forest bath
Slowing down, Your best self

The magical powers of the forest

If you know me, you’ve heard it before – I LOVE forests. I love trees. I love being anywhere where I am surrounded and swallowed up by nature. I love it when all I can see is nature’s beautiful creations. And… wait for it…. I believe that the forest is magic. Yep, you heard it here. Me, the skeptic who normally scoffs at anything remotely pseudo-science – believes forests are magic.

Perhaps more accurately I believe in the magic of forests. I believe that forests (or insert any other natural environment you love) can do magical things for humans. And I think that if there’s any part of you that desires to live a slower, simpler, and healthier life then the forest is where you should aim to spend some time.

My ‘me’ time – my meditation

My favorite place in the world to be is on the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park trails running, or walking. Since discovering the trails a few years ago I usually take myself up there for a run at least once a week. And when I do, something magical happens. Before I even get there my heart rate begins to slow down, in anticipation of the endorphin’s about to flood my body. As I step onto the trail and take my first steps I allow myself to notice the things that I’ve brought onto the trail with me. My ‘to do’ list. Things that haven’t gone well so far. I notice any tension and anxiety and choose to put it aside. I tell myself that I can go back to thinking about anything that’s troubling me after my run.

And as I run, magic takes over. Forced out of my head and back into my body I slowly (yep, i’m a slow runner) climb up the hill. I notice any niggles or aches that my body has to work through to get into my running groove. And I notice the trees, the trail, the leaves, and the birds. The beauty of the forest surrounds and engulfs me. I can’t ignore it. And in these moments – whether it’s 30 or 90 minutes, my life suddenly becomes very simple. Nothing else matters. My to-do list can wait. Cleaning can wait. Worrying about what i’ll put on the table or how i’ll pay the water bill – it can all wait.

When I’m up there, the forest seems to magically strip away the clutter and complication of my life. All that matters is the moment i’m in. And the forest works it’s magic. In summer, it’s hot – muggy even, and the heat makes everything smell – so…. well, foresty! In autumn I enter an almost trance-like state admiring the incredible toadstools that are dotted everywhere on the forest floor. In winter my running is a little faster and I have to be careful not to slip on icy or boggy patches. In spring I get to watch as trees give birth to new life. And nothing, absolutely nothing beats it.

Forest bathing!

Earlier this year I read about the concept of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) and how forests can actually heal our bodies.

A forest bath is simple. It’s a meandering nature walk with stops along the way to open the senses to the your surroundings. Its more about the journey than the destination, pace or time. Leave your watch and running app at home for this (this is what I call running ‘naked’).

Researcher at core, I’m always looking for evidence to back up these claims (and the intuitive voice that whispers ‘forests are magic’). So, here goes…

  • As little as 40 minutes walking in the forest can bring about elevated mood and lower cortisol levels.
  • A 2005/2006 study took Tokyo businessmen into the forest for 3 days, where they hiked morning and night. And after 3 days their natural killer cells had increased by 40% and this effect maintained itself over time, with a levels still 15% higher than baseline 1 month after the trip. And yes, they replicated the findings with women!
  • These benefits seem to be partly due to the chemicals and oils that trees emit, some of which have been linked to improved immune function.
  • The Japanese government are sold on the power and benefits of the forest and have invested $4 million to research it’s effects.
  • Japan and Tokyo have designated ‘healing’ forests’.

Japan and Tokyo are sold. I’m sold. I’m prescribing myself to a minimum of 40 minutes a week in the forest. And when I’m feeling down, anxious, stressed, i’m going to up my prescription instead of hiding out under the covers, or behind the ice cream tub.

I encourage you to get out and try a bit of forest bathing yourself. If you don’t have a local forest handy then a suburban park with lots of evergreen will still provide you with amazing benefits.

Let the forest work it’s magic on you!