07 Aug 23
Nature – a source of solace, inspiration, adventure and delight!
There’s a special sense of peace and joy that comes with being immersed in nature. The other benefits stack up quickly too! If you feel uplifted and rejuvenated every time you take a slow walk in the woods, here’s why.
The Japanese have known for years the value of spending intentional, mindful time immersed in the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the natural environment. Their practice of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) has been a cornerstone of preventive health and healing in Japanese medicine since the 1980s.
Forest environments are therapeutic landscapes, but slowing down and savouring the sounds, smells and sights in nature of any kind – from massive mountain ranges and windswept beaches to vast plateaus and stunning sunsets – can offer the same benefits.
And science backs this up. Unplugging from technology and opening our senses profoundly nourishes our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
“Place your hands into soil to feel grounded. Wade in water to feel emotionally healed. Fill your lungs with fresh air to feel mentally clear. Raise your face to the heat of the sun and feel your own immense power”– Victoria Erickson
Enjoy a tonic and a health boost
Research has demonstrated that taking time away from urban environments and technology to mindfully connect with nature provides a variety of benefits for our mind, body and soul. Emerging research indicates forest bathing can provide quite the health boost! Immersing yourself in nature has been shown to decrease stress hormones, improve mood and creativity, and give your immune system a kick.
Taking in the forest atmosphere also lowers blood pressure and heart rate for most people. If you’re looking for a calming, rejuvenating escape, spending time amidst the trees may be just what the doctor ordered. The phytoncides released from trees can increase natural cell activity that fights infection and disease. They are nature’s immune booster. Additionally, being in nature can shift our perspective to help us think more clearly and become better problem solvers.
Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction” – EO Wilson
Use your 5 senses to connect
One of the primary benefits of being in nature is that it helps to improve your mood and promote relaxation. When we spend time in natural environments, our bodies intuitively begin to relax as our fight-or-flight response is lowered. Simply walking through nature can tangibly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which our bodies produce in response to mental, emotional, or physical strain.
Forest bathing can help reset healthy cortisol rhythms. Being immersed in greenspace also helps combat anxiety and depression. By carving out mindful time in nature, we allow our senses to become occupied with the sights, sounds and smells of nature rather than the distractions of everyday life.
“Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue” – John Muir
Boost your energy and improve your mood
In addition to lowering stress, research has shown that forest bathing can increase energy, vitality and positive mood. One reason nature has this invigorating effect is that it provides our minds a break from overstimulation and information overload. A walk in the woods allows this part of our cognition to rest and recover, restoring our ability to focus.
Being active in outdoor green environments also enhances positivity. Participants score higher on metrics of wellbeing after outdoor exercise compared to indoor activity. Exposure to sunlight and fresh air while moving our bodies re-energises us. Research even suggests that the colour green may positively impact emotions and relaxation.
“When you bring your attention to a stone, a tree or an animal, something of its essence transmits itself to you” – Eckhart Tolle
Tips for maximising nature immersion
To reap the stress-reduction, energy-boosting and overall wellness benefits of forest bathing or time in nature, it is important to fully immerse yourself and be as mindful as possible. Here are some tips for maximising your experience:
- Keep a nature journal or take photos to deepen your immersion in the environment. Capturing your sensory observations through writing or pictures allows you to be more present and mindful as you soak up the healing energies of the natural world around you.
- Practise mindful breathing and meditation while surrounded by trees. Find a comfortable spot to sit or stand, then focus on taking slow, deep breaths. Observe the inhalation and exhalation without judgement. You can also close your eyes and tune into the other sounds of nature around you. Mindful breathing and meditation elicits the relaxation response and clears your mind of clutter.
- Focus on the smells, sounds, textures and sights around you. Notice the scent of the vegetation, bark, soil and fresh air; listen for birds chirping, wind rustling leaves, flowing water; touch the rough tree trunks, soft moss and leaves. Engaging your senses fully will occupy your mind fully with the healing properties of nature.
- Take part in yoga. Practising yoga outdoors is a great way to add another dimension to your exercise and enables you to fully disconnect and enjoy the calming surrounds.
- Try forest bathing alone, with a guide or in a group setting. Being solo allows for deep contemplation and connection with nature, while walking with a guide can provide education and lead activities. A group event provides bonding and community. Decide what level of solitude vs. companionship suits you best.
- Spend at least 30 minutes in nature to gain the full effects. Stress can be lowered in as little as 15 minutes, but you’ll really see the benefits peak if you can spend longer outside. Experiment and go for as long as it feels nourishing to you.
- Leave your phone behind to prevent digital distractions. Let the forest capture your complete, undivided attention to maximise the experience, and put your phone on airplane mode.
“Silence in the wild allows harmony with the universe, giving our inner voice the ability to speak…revealing life purposes…and ringing the bells of truth about our true spiritual nature within.” – Benjamin Powell
This article was written by guest contributor Annie Button, a UK-based writer who is passionate about sustainable living and travel.
RAW’s ‘nature immersion’ ratings explained
All RAW walks have a Nature Immersion Rating (up to 5 stars). If your primary interest is to escape and connect with nature on a hike then you can quickly and easily see our trips that rate highly for that. Trips that involve hiking through forests, lakes and mountains score higher than trails through countryside and towns.