If you go down to the woods today

Forest Bathing — going into the woods and breathing deeply — has been incorporated into the national health programme in Japan. CAMMY HARLEY outlines the benefits of ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’, and names her top five places to enjoy it in Cork
If you go down to the woods today

RELAX: The sights and sounds of nature can decrease blood pressure and heart rate and reduce prefrontal activity in the brain, allowing feelings of calmness.

FOREST Bathing is a relatively new phenomenon here in Ireland but it has been practised in Japan since the early 1980s as a proven method of combating a number of illness and boosting wellbeing.

Also known as ‘Shinrin-yoku’, its positive effects are so well documented that forest bathing is now a recognised cornerstone of preventative health care and healing in Japan.

Since its inception in 1982, researches have spent millions testing and documenting its benefits.

What began as a basic means of reconnecting people with nature in the simplest way possible — by going to the woods, breathing deeply and being at peace — has now been incorporated into their national health programme.

Shinrin-yoku literally means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere.’ Unlike a hike, which can be strenuous and physically exerting, forest bathing has no defined beginning or end point. It is rather a gentle meander through the woods with the sole purpose of engaging all five senses; hearing, taste, touch, smell and sound and is thereby suited to any level of fitness. Everyone who partakes in it benefits in as little as 20 minutes. Intuitively, we have always known about this connection but with our busy lives and constant multi-tasking, we have lost touch with how essential the tranquillity of nature is to our wellbeing.

Forests richly engage all our senses which bring us into mindful harmony with ourselves. Our vision is engaged with the variety of sights and colours in nature which immediately decreases blood pressure and heart rate and reduces prefrontal activity in the brain allowing us feelings of calmness.

ENGAGE: Breathe deeply and appreciate all the gifts that nature has to offer.
ENGAGE: Breathe deeply and appreciate all the gifts that nature has to offer.

Our sense of touch is stimulated, the roughness of tree bark, the warm sun on our back, the wind in our hair, all those sensations reduce anxiety and boost mood. Our sense of hearing is heightened by the sound of a trickling stream or of a breeze rustling through the leaves, and when we absorb the sounds of the forest, our heart beats self-regulate and unnecessary brain activity subsides. Our sense of smell absorbs the phytoncides released by the trees which boosts our immune systems and reduces anxiety and depression. Our sense of taste is always heightened in nature and a picnic or smell of an outdoor barbeque is enticing and reminds us subliminally of our primitive origins.

Aside from the restorative benefits of being in contact with nature and the sounds and sights of the forest, simply by being present under a living canopy of trees can reduce your levels of blood pressure, and stress. The way this works is that when trees transpire and photosynthesise, they give off certain organic compounds that support and boost our immune systems. So, by merely taking the time to stand and breathe in a forest, you will have already benefited.

For a family adventure, why not head off for a day to a woodland near you or to add an extra dimension, choose a woodland you have not yet visited and head of to explore its newness. Pack a portable lunch and plenty of fluids and get into nature to make memories and remain fit, healthy and connected. The change of season is a perfect time to benefit from forest-bathing with the added delights of the autumn palette.

If you don’t live near a forest, you can still benefit by practising Shinrin-yoku by following these easy steps. Choose a park near you and go for a walk. Make sure that you are fully embracing the experience by leaving your phone or any other distractions behind. Engage your sense of sight by pausing every now and again to examine a flower, tree or bird. Find an appealing spot to sit and to engage your sense of hearing by listening to all the sounds around you. Breathe deeply and appreciate all the gifts that nature has to offer. With each breath, as an added bonus, Shinrin-yoku also gives deeper and clearer intuition and promotes more beneficial sleep.

TOP FIVE SPOTS FOR FOREST BATHING IN CORK


Glengarriff Woods, Glengarriff

Set in a nature reserve of more than 300 hectares of oak forest, the Glengarriff woods are special to visit as their age alone offers a sense of stability and security.


Gouganne Barra, Ballingeary

Gouganne Barra is a spectacular National Forest Park. The walks and trails offer a sense of wilderness and seclusion.

The island that contains St Finbarr’s monastery lends an air of spirituality to the area and contributes to the sense of wellbeing and connection.


Farran Woods, Farran

The Farran woods offer two great trails — the first is an easy amble which takes in the views of the deer and resident ducks which are always great to watch.

But to immerse yourself in the beauty of the forest, the 3km Woodland Loop is highly recommended.


Dromillihy, between Rosscarbery and Leap

Dromillihy is located right on the N71 and is a compact and easily accessible woodland. It has a lovely well signposted loop walk and a few fairy houses have sprung up along the way which is great for keeping younger walkers entertained while enjoying all the benefits of exercise and nature.


Dromkeen Woods, Innishannon

Also known as Adderley woods, Dromkeen woods offer a lovely loop walk with plenty of tree coverage and the path has a diversity of flora and fauna. Red squirrels are often sighted here and seeing them going about their business gives an added connection to nature.

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