Health & Beauty

If you go down to the woods today…

By Sarah Campbell

Taking a walk somewhere scenic and getting a breath of fresh air to clear our heads is nothing new, but the increasing numbers of people now wanting to connect on a deeper level with nature – perhaps symptomatic of our increasingly stacked-up lifestyles – is the wellbeing ‘trend’ currently calming people’s minds all over the world.

It has a name: forest bathing. The practice is an ancient process of relaxation, originating from Japan where it’s called ‘shinrin-yoku’. It’s now one of the most followed practices in alternative Japanese healthcare. Essentially, it’s a slow stroll around the forest where you are encouraged to take deep breaths, fully inhale the woodland scents, take time to look around, touch trees and soil and immerse yourself mindfully in the nature around you. And it seems it has a royal following: the garden the Duchess of Cambridge co-designed at the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show was all about the shinrin-yoku vibes.

Views northeast over Abernethy Forest. Credit: VisitScotland / Jakub Iwanicki

“Western fast-paced lifestyles can leave the candle burning at both ends. Studies have shown that adopting the pace of nature through guided forest therapy walks has many health benefits,” says Caitlin Keddie, the founder of Forest Therapy Scotland, an organisation who offer guided forest bathing and forest therapy sessions. The compounds produced by plants and trees (phytoncides) have been found to boost the immune system, while spending more time in green spaces is linked to decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower cholesterol and all-round better health.

What makes Scotland such a prime location for a spot of forest bathing is that we’re undoubtedly spoilt for choice. VisitScotland listed Abernethy Forest, Tay Forest Park, Dunnet Forest, Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park and Glen Tanar as just some of the most beautiful places to dabble in the therapy in tranquillity. Now take a deep breath – and – relax.

Leading image: Glen Tanar. Credit: VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins