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Into the woods: What to expect from ‘forest bathing’

There’s more than one reason to be sceptical of this latest wellness craze, says Christine Manby, but a specialist walking tour may bring you that little bit closer to nature

Monday 03 June 2019 16:09
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Ponies roam the New Forest, one of England’s most popular nature locations
Ponies roam the New Forest, one of England’s most popular nature locations
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orest bathing. Ever tried it? The activity previously known as “going for a walk in the woods” has been given the “wellness” treatment so that now you can pay upwards of £50 an hour for the privilege of doing something my teenage self viewed as the most boring way to spend a Sunday. Actually, that’s not true. Even as a sulky 14-year-old, I knew how lucky I was to live within walking distance of the countryside.

But how does forest bathing differ from just heading out to look at the trees? Well, disappointingly, it doesn’t involve any nudity. Or animal costumes. That’s furring, which is the bane of many a fancy dress company in the shires. The rather less controversial practice of forest bathing originated in the 1980s in Japan, where it is called shinrin-yoku and can be as simple as a contemplative walk in nature.

In his book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Dr Qing Li, of Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School and head of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, writes: “We are part of the natural world. Our rhythms are the rhythms of nature. As we walk slowly through the forest, seeing, listening, smelling, tasting and touching, we bring our rhythms into step ... Our nervous system can reset itself, our bodies and minds can go back to how they ought to be.”

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