Women's Health South Africa
Branch Out Image Credit: Women's Health South Africa
Branch Out Image Credit: Women's Health South Africa

Branch Out

For decades, the Japanese have used “forest bathing” – mindful time spent among trees – to recharge their bodies and still their minds. Take a leaf out of their book and nature-walk your stress away

Gemma Hartley

We’ve always known that being in nature has serious health benefits. But the Japanese practice of walking mindfully through a quiet forest (called Shinrin-yoku or, roughly translated, “taking in the forest atmosphere”) is gaining steam in the US and Europe, with forest retreats opening and guided sessions taking off. And now, South Africa is entering the glade. The idea: research shows spending QT with foliage in a state of heightened awareness – versus just blindly traipsing through it – can melt stress, dispel negative thoughts and even fortify the immune system.


Unlike trail running or hiking, forest bathing isn’t about getting a workout. Or how far you can trek or climb. It’s about stilling your mind and zeroing in on the sights and sounds around you. “We focus on slowing down and on being as fully embodied in the present moment as possible,” says Amos Clifford, a leading forest therapy expert and author of A Little Handbook of Shinrin-Yoku. “As you’re walking, there will be beneficial changes to your nervous system.”

These changes stem from a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, improved heart rate and bolstered immunity, studies show. In fact, according to Clifford, a single three-hour forest walk calms the body and mind for a week; the effects of a full forest bathing retreat can last up to a month.

A Japanese

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