be polite, so when I encounter rudeness, it upsets me. I knew yesterday morning that I was going to encounter someone who is so rude, she pushes every single button I have. The first time I met her I thought she was having a bad day, then I thought I had offended her in some way; but it turns out she treats everyone in the same way, so on the plus side I know I haven't done anything. Afterwards, I try and be charitable and excuse her rudeness; she may have an utterly miserable life, and this is how it affects her. Beforehand, to be honest, I fret; so I breathe deeply and try to think happy thoughts rather than allowing negativity and irritation to ruin my day.

So, I made the decision to go and walk in the local woods after she had taken my blood. It is a remnant of an ancient forest, a place so beautiful it makes my heart ache. I go here quite often, and it never ceases to amaze me, it touches my soul. I always walk around the edge first, so I can time myself; knowing that once I venture inside I lose myself in the sounds, sights and smells. When I got there, the early morning fog was lifting, and the smell of smoke from the local farmhouse was still hanging heavily in the air. The perimeter was soggy from the nights rain, the drops of moisture were hanging from the leaves and the cows in the surrounding fields were huddled together. The walk went well; no personal records were broken, but I felt good (once again proving how much exercising elevates my mood). Then for the best part, I get to explore the dark and mysterious interior; I always pass through a pair of ancient oaks that always seem to greet me like old friends. The crackle of twigs and leaves underfoot; the dappled grey light from where the leaves have fallen; the velvet moss; the birdsong and the sounds of the movements of animals. I have a place where I stop and sit; this is my special place, a place that wraps around me, filling me with a sense of utter peace and joy. I have no words to describe it.

I returned home, feeling much happier than when I left. Feeling a renewed sense of purpose, I finished my chores in double quick time and prepared lunch. Time for my second confession, I love to sit and eat my lunch reading The Guardian, I know that technology and distractions are not a good combination when eating, but it is my guilty pleasure. In truth, it's a harder habit to kick than either chocolate or bread! Imagine my delight when I read an article by Rob Penn about the positive and mood enhancing effects of walking surrounded by trees. I have never heard of Forest bathing or Shinrin-Yoku, but it is practiced in Japan as a form of preventative medicine.
Research in Japan has shown the following benefits:
1. The immune system is boosted
2. Reduced blood pressure
3. Reduced stress
4. Improved mood
5. Increased concentration levels
6. Accelerated recovery from illness and surgery
7. Increased energy levels
8. Improved sleep

There has been further research performed in Sweden where it has been found to be a useful tool, to treat severe exhaustion disorder*. Although not the complete solution, it certainly helps with recovery. So there we have it, my little spot surrounded by trees does give me a hug and a whole lot more! I know that not everyone has the same instant access to ancient woodland, but the benefits of going outside to exercise, explore and just get our boost of vitamin D are well documented; so regardless of the weather or season, just go out and make yourself feel better.

I wish you all a Thursday filled with fresh air, joy and peace!

*Sonntag-Ostrom, Elisabet, et al. ""Nature's effect on my mind" - Patients' qualitative experiences of a forest-based rehabilitation programme." Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 14.3 (2015): 607-614.
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