If you don’t scroll endlessly through Facebook like I do, you might have missed the increasing chatter about the next wellness trend, ‘Forest Bathing’. Forest Bathing is not taking a bath in the middle of a forest (I am down for that if it becomes a thing though), but instead a Japanese practice that aims to connect you back to nature and reduce stress levels by being present to the sights, sounds and smells of the forest.
You can read ALL about it here, but because I’m one of those people who learns by doing, I decided to try this whole Forest Bathing thing for myself and see if it really was the key to a happier, more foresty outlook. Over the course of a month I took my regular hikes a step further and embraced the sights and sounds with purpose.
1. A beachside hike
I’d like to preface this with the fact that when I say ‘hike’ I probably more mean walk, and this beachside walk to my local sand dunes with some friends did not involve hiking boots or poles (thankfully).
Stress Levels Before: 5.5/10 – I was just having one of those days despite it being a sunny weekend. Hormones? Restless sleep? Being a sook? Who knows, but I was mildly stressed over nothing.
I’d told my mates that this wasn’t going to be a regular walk but instead I would have to stop and experience my surroundings. They quickly encouraged me to get in the bushes so they could take a picture. The walk was nice and I kept my eyes on the horizon and flowers growing by the path while chatting away. I didn’t feel like I was ‘bathing’ exactly, but it was pleasant, so that’s good right? We arrived at the sand dunes and were met with a stunning view of a hidden lake and it was SO peaceful. Mother Nature gets 10 points.
Stress Levels After: 2/10 – my outlook 100% changed! It could be because of the Bathing, but it could also have been the sunshine, the exercise or my lovely friends. Banter makes everything better doesn’t it? I had other Bathing walks coming up though, so it looked promising so far!
2. A mountain hike
Next up on my list was a climb near my childhood home (it’s part of the bigger Wodi Wodi track for anyone coming to Australia and wants to get outside of Sydney and head South). The mountain is called Mt Mitchell and it had the BEST views of Wollongong.
Stress Levels Before: 2/10 – I’d had a really good breakfast so I was chuffed tbh.
I’d done this hike a few times before so knew it well enough to be able to zone out and look up into the canopy of trees and just ~be~ in nature. I definitely noticed things I hadn’t on previous hikes, like how green it was. Usually Australian trees seem quite brown and grey because well, gumtrees are. But the more I walked the more I saw that there was a lot of beautiful plants among the towering trees. I spent a long time at the top of the mountain just checking out the view (until other people came and ruined the ambience).
Stress Levels After: 0/10 – I love this walk. I’m so lucky to have grown up where I did.
3. An urban hike
In a bid to mix it up and prove that you don’t have to drive a couple hours to find a peaceful patch of trees, I headed out to a massive park near work (Centennial Park for those in Sydney) that I knew had a nature strip in it.
Stress Levels Before: 6.5/10 – I was at work and while the fun never stops at Contiki, neither does the work. Memes never sleep guys.
Wearing Contiki merch I wandered off into a dense area of trees and took out my music. It was super loud and I looked up and realised there were literally hundreds of bats not sleeping like they were meant to and instead chattering away in the trees. While the trees themselves felt like an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city, those bats were noisy and I didn’t really feel like touching any leaves because um… well bats need to go to the toilet too. I noticed some cool stuff like sap where the walkway rail had cut in. I may need to redefine what I deem cool but I felt like I was doing the Bathing right by noticing.
Stress Levels After: 4/10 – I was happy I’d gone into the tree area because I’d always seen it but never been in until now. I’m not sure it was as zen as it was meant to be, but who says Bathing has to have rules!
4. A real big hike
Heading into the Royal National Park for a big hike is one of my favourite weekend activities, so I knew I wanted to end this experiment with a bang; which was me spending as long as possible in nature. My friends and I decided to do the Eagle Rock hike (yes I bought friends again because it’s very much advised to not hike alone in Australia for safety reasons, and I get lonely).
Stress Levels Before: 3/10 – this experiment has made me realise that I’m probably not as stressed as I think I am and may not need Forest Bathing as much as other people. The only reason this wasn’t a 0 was because of the awful weather we were about to walk in.
It was a VERY windy and rainy day in Sydney and for some unknown reason it didn’t occur to us not to do a big walk along the coast. Guess we’re just motivated go-getters. Let me tell you though that it wasn’t easy taking in nature while trying to not get blown off the cliff! A bushfire had recently ripped through the area and it was a stark, burnt landscape, but the bits of green that had started coming back made me feel happy. In some places full bushes with flowers had come back too! Nature sure is resiliant. The ocean was great to watch during the walk too since it was too windy to talk much. Much angry. Very beautiful.
Stress Levels After: 1/10 – we had a good laugh along the way and it didn’t matter that we were damp because we knew coffee was coming up next (which has almost nothing to do with Forest Bathing so is this a fail?).
Overall, did I like intentionally bathing in the ambience of the trees? Not really. Simply because it felt forced (like hello, I had to get it done and write this article!), it didn’t feel as natural as I imagine it’s supposed to feel and while I did have glimpses of utter calm and relaxation, I am very ‘goal orientated’ and Forest Bathing is meant to be the opposite of that. Maybe I just need more practice?
Would you try, or do you already try, Forest Bathing? I’d love to hear your experiences with it below!