“Forest bathing decelerates, replenishes energy reserves and brings renewed zest for life.” Sounds promising? We gave it a try!
Wellness Trend from Japan
If you translate it literally, "Shinrin Yoku" basically means "bathing in the atmosphere of a forest". This health trend comes from Japan, where forest bathing is actually prescribed as therapy and even paid for by the state as a form of preventative medicine. A healthy timeout in nature – as soon as I hear those words (and probably like most moms), my ears perk up. That's why I join up with Theresa Sommerbichler, who is a trained hiking guide and aspiring forest-bathing therapist in Gastein Valley, and her hiking group. To take a deep breath of forest air. Very consciously.
How does forest bathing work?
"In the forest, due to our evolutionary roots, we feel good, safe, protected and alive", explains Theresa, who is a herb educator and studying to become a practitioner in herbal medicine. The many shades of green soothe our psyche, naturally and harmoniously. But not only that: "The trees and plants communicate with one another via so-called terpenes. These messenger substances are absorbed by our immune system and processed in positive ways, stimulating our body's innate protective mechanisms." Furthermore, hormones are produced that protect us from heart diseases and help us to relax. Shinrin Yoku is proven to be effective: Scientific studies have shown that it both strengthens and/or slows down the metabolism, cellular activity, blood pressure and the ability to concentrate.
Mindfulness is key.
The relaxation begins from our very first mindfulness exercise. With closed eyes, we listen to the forest and "arrive". For many, it isn't easy, initially at least, simply to let go and focus "only" on nature and the splendid silence. But with every exercise, it becomes increasingly easy to immerse yourself in your green surroundings. On the "path of silence", walking barefoot across the soft forest floor, stimulating your legs in a flowing stream or, the ultimate form of forest bathing, embracing the trees themselves. Yes, I tried it. Sounds funny, but it actually feels really good and lives up to its promise.
Forest bathing is about appreciating the essence of each and every moment, intensively feeling nature, simultaneously leaving the hectic daily grind, deadlines and other not-so-nice thoughts far behind. The best approach is to check those thoughts at the "forest cloakroom" right at the beginning. "You'd be amazed how many people forget to pick them up and take them home with them afterwards", points out our forest bathing expert and founder of naturesa.at with a sly grin on her lips.
Tips for Forest Bathing
Ready to take the leap into this cool, green world? Here are 5 tips for your time offline spent amongst the pines, spruces et al:
Most important: Allow yourself plenty of time. Invest at least 2 hours in your timeout. It is worth it!
Breathe consciously. And you will sense immediately just how much good the fresh forest air does you.
Open your eyes and ears. Listen to the twitter of birds, the rustle of leaves, the babbling of the stream, become consciously aware of the different shades of green, feel the soft forest floor beneath your feet, the moss on the tree trunk …
Just like a kid: Balance on tree trunks, jump on tree stumps, feel the pinecones in your hands, take off your shoes and run barefoot ... Embrace the entire experience! And as Theresa frequently says: "You can do anything! But you don't have to do a thing!"
Bring along plenty to drink.
Would you like some personal guidance during your first forest-bathing experience? A number of tourism regions in Austria and Bavaria are well aware of the soothing effects of this wellness trend and even offer guided forest bathing: Murtal-Murau, Zirbitzkogel-Grebenzen Nature Park in Styria, St. Englmar in the Bavarian Forest, the Salzburger Lungau region, the neighboring valley of Rauris, Gastein, in Salzburger Land, and many more.
Where is forest bathing possible? Special forests close to our ALPS RESORTS
In the green heart of Austria: Here in Austria, we are extremely fortunate, not least because we are one of the most densely forested countries in the EU. Forest covers almost half of the land area, with Styria the most forested province of them all and rightfully nicknamed "the green heart of Austria". No wonder, then, that the wood capital of Austria - Murau - also lies in Styria. In other words, ample opportunities for forest-bathing experiences galore!
In the Zirbitzkogel Grebenzen Nature Park, which is where the Naturparkchalets Lambrecht are located, they offer guided Forest Bathing Afternoons. If you step outside your holiday home in Alpenpark Turracher Höhe, you will quite literally find yourself surrounded by forest. On the Turracher Höhe, in the Nockberge Biosphere Reserve, you will discover Europe's biggest uninterrupted expanse of pine forests. Arolla pine, the "Queen of the Alps", is justifiably famous for its health benefits … Here you can learn more about our Styrian ALPS RESORTS.
True Virgin Forests: The ultimate experience for nature lovers is, of course, being able to bathe in a pristine forest such as Rauris Virgin Forest. Though to be quite frank, regardless of your motivation, a visit to this centuries-old forest at the Kolm Saigurn valley head is an absolute must during any Rauris holiday spent at Apartmentresort Carpe Solem. In Lammertal Virgin Forest not far from Alpendorf Dachstein West, you will be able to hug the "Lammertal Sentinel", a roughly 300-year-old fir tree that is 48 meters tall.
And naturally: People also love forest bathing in Europe's biggest expanse of forest, the Bavarian Forest. Wellness through and through, for body and soul, is offered by the holiday homes of Ferienresort Englmar in a region also famous for its incredibly healthful climate: After your timeout under the trees, you will be able to jump into your private hot tub, which you had previously heated up yourself with wood, or enjoy a nice session sweating away in the Finnish sauna.
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”
Even oft-quoted John Muir was seemingly well aware of how healing a day spent amongst mighty trees can be. Mindful experiences in verdant settings such as these are proven to have positive benefits on mind and body. I can confirm, forest bathing does you a world of good. If you, too, long for utterly relaxed refreshment in the heart of the forest (where temperatures are generally 4 to 8°C cooler than in the city!) – be sure to take a closer look at our ALPS RESORTS in Austria and Bavaria!
Photo material © istock, ALPS RESORTS