"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…"
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
The idea of communing with the forest and living in natural surroundings actually goes back much further and was first explored in detail in Henry David Thoreau’s classic work on combatting the shortcomings of civilization, Walden: or Life in the Woods, published in 1854 and describing his experiment in self-sufficiency over a period of two years, two months and two days living in a wooden cabin.
So, what can forest bathing do for you?
Forest bathing has much in common with yoga, mindfulness, or meditation. It can help us to focus more clearly, to become more aware of the present moment and of our surroundings. Practiced properly, it is an ideal way to unwind: to immerse ourselves in the calm, the sounds, sight and feel of the forest, reconnect with nature and draw on the energy of the world around us.
This may all sound somewhat spiritual. Still, many studies have demonstrated that walking in the forest, immersed in nature, has a whole string of beneficial and therapeutic effects on our physical health. According to Dr Qing Li of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, who is also president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, the practice of shinrin-yoku has the potential to counter all manner of ailments and diseases, from cancer and strokes to ulcers. But western medical practitioners, too, are increasingly espousing his recommendations as a means of boosting health and wellbeing. The list of benefits ascribed to forest bathing and nature walks is a long one and includes:
- decreases in stress-related hormones, heart rate and blood pressure
- decreased risk of heart attack
- helping to fend off obesity and diabetes
- helping to combat sleeplessness
- reducing depression, anxiety and anger
- improving mood states
- lowering cortisol levels
- boosting concentration and memory
- an increase in body adiponectin levels, which act as anti-inflammatories
Apart from this, forests are rich in so-called natural killer cells, which significantly boost immunity, and organic compounds known as phytocides. These help protect trees and plants from insects, fungus, and disease can offer significant benefits to humans as well.
Who can benefit from it?
The answer to this question is simple: just about anyone. Or have you never experienced stress, suffered from insomnia or depression, or had problems controlling your temper? Forest bathing is rapidly gaining acceptance worldwide. In summer 2019, the Duchess of Cambridge, a fan of shinrin-yoku and wife of the heir to the British throne and, designed a garden inspired by the practice for the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show.
Like societies and associations in many other countries, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has organized a series of forest bathing events in the UK. And Forestry England, which manages the country’s public woodlands has recommended the practice as a way of regaining balance and leaving the pressures of everyday urban life behind. As if to underline its credentials, there is now even an annual International Forest Bathing Day, usually held in September.
The Waldhotel Forest Bathing programme
The Waldhotel goes to some length to remain at the forefront of health and wellness trends, and now offers guided forest bathing tours in the Alpine woodlands located close to the hotel. Lasting some two to three hours, tours will begin with a brief introduction to shinrin-yoku, followed by sensory exercises to enhance participants’ awareness of their surroundings. The aim of these is to help them slow down, breathe deeply and absorb the sensation of being in the midst of trees, peering up through a canopy intermingling soft, restful shades of blue and green.
A shinrin-yoku session dovetails perfectly with the many other «Healthy by Nature» options offered at the Waldhotel: