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Forest Bathing in New Zealand: What it is | Health Benefits | Where to go

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There’s truly no better experience than spending time in nature. When the clamour of the city gets too overwhelming and loud, it’s no surprise that we desperately want to escape as far away from it as possible, with no humans within our periphery. So, where do we go? If your answer was the forest, you couldn’t be more correct!

Although a forest environment can be defined in a million different ways, we see them as serene, almost paradisiacal and surreal realms where nature reigns supreme. The lush greenery, along with the beautiful, never-ending melodies of the birds, put you in a trance of relaxation, in which all of your worries seem to fade away magically. Even when you go back into the urban jungle, the clamour isn’t as loud as it was before. This poses the question – why do forests actually make us feel this way?

Well, this ‘feeling’ that we get from woodlands is actually due to a mindful practice that you might have no idea that you’re actually doing! Forest bathing is known to ease our stress hormones and worries, leaving us quite relaxed and at ease. Simply put, when you practice it, you are restoring your mood, energy, and vitality, resulting in a fresh and rejuvenated self.

We are aware that most people aren’t aware of forest bathing and its benefits, so today, we are changing that! In this blog, you’ll find out how this practice can contribute to your mental health, and we’ve also included a few suggestions on where you can do it in New Zealand.

nature, drink, tree, rainbow falls, kerikeri

What Is Forest Bathing?

Although it is quite often confused with mountain climbing, thinking, or taking a stroll in the woods, forest therapy is so much more than that! Also referred to as nature therapy, this term was first coined by the Japanese – ‘shirin yoku’ meaning ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’.

While it may sound complex at first, the mindfulness practice is really easy to do! All you need to do is go into the woods or any type of lush natural environment and connect with it. However, it’s important that you set an intention before you start, be it stress relief, creativity boost, or anything in between. In return, you’ll reap a handful of benefits, including improved focus, lower blood pressure, and many, many others.

new zealand, south island, tree trunks, milford sound, fiordland

History of Forest Bathing

As previously mentioned, the Japanese first discovered forest bathing in the 1980s. During this time, people were severely depressed from the tech boom that was happening around this age, and since the effects of it never improved, they sought an escape from the city where they could ease their sensory overload.

Naturally, they found their relief in the lush surroundings of the woods, and thus forest bathing was discovered. The Japanese practice was first named shirin yoku – ‘shirin’ meaning forest, and ‘yoku’ bathing. Many people soon realised that this eco-antidote prevented burnout and contributed to an improved psychological state, so they were inspired to try it out. It didn’t take long for the so-called ‘nature therapy’ to catch on, so it quickly spread across the entire globe. Now more than ever, people participate in forest bathing to be in the present moment and reap the health benefits that come with this exceptional wellness practice.

    new zealand, native, bird, fantail, piwakawaka

    Benefits Of Forest Bathing

    When it comes to the benefits of forest therapy (read this study where 100% of participants had an improvement in depressive tendencies), we’re not quite sure where to start! From lowering your blood pressure to unleashing your creative side, doing shirin yoku can do wonders for your well-being, and there’s even research to back it up! Let’s take a look at some of the benefits in detail:

    Stress Reduction

    The fast-paced modern world we live in today can really do a number on you, with stress levels skyrocketing through the roof. Forest bathing can change that! Spending an hour in nature can significantly lower stress hormone production due to the impressive sights and aromas it is best known for. In fact, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a Japanese professor at Chiba University, conducted a research study on ecotherapy, specifically how a simple walk in the woods can rapidly decrease the amounts of cortisol in your body compared to a long stroll in the urban jungle.

    Mood Improvement

    You may have been advised to spend time in the great outdoors whenever you’re feeling like you’re six feet under deep. But do you know why that is? Well, since nature and mental health are deeply intertwined, just looking at green spaces can prompt the production of happy hormones, which results in an elated mood.

    Inspiration Boost

    If you’re a creative soul finding yourself in a creative rut, nature therapy just might be the perfect solution to get you out of it! Countless artists have claimed that the gifts of the earth act as a limitless source of inspiration, as even the slightest move of the tree branches or a little peep of the birds can ignite something inside you, almost as if you’re experiencing a creative explosion. However, it’s important not to have any technology around you, as its influence can greatly interfere with your journey. With that in mind, this might be the perfect time for you to have the digital detox you’ve always looked forward to!

    Don’t just take our word for it – check out this Harvard Medical School publication discussing how forest therapy can affect the body.

    “Decades of research show that forest bathing may help reduce stress, improve attention, boost immunity, and lift mood.”

    Susan Abookire, BSEE, MD, MPH, FACP

    people, jumping, happiness, health

    Who Is Forest Bathing For?

    Aside from its numerous health benefits, one of the best things about forest bathing is that everybody can do it – even children! However, as a rule of thumb, this practice is recommended for those who are frequently experiencing great amounts of stress, as well as people who are battling with sadness and depressive feelings.

    Additionally, due to its calmness, the activity is also great for free thinkers and spiritualists who spend their time meditating and connecting with their inner being. That said, if you’ve been feeling out of your centre for quite some time now, immersing yourself in the treasures of the natural world will not only improve your physical and mental state but will grant you the perfect opportunity to rediscover yourself.

      koru, fern, new zealand, native, forest, forest bathing

      Places To Forest Bathe In New Zealand

      Because lush surroundings are practically all around New Zealand, you might even say that the country is a mecca for grounding yourself! While you’re free to discover the woodlands of this magnificent country on your own, for your convenience, we’ve rounded up some of the best locations for forest bathing. Check them out!

      Warblers Retreat, Auckland

      If you’re located in Auckland, you do not need to travel far and wide to immerse yourself in the natural treasures of the woods. Instead, simply direct your way toward the Warblers Retreat in Albany! This area boasts amazing areas that are known for their tranquil atmosphere. Additionally, you also have the option to use an outdoor private pool if you opt for a package, leaving you as refreshed as ever!

      Tongariro National Park, Central North

      This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful national parks on the North Island of New Zealand, filled with endless patches of native bush amid a mesmerising alpine setting. Moreover, this is the ideal spot if you’re looking to discover what shirin yoku actually is with the entire family. The Mangahuia DOC campsite is located in Tongariro, where soaring trees and cool streams will lead you into a world of relaxation.

      Check out the rest of Aotearoa New Zealand’s unbelievable range of National Parks – all so very forest bathing worthy!

        new zealand, tongariro national park, lake

        Otari-Wilton’s Bush, Wellington

        Did you know that a forest bathing practice can also be quite educational? Well, only if you’re headed toward the Otari-Wilton’s Bush in Wellington! The reserve is adorned with lines of native trees and bushes, providing an atmosphere that will instantly relax you. Why educational, you may wonder? Otari-Wilton’s Bush also houses the only botanic garden in Aotearoa dedicated solely to New Zealand’s native plants!

        Hot Pools New Zealand

        New Zealands Hot Pool scene is pretty epic, when it comes to soothing, nature surrounded, pools to soak, dream and feel your body relax. Note worthy are Rotorua Secret Hot Springs, Maruia Hot Springs and Waiho Hot Tubs.

          Rotorua Secret Hot Springs, Forest Bathing

          Image – Rotorua Secret Hot Springs

          Image Credit – Graeme Murray

          Safety Points

          Before you set out on your forest bathing journey, we want to emphasise the importance of safety. The best way to ensure that is to adhere to the following tips!

          Firstly, don’t stray too far. Forest therapy doesn’t require you to go deep into the woodlands where no one can find you – a simple and quiet spot near the start of the trail will suffice.

          Be careful where you step – you can’t imagine the damage a single prickly branch can do.

          And finally, don’t try to force the experience – let everything come naturally and always remember the intention of doing the practice in the first place.

          Please check out these fantastic kiwi websites on keeping safe in New Zealand outdoors, packing well and overnight stays.

          lake, lake matheson, breathtaking, new zealand, forest bathing

          FAQs

          What is Forest Bathing?

          Ecotherapy, or ‘shirin yoku’, means taking in the natural environment with all of your senses. By doing so, your anxiety and stress levels will be greatly reduced, leaving you relaxed, rejuvenated, and connected to your inner self.

          Do I Need Special Equipment For Forest Bathing?

          No, you don’t need any special equipment or clothes for the practice, though it’s recommended to pack well, wear comfortable and layered attire for the full enjoyment. Also see above for safety information.

          How Long Does Forest Bathing Last?

          There’s no time limit set in place, but a typical session usually lasts around 2-3 hours. In other words, take all the time you need until you feel relaxed.

          new zealand, new, zealand, lupins, river, forest, forest bathing

          As you can see, forest bathing is a perfect way to experience catharsis and improve your mental and physical well-being along the way. And, since New Zealand has abundant lush areas ideal for this mindfulness activity, we urge you to try it as soon as possible!

          For more information on the natural intricacies of New Zealand, check out some of our other blogs.

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