Take a mental break, connect with nature
Updated: Jul 13
Here at the SPRINT project, we have spoken about the benefits of mindfulness and of connecting with nature through our MST4Life™ programme. But what about when we combine nature and mindfulness? Could this be even more beneficial for our wellbeing than traditional mindfulness?
An article recently published by the SPRINT project’s Fiona J. Clarke, along with researchers from the University of Derby, aimed to explore one way of mindfully connecting with nature. That is, a practice called forest bathing.
Bathing in a forest?
Although the name might sound a little strange, forest bathing actually has nothing to do with taking a bath! It is a type of therapy originating in Japan and now practised in the UK. It involves slowly walking through the forest and mindfully noticing the beautiful features of the woodland environment. For example, while forest bathing you might notice:
Colours, smells, sounds
The texture of bark on the trees and what it feels like
Wildlife such as birds and small flowers
The movement of leaves in the wind
Sunshine through the tree canopy
Your slowed-down breathing.
But what are the benefits of practising mindfulness in this way?
Benefits of forest bathing
Based on previous scientific research, we know that forest bathing has many benefits, such as:
It can be used to improve mental health, e.g., depression and anxiety
It lowers your blood pressure
Slows down your breathing and heart rate
Has natural healing properties
Can be used to improve your general wellbeing
It is a way to protect the environment.
So, what did the researchers want to find out?
The researchers wanted to find out if practising mindfulness through forest bathing has even more benefits than traditional mindfulness practised indoors.
What did they find?
The researchers found out that both traditional mindfulness and forest bathing can support your wellbeing. But forest bathing was found to be a gentler and more accessible practice than traditional mindfulness.
One of the key differences between the two involves how we focus our attention. Traditional mindfulness involves focussing your attention ‘inward’ to your thoughts, emotions, and feelings. But forest bathing encourages you to focus your attention ‘outward’ on the beauty of nature. This is unusual, as most wellbeing practices tend to involve an inward focus.
Because forest bathing redirects your attention outwards, there is less risk to personal wellbeing. For example, for people who experience depression and anxiety, it might not always be suitable to focus on the thoughts and emotions that are causing distress. Focussing on the beauty of nature can be a safer way to improve your wellbeing.
Who would benefit most from forest bathing?
When forest bathing, you:
Can slow down and become aware of your surroundings
Are less critical of yourself
Can benefit from activities adapted to suit your specific needs
Do not need to practise as it comes quite naturally
Are benefitting from an excellent resource for your personal wellbeing.
In this way, forest bathing is suitable for anyone. From the article, the researchers concluded that it is:
Good for your mental wellbeing
Good for your physical health
Good for the environment.
To read the article, you can click here.
For more infographics, click here.
For a range of evidence-based resources to support your resilience and wellbeing, you can check out our free Mental Skills Training Toolkit.
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Photo credit: @ametov41 and @wandering_tourist on Reshot.