What is forest bathing – and where can I do it in London?

23 Aug 2022 | Updated on: 27 Sep 2022 |By Felicity Carter

In need of some natural rest and recuperation? Discover the Japanese therapy of forest bathing - and find out how to get your fix in the capital

Shinrin-yoku, aka forest bathing, is a Japanese practice of relaxation that harnesses the power of the natural environment and its many therapeutic benefits for both mental and physical health. Not only has this method been proven to reduce blood pressure and stress-inducing cortisol levels, but it also improves memory and concentration, making it ideal for frazzled Londoners in need of a recharge. Forest bathing specialist Holly Barber shares her how-to guide to learning the art of shinrin-yoku – including how and where it can be done in London.

What is forest bathing?

Originating in Japan, this method of relaxation is not dissimilar to meditation, with the exception that it’s all about connecting with nature. Despite what the name suggests, you don’t need to be in the heart of a wooded area to partake in forest bathing. Similarly to sunbathing, when you’re basking in the Vitamin D-rich sunlight, to forest bathe, you simply need to be soaking up the goodness of nature; be that in woodland, gardens, on the beach, in a park, or even in your own living room surrounded by plants. The key thing in terms of your physical location is escaping the bustle of city life and having a chance to reconnect with the harmony of the natural world. This can mean different things to different people so choose a spot that feels most appropriate for you.

Richmond Park

Where can I forest bathe in London?

With London being the world’s first National Park City, a reflection of its status as ranking among the best cities on the globe for green, open spaces, there are plenty of places to connect with nature – no matter which zone you’re in. In central London, St James’s Park or the Embankment Gardens are perfect spots. They both offer an ideal place to just pause for a moment, reconnect and ground yourself. Further out, Cannizaro Park, Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park and Victoria Park are all great options as they offer respite from the hustle and bustle of urban living.

St James’s Park

How do I forest bathe?

To feel the full effects, the key is to slow down, become fully aware of your surroundings and perhaps even incorporate breathwork. Once relaxed, pay attention to your senses and what the natural world has to offer. Close your eyes and follow these steps:

  • Touch: notice how the air is touching your skin, the textures around you, and how each one feels.
  • Smell: take in a deep breath and make a note of the scents that are in the air.
  • Taste: notice the tastes that are in your mouth. Perhaps you want to purse your lips together as if sucking on a straw and take in some air. Notice how it tastes as it crosses your tongue and goes down into your body.
  • Listen: take in all the sounds of nature, note the ones that are close and further away. Maybe there’s a rhythmic sound or a particular beat.
  • Imagination: picture yourself with roots growing down from your body into the earth below. Channel your attention down those roots and envision what they’re encountering along the way.
  • Heart: with your eyes still closed, place your hand over your heart and breathe into your heart space. Allow your body to turn in whichever direction feels right until your heart tells you to stop.
  • Sight: before you open your eyes, pause and when you’re ready, open your eyes slowly, letting everything gradually come into focus.

At this point, you’ve opened up your senses, so you can take a slow walk or simply sit for a moment and watch the world go by. It’s your chance to just be, all the time noticing nature and taking in its beauty.

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