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Forest Bathing: Kyoto has the formula to destress

Has 2018 started with a whopping bang? We haven’t quite eased into the year, rather dug our feet into the ground, weighed in on our goals and filled up that 2018 planner.

Work goals, life goals, fitness goals, fitting in ‘relaxing goals’ – a delicate balance of wanting it all with a desperate need to find calm as we edge into the third week of January already.

In the quest to find a sense of tranquility everyday, I put salt in the lids of shoe boxes and stood in it every morning. Next, I tried bare foot walking in the nearby park (I don’t have a garden where I live). Finally, I started writing down anything that came to mind, for 15 minutes every morning. And then I came across the Japanese art of Forest Bathing, known as shinrin-yoku.

Shinrin-yoku started in the 1980s, with researchers establishing a body of evidence demonstrating the health benefits of being in nature, and specifically trees, which are believed to give off organic antioxidant compounds that boost the immune system and fight cancer. As well as reduced blood pressure and stress hormones, better sleep and increased ability to focus.

It brings a new level to the phrase “a walk in the woods”. Studies in Japan have shown that connecting with the sights, sounds and scents of the forest helps to reduce stress, depression and sleeplessness and improve pulse rate, blood pressure and immune function. After a soak in the woods, bathers are left with an increase in energy flow and a greater sense of happiness.

Now, the spiritual home of shinrin-yoku is in Kyoto, Japan, where a guide leads you on a gentle walk through the forest so you can indulge in immersive experiences including hidden trails and technical workshops to help you fully engage with and benefit from the concept of Forest Bathing. It’s all about finding a deep connection to the natural world through a sense of peace and balance. What’s not to love?

Three of the ‘must visit’ eco hotspots to explore deep wood therapy in Kyoto are:

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Soaring bamboo stalks create an almost ‘out of this world’ experience, offering a mystical location to escape and recharge. The forest is accessed directly from the main street of Arashiyama, a little to the north of the entrance to Tenryu-ji Temple which is the head temple of Zen Buddhism.

Kifune-jinja Shrine

These are actually three different shrines located on a hillside in the mountains north of Kyoto. Each shrine has its own special appeal, but forest bathers are called to the middle shrine surrounded by ancient towering cedar trees. The mountainous air and nearby stream, famous for its pure water, provides a delight for the senses and a calming spot for rejuvenation.

Keihoku

Japanese cedars and cypresses create an air of serenity, with mountain views peeping through. A tranquil woodland to soak in, Keihoku is located in the northern part of Kyoto, in a stunning mountainous area that links the Sea of Japan to the old capital of Kyoto. It is easily accessible by a 1.5 hours bus ride from Kyoto’s city centre and well worth the visit.

Sure, with companies creating packages around this it may seem commercialised. But, everyone needs help to return yourself to a natural state, at least, for a limited period of time. When so much of our precious life dominated by unnatural environments, pollution and noise, any recognition of the value of forests gets my vote. For now, I’ll stick to Regent’s Park, but Forest Bathing in Kyoto is at the top of my 2018 bucketlist.

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