Forest bathing: what is it and where can you do it?
You may have heard more and more people - from the celebrity, fitness and wellness worlds - talking about forest bathing. It sounds fancy, but all it entails is taking a walk in the forest. Think about the last time you spent an afternoon in nature: we bet you noticed a significant improvement in your mood and outlook.
The term shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) originated in the 1980s in Japan, and means to “take in the forest atmosphere”. It was prescribed by doctors as a physiological and psychological exercise, especially as an antidote to the tech-boom burnout (sound like something you need? We definitely need it...).
Yes, scientific research has shown spending frequent time surrounded by nature can counter illnesses by boosting your immune system. One way this happens is via a substance called phytoncides (generally meaning the aroma of the forest), which is released by plants and trees and has been linked with a lower risk of cancer.
Being surrounded by nature can also reduce blood pressure and stress levels: just 15 minutes surrounded by trees decreases cortisol levels by up to 16%. Plus it can improve concentration and memory, and boost creativity.
Think about it, we’re animals: we are designed to be connected to the planet’s nature and our bodies have evolved to respond to it. Northern European spend about 80% of their time indoors (just think about your last week!). Our bodies are craving trees and grass and the wind, so it makes sense that once it gets a hit of nature, our bodies respond incredibly positively.
You might feel a little awkward at first, especially if you’re a city person, but we’re here to help you through it! We promise it’s really straightforward. It’s not ‘exercise’ in the sense of sports, it’s simply being in nature and using our senses to connect our body with the earth.
It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway(!), once you’ve found your forest, put your devices on aeroplane mode. Then, in the same way as when you meditate, focus on the present moment and let your body be your guide. Start with one sense, sight for instance: what can you see? How many shades of green are there? Are the tree roots visible? Can you see patterns on tree bark? Then move on to another sense: touch tree trunks, climb over branches if you want. Pick up dried leaves. Listen for the wind, the creak of branches. What can you smell? Damp leaves? Fir trees?
Take your time, and follow how you feel. Think of this not as something to tick off your to-do list, this is you re-charging your whole body with the stuff it really needs.
But if you don’t want to walk through the forest in this way, there are so many other ways to forest bathe: do yoga in the forest, swim in lakes, go mountain biking, have a picnic or forage for mushrooms. The key is to slow down, surround yourself with nature, and focus on the world around you at that moment.
This is the beauty of forest bathing: you can do it anywhere you want. From the rose garden you love in your local park to the depths of an ancient forest, the only requirement is that there is nature!
These are our four favourite places to forest bathe in and around Berlin:
1. Tegel forest
Heading away from the main paths, you find a lot of silent space, perfect to soak up nature in peace. The forest itself is a mix of ancient and young trees, and looking at the differences between the two is a good way to begin forest bathing.
2. Through Birkenwerder
Walk from S-Bahn Birkenwerder to Wensickendorf Bahnhof, in between the two you find swampy lakes, green water lilies, sprawling meadows and ancient trees. The ever-changing landscape makes forest bathing easy.
3. Sacrower See und Königswald
The sprawling Königswald is a protected nature reserve (the oldest in Potsdam), and the dense forest is the perfect place to wander aimlessly, following your senses.
4. Karower Teiche
We love just watching the water buffalo meander around the meadows, heads buried in the grass as they eat and eat. Plus the numerous small lakes with their bird-watching platforms are the perfect places to sit and watch the wind make waves on the water.