Tree Power

“The human eye can differentiate up to 295 shades of green.” Berny our guide has sat us in front of a bend in the stream, with limey moss on the rocks, vibrant grass on the banks, rubbery shrubs, feathered bushes, willowy saplings and mature trees. “I’m not asking you to count them, but let your eyes appreciate the amazing variety, the perspective from near to far, the effect of the light and the breeze.”

We are forest bathing, walking mindfully in nature. Rain or shine, a walk in the woods will make you feel better. But it will surprise some people to discover that science has confirmed that feeling. And with Berny’s professional, sympathetic assistance, we are opening our senses to our local woodland, connecting with it on a deeper level. Our time under the canopy has the power to lighten our mood, ease our stress and increase our health.

Who knew that something so easy could be so good for you?

And the UK’s tree population is at a thousand-year high, with 13% of the country currently designated as woodland. So you’re never too far away from a meaningful walk in the woods.

But you have to go to Japan to uncover the origins of Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, which began in 1982 and today can be prescribed by Japanese GPs to treat high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. It is thought that two hours spent among trees is as beneficial as taking an antidepressant.

Today, our walk gives us the opportunity to gather some of the infinite variety of sights, sounds and smells through the wood. Every so often we stop to focus on one or other of our senses: we close our eyes to appreciate the sound of the wind; we smell the damp earth around a fallen trunk; or run our fingers across the bark of a craggy oak, papery birch, smooth lime or furrowed pine.

We learn about phytoncides, the chemical that trees emit to protect themselves from disease and insect attack, which can boost the human immune system. And the the “wood-wide web”, the underground network of fungi and microbes that swap nutrients and information between plants and trees, that might help us gauge and adjust to climate change.

And gradually, we acclimatise ourselves to the slower pace of nature. Away from the hurly-burly of normal life, work, social media, family responsibilities, we start to feel more grounded. We all have favourite moments – for one it’s an associated memory from childhood, for another it’s the warmth from a gnarled oak – but we all agree that our time in the wood is a positively relaxing experience that we would repeat and recommend to others.

And that’s basically the goal of forest bathing.

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