Forest bathing is an innovative, new wellness trend that reduces stress. Research shows that it lowers blood pressure and heart rate.
Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, are lowered too.
It does not take much imagination to note that these three factors, blood pressure, stress and heart rate, are the underlying factors of many chronic diseases.
Join me today in starting a new trend of forest bathing in your family.
I recently asked a psychologist what he felt was the one most important activity that we could engage in to improve our mental well-being. We were in discussion about the virtues of blue zones, green living and more exercise. Mindfulness, said he.
Forest bathing is about the mindful soaking up of nature, using all our senses. That means what we see and hear, smell and taste. It usually involves some form of gentle exercise, such as a walk in the hills and valleys, canoeing down a river or taking a ride through the countryside. And of course, it could be swimming, or even a gentle non-competitive game of golf.
Our home is situated in what we call the Garden Cathedral. Several times every day we are privileged to take a walk amongst enormous old trees, birds of every ilk flitting about, and a vegetable and fruit patch that is almost without equal. It is however, not a tidy place. We do not stress over that; there are weeds everywhere, and there is always something that should be planted, watered, or shaded.
Forest bathing means listening to the gentle murmur of the breeze as it wafts through the leaves of the bushes and trees. We love the little brown jobs that call from the Halleria Lucida, feasting on the beautiful flowers, and even the raptors calling for our chickens' attention.
Soaking up nature was never more glorious; medicine for the soul.
Invoking and being mindful of the scents of the garden is central to our forest bathing. Slowing down long enough to take the time is part and parcel of the lowered blood pressure and stress levels.
Bathing yourself in a forest or garden often means there are sweet fruits to be enjoyed; for two months we have a handful of blueberries every morning whilst bathing in nature. Thereafter it is gooseberries and other sweetmeats.
Mindfully soaking up the divine scent of lime trees in flower brings to mind the many dishes that we enjoy that are so greatly enhanced by citrus. We always use the pulp as well as it contains more than half of the nutrients and vitamin C; it is a waste to squeeze only the juice.
Whether it is jams or jellies, a green salad or hummus, the lime is central to our wellness; just seeing the flowers and young fruit, taking time to enjoy the powerful sweet scent is central to our garden walks and forest bathes.
Forest bathing, as we experience it, includes immersing ourselves in weeding the garden; the hands are busy, the mind is mildly concentrating not to pull out the plants, but the spirit and the imagination are free to wander. For us as Christians it is a good place to pray, for you it may be some other form of meditation.
I find it interesting that in the four blue zones of the world, they all grow and eat broad beans, and they are all religious; the garden is where they find nourishment for the body and where they practise some form of spirituality.
These broad beans, or favas as they sometimes called, are in serious need of weeding and staking; already I can imagine the taste of the sweet young fruit, something you will probably never see at the greengrocer. You have to grow them yourself.
Planting broad beans is central to our gardening; they are the richest forms of vegetable protein, and one of the very few sources of L-dopa, better than medicine for those suffering from Parkinson's disease; I cannot confirm that it prevents the condition, but I suspect it does. They are delicious in any case enjoyed straight from your plunge in forest bathing.
Forest bathing involves some deep breathing; that could be because of exercise or simply a deep consciousness of our breath in a yoga-like meditation.
Every day, some of our bathing would include quite hard work like turning a compost heap, or digging a trench for humus, or using the wheelbarrow to cart vermicompost to the seedlings. These activities are done mindfully, conscious that one is working with nature, not against it; new scents are released as one works the ground, often releasing the faint odour for example of citrus peel buried months ago being released from the earth.
We usually enjoy deep, restful sleep after forest bathing in our garden; the gentle exercise, the smell of a rose and the taste of berry plucked from a bush quieten the soul; it is where we find meaning in life.
We find it interesting that we rarely have to consult doctors; forest bathing of our sort brings a wellness to the body and a calmness to the spirit. Our immune systems are strong; on our right, and on our left, others fall prey to flu and colds and more serious illnesses. Mostly we are unaffected.
Forest bathing is more than hiking or gardening; it means mindfully soaking up nature with all of one's senses.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.
- John Muir
Go to the forest for a bathe, climb a mountain for the view, or plant a seed for organic food and you will find your mood lifting and your tiredness evaporating; you might even see fairies, or discover God.
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56 Groenekloof Rd,