Feed Your Soul

We all know how rejuvenating a stroll in the countryside can be for body and soul. However, the pace of technology and growth of urbanisation has led to an unhealthy disconnect with nature that can negatively impact our health and wellbeing. Christopher Potts, Health Club Manager at Fawsley Hall Hotel & Spa, is particularly interested in reintroducing guests and visitors to the sights and sounds of nature through the practice of ‘forest bathing’. Here, he shares some insights into this ancient ecotherapy and explains why we should all make time for nature.

Shinrin-yoku, meaning forest bath or taking in the forest through your senses, was developed in Japan in the 1980s as an eco-antidote to tech burnout and a way of inspiring communities to reconnect with nature. Beyond just a stroll in the woods, forest bathing is a conscious practice of being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest, using all five senses to clear the body and mind. Since its genesis, forest bathing has become an integral part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine and it is widely reputed for combating several health issues.

Here in the UK, there is mounting scientific evidence regarding the myriad health benefit of spending time in nature and how it could potentially be prescribed as a preventative therapeutic treatment for various health conditions. For example, trees release oils into the air called phytoncides, and inhaling these natural essences can help to protect the immune system. People who spend time in the forest have reported lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can help relieve high blood pressure, heart conditions, skin conditions, and asthma. High stress levels can also compromise the immune system, so by reducing them, your body’s natural defence system can work more efficiently. Spending time in nature can also increase your mood, focus, and energy, allowing you to think more clearly and creatively. We can’t think of a better reason to lace up your walking boots and prescribe yourself some fresh woodland air!

How to do forest bathing

It’s simple! To start, find a forest near you – it could be a forested area in your neighbourhood, a local conservation area, or a nearby park. Follow a trail into the forest and once you are completely surrounded by nature, stop, close your eyes, and engage your senses.

Take in your surroundings; notice the smell of the earth, the sound of the birds, and the air moving across your skin. Stay as long as you can and consistently build up your time with each visit to improve your experience.

Fawsley Hall’s most famous forest bather

In Victorian Britain, physicians regularly prescribed time away in the countryside to escape the industrialised cities. Joseph Merrick, also known as ‘The Elephant Man’, visited the Fawsley Estate several times. Through elaborate arrangements Merrick could board a train unseen and have an entire carriage to himself; he would leave the London Hospital and travel to Northamptonshire, where he would spend weeks at a time at Fawsley Hall. One of his favourite pastimes was exploring the woods and writing notes to his many well-wishers. Whenever he visited the estate, a young labourer named Walter Steel would come from a neighbouring farm every day to post the letters for him. In later years, Steel recalled that Merrick would sit just out of sight in the woods to write. He wrote many letters to Frederick Treves, a famous London surgeon, who cared for and befriended Merrick, and in them he would describe how he enjoyed the birdcalls and wildlife in the woods.

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