Try the new craze of ‘forest bathing’ therapy in Hertfordshire
- Credit: Taryn Paterson
The benefits of getting out in the fresh air are well-known, but a new take on it, forest therapy, is growing in popularity as a way to unwind and improve health. We asked Herts-based forest therapy guide Sam Wright to explain
Inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, which means 'taking in the forest atmosphere', forest therapy has taken off across the world in recent years as an antidote to the stresses of everyday life, where we spend most of our time indoors, in front of screens of one form or another. So Sam, how does it work?
'Forest therapy is about stepping away from our busy lives and reconnecting with ourselves and our natural surroundings. It's not a hike, but a gentle, engaging walk to notice and experience the wonders of nature with all our senses.
'A trained forest therapy guide leads walks and eases participants through the transition from work, worries and stress to a state of greater awareness and relaxation. Through a series of what are called sensory invitations, people are encouraged to explore different aspects of a woodland as well as themselves in a way they are unlikely to have done before. There are opportunities to share thoughts with the group and time for mindful reflection.
'The guide works in partnership with the forest or wood, the seasons, the weather and the needs of the participants to help open people's senses and enable the habitat to give people what they need. Each walk lasts for around two to three hours, covering no more than two kilometres. It culminates in a simple tea ceremony, often using plants foraged on the walk.'
It sounds like a good way to unplug from our busy, technologically-swamped lives.
What are the benefits?
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'Forest therapy has many benefits for mental, physical and social wellbeing. The most immediate impact is a sense of calm and people come away feeling relaxed, uplifted and revived. Some describe it as a profound experience and it can help unlock feelings and emotions which are blocked by the noise and pace of everyday life.'
Have scientists looked at forest therapy?
'We are continually discovering more about the scientific health benefits of being out in nature, including reduced blood pressure, heart rate, depression and anxiety. Trees give off phytoncides, similar to essential oils, which protect them against harmful germs and insects. There is growing research to suggest these chemicals help to reduce inflammation and boost the immune system in humans. It's an exciting time, where science is playing an enormous part in unearthing the vast therapeutic properties of our natural world.'
Can people take part in Hertfordshire?
'Forest therapy is growing in popularity across the UK. Having trained with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, I am excited to be the first of its graduates to lead guided walks in Herts. I offer forest therapy walks in beautiful locations across the county. These include private woodlands at the stunning Walkern Hall estate and in the picturesque grounds of the Cutting Hill Clinic in Benington. I also work with the Clinton-Baker Pinetum near Hertford, a historic collection of conifers first planted in 1767, now owned by the University of Hertfordshire. This incredible site has around 200 different species of conifers planted over 10 acres, and it has been lovingly restored over the past two decades thanks to the help of volunteers.
'As more land owners come on board, we'll be able to open up further opportunities for forest therapy in Hertfordshire. It's about finding the right environment for total relaxation, ideally with a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees, access to a stream or water, away from manmade sounds and distractions.'
Is forest therapy suitable for everyone?
'Forest therapy is suitable for a wide range of people, from individuals and families to couples, teams or groups. The walks are carefully structured and guided to help people experience the present moment, creating a safe space to share thoughts and emotions. Having said that, any kind of walk in nature is beneficial and we have some amazing woodlands, parks and countryside to explore in Hertfordshire. So, I'd encourage people to get outside, even if it's just for a few minutes each day, to pause and notice the wonders of nature around us.'
To find out more about forest therapy walks in Hertfordshire with Sam Wright, visit naturaledgecoachinguk.co.uk
And for further details on the topic, go to natureandforesttherapy.org