The average adult will spend 34 years of their life staring at screens. This, coupled with more time spent indoors during lockdown, means that more and more people have begun to rediscover an appreciation for one of life’s simple joys: nature.
But for some it’s not just a walk in the park… Scotland has seen a resurgence of forest bathing.
Originating in Japan in the 1980s, shinrin-yoku originated after the Japanese government conducted studies on the health benefits of time spent in nature, and their findings officially endorsed the practice as a form of curative and preventive health care.
Today, people all over the world are just beginning to understand. But what exactly is forest bathing?
READ MORE: Headlines about ‘skyrocketing’ mental illness among police were irresponsible
It’s almost deceptively simple. Forest bathing is about immersing yourself in nature and consciously connecting with your surroundings, without distraction. That’s it.
In other words, with phones and other distractions away, forest bathing is all about immersing yourself in the nature around you – consciously pausing and “bathing” in the surroundings. It sounds simple, but proponents of the practice speak of its transformative effects.
Maarya Sharif is one such activist. A lecturer in statistics at the University of Edinburgh, it was during a short break from work that she came across a course offering training in teaching forest bathing, run by Scottish Forestry.
“I had volunteered before and was pretty comfortable managing groups in an indoor space,” she explained. “But I wanted to get people out.”
After completing the training during lockdown, she found that learning about forest bathing had a positive effect on her mental health, giving her “huge motivation” to do something that she says “helped me , but also had the potential to help others”.
“There’s this concept that some scientists have discovered called ceiling height. There is a correlation essentially between this and the levels of creativity. So if you’re in a typical office space with low ceilings, your thinking might feel more restricted. And in rooms with high ceilings, you are freer in your thinking.
READ MORE: ‘Real change is needed’ as treatment delays cause ‘mental health crisis’ in Scotland
“In a sense, you don’t have a ceiling in the woods. You could see amazing skies; you might see pockets of sun seeping through the trees and leaves. It’s kind of limitless, I guess, and the feeling of creativity for me seeps into my day-to-day life.
More recently, Sharif has hosted sessions as part of the Glasgow Center for Contemporary Art programme, with events aimed at taking participants off-site and outdoors. During these, she was particularly keen to emphasize to the participants the simplicity and accessibility of the practice.
She said: “Before I started, I felt like it was something you had to do in a grand location, like the Highlands of Scotland or a rural area of Japan.
“But really, you can do it anywhere there is nature. It could be as simple as being in your backyard or even a local park for five minutes a day.