Since the creation of man, humans have long recognised the importance and benefits of the natural world for our health. The fresh air, the filtered sunlight through the canopy, the subtle whistling of birds – these things offer an eco-antidote for the scramble and bustle of our contemporary lives. But what exactly is this feeling and why does it occur?
The Japanese coined the term shinrin-yoku – or “forest bathing” – to put the practice and feeling into words. Essentially, it means opening the senses and bathing in the forest atmosphere. Formally recognized by Japan in 1982, this practice was quickly embraced as a form of eco-therapy.
It is important to note that it is not a form of exercise, but rather a healing practice for the mind, body and soul. Where a simple nature walk is all about exploring the outside and hiking requires the goal of reaching a destination, forest bathing is about consciously opening up our senses and connecting with the surrounding environment.
Studies have shown that forest bathing has a myriad of healing properties. Not only can it aid in cognitive and psychological health, but also improve physical qualities. According to empirical research, trees and plants have the ability to produce “forest medicine”. Plant chemicals, known as phytoncides, are nature’s aromatherapy. They act as a defence mechanism for vegetation against bacteria, insects and other harmful micro-organisms.
In addition to acting as a defence shield for trees, these organisms have beneficial and positive effects on humans. It elevates a person’s mood, improves sleep and attentiveness, boosts your immunity, and decreases the risk of cancer and depression.
The best part about shinrin-yoku is that it can be enjoyed by anyone and the practice is easily accessible. Here are three places in the Garden Route area to try forest bathing.
WILDERNESS NATIONAL PARK, WILDERNESS
With an area that stretches from the Touw River mouth to the Eilandvlei estuary, forest bathers would enjoy the dense and lush vegetation that the Garden Route has to offer. Native evergreens shower the visitor with plenty of phytoncides and enriching experiences.
MILLWOOD SECTION OF THE KNYSNA FOREST, KNYSNA
The popular hiking destination features the remains of an old mining village and a waterfall. Along the trail are plenty of spots to meditate and open up the senses to a variety of foliage and wildlife. A forest bather’s dream.
OUTENIQUA PASS, GEORGE
A mountain pass in the Western Cape, that connects George and the Garden Route coastal plain to Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo. The sweeping views and scenery can be accessed by foot on a circular trail, known as Pass to Pass, which will lead you to the top of the Montagu Pass.