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Forest bathing: exploring the wondrous mental health benefits of trees

By OVO Energy Friday 09 October 2020

Trees really are marvellous. They’re our oxygen-breathing, soil-protecting, sunlight-absorbing, carbon-removing friends in fighting the climate crisis. That’s why we’ve committed to planting around 900,000 over the coming year with the Woodland Trust and I Dig Trees

But to mark this year’s World Mental Health Day (10 October) we’ve found yet another reason to love trees. Recent research has shown short jaunts to surround oneself with trees in woods and forests can do wonders for mental wellbeing and physical health. And not just for adults. Our recent study found that planting more trees is also a win for the mental wellbeing of children too. 

Modern life is fast-paced and can feel draining, sometimes. Even to the most positive of people. More than ever, it’s important that we give ourselves time to unwind with activities that can nourish and restore us. So we’re absolutely chuffed to see evidence that forest visits can help you recover from stress, as well as improving your mood, focus, and energy-levels, alongside all kinds of physiological benefits. 

But we know it’s not realistic to think everyone will always have time for a revitalising forest visit. Jobs, social lives, family commitments – important stuff – can take priority. So, along with the good people behind ‘Sounds of the Forest’, we decided to find a way to bring the calming benefits of the forest to you. 

Plug in some headphones, hit play, and enjoy a moment to be mindful. Take some deep breaths and immerse yourself in our virtual forest...

Shinrin-yoku: the benefits of ‘forest bathing’

In Japan, it’s widely believed that the practice of shinrin-yoku – which literally translates as ‘forest bathing’ – can benefit both body and soul. As well as boosting immune systems and aiding sleep, some people are confident it even has the power to counter not only depression, anxiety, and stress but also illnesses including cancers and strokes.

 Here in the UK, many people already love nothing more than a relaxing stroll in nature. The practice of forest bathing is all about bringing mindfulness into it. Finding relaxation and a sense of security. Let's take some tips from Japan and get started...

First things first: what is forest bathing?

Don’t be fooled by the name – there’s absolutely no need to bring a towel when you go forest bathing. Forestry England has great tips for beginners. It really is as simple as getting outdoors, and calmly observing the nature around you. 

Turn off your devices, slow down, take deep breaths. Open all your senses, be present, and stay amongst the glorious trees for as long as you can – 2 hours is recommended for the ultimate forest bathing experience!

All it takes is giving yourself some time to be outside, with the trees, fresh air, and wonderful birdsong of a forest all around you. Then you’ll hopefully be able to notice the benefits that the studies have shown

Feeling like you fancy some forest bathing pronto? Then check out where to find your nearest forest with the help of our partners the Woodland Trust. Forestry England even says more than half of the population lives within 6 miles of one of its sites! But if you can’t make it to a forest? Well, you could easily head out to your nearest park – or just take a little trip back to the virtual forest we created for you.

How we made our virtual forest

A few months back, we came across the wonderful ‘Sounds of the Forest’. This global interactive audio project invited people around the world to record and share the sounds of their local woodland. Behind the project was Wild Rumpus, a community-interest and arts events company who also produce Timber Festival, in partnership with The National Forest.  Timber Festival is an annual celebration of trees, music, art, and ideas – all set in the heart of the forest. Sounds like our kind of festival!

When their 2020 festival had to be cancelled due to coronavirus, they set about finding a different way of helping people connect to and be inspired by nature. And the glorious outcome was particularly pertinent in these times: the first forest soundmap of the world, which uses the power of crowdsourced sound to bring people together.

Rowan Cannon and Sarah Bird, directors of Wild Rumpus, reflected on the process. "At a time when everything in society was being questioned and there was so much uncertainty, we felt that the natural world offered much reassurance and constancy. There are so many studies out there which show the positive effect the natural world can have on our mental health and wellbeing, and we know that even just listening to the sounds of nature can have a similar restorative effect.”  

"We wanted Sounds of the Forest to inspire people to get outside and really connect to nature, to tune into the bird song, wildlife, and sound of the wind in the canopy. But the map is a place where anyone, no matter where they are, can listen to those beautiful forest soundscapes be transported across the globe.”

We absolutely love this project and all it stands for. And that’s why we decided to collaborate with Timber Festival to create the virtual woodland experience you’ve just watched. Because why shouldn’t people be able to enjoy some forest bathing wherever they are?  

We took some beautiful footage of trees and overlaid them with an amazing Sounds of the Forest recording, taken from Tween Towns Wood in Royston, UK. 

We hope it made you feel soothed and restored – and keen to visit a real-life forest in the near future! 

This World Mental Health Day, be sure to take some time to learn more about the day and support the cause. Mental health problems can affect anyone, any day of the year. So this is a great chance to not only realise the importance of looking after your own wellbeing but also to support others around you. 

If you enjoyed our virtual forest, find out how you can get involved in Sounds of the Forest and Timber Festival and check out their Twitter. And if you like what you heard, why not settle in for a few more of their soothing forest soundscapes?

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