Shinrin-yoku literally means ‘forest bathing’ and is an activity said to improve a person’s psychological and physiological well-being by opening our senses to the peaceful environment of a forest.
Japan is among the world’s most densely populated countries, conjuring images of Tokyo’s frenetic Shibuya Crossing at rush hour or the towering skyscrapers of the Nishi-Shinjuku business district. Yet statistically, almost 70% of Japan’s total land mass is described as forest area.
Immersing yourself in a forest, watching the sun through the leaves and listening to whispering trees, enjoying the moment, is known as forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku in Japan. This therapeutic practice of relaxation has mental, emotional and physical benefits, from reducing blood pressure and improving concentration levels, to boosting the immune system and increasing energy levels. Lexus has selected some of the UK’s best locations for forest bathing and teamed up with mindfulness teacher and coach, Christoph Spiessens to provide tips for those who want to feel grounded during autumn.
Shinrin-yoku: why it’s good for you and where to try it
The Lexus NX plug-in hybrid SUV is the perfect car to drive to forest bathing locations. It’s been designed to enable driver and passengers to feel more in every moment, providing the perfect environment to escape from the outside world, soak up the sights of the forest and enjoy stunning views. This is a car that is built with comfort and relaxation in mind.
Lexus NX Plug-in Hybrid driving tips
Hampshire – Woodend, Soberton, PO17 6JZ
Woodend Forest is one of the few remaining fragments that make up the ancient Forest of Bere. There are several shaded paths meandering through the woods that provide an excellent spot for walking and exploring, or you can relax among the trees and listen to the birds and watch insects in their natural habitats.
Buckinghamshire – Bernwood Forest, Aylesbury, OX33 1BJ
Bernwood Forest is a small, tranquil forest located on the outskirts of Oxford that is home to around 40 species of butterflies. Its butterfly trail is somewhere you can lose yourself in peace and quiet.
Shinrin-yoku: Suffolk – Rendlesham Forest, Tangham, Woodbridge, IP12 3NF
Rendlesham Forest is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and covers about 5.8 square miles of coniferous plantations with broadleaved belts, heathland, and wetland areas. Most of the forest is planted with pine trees, so there is a fresh scent to enjoy as you immerse yourself in the surroundings.
Gloucestershire – Westonbirt:The National Arboretum, Tetbury GL8 8QS
Westonbirt, The National Arboretum is a peaceful woodland, known for its spectacular autumn colour display. It has one of the finest collections of temperate trees and shrubs in the world and is home to 2,500 different species of trees and around 15,000 individual specimens. It is the perfect place to escape and relax among the trees.
Kent – Bedgebury National Pinetum, Goudhurst TN17 2SJ
Bedgebury National Pinetum is a recreational and conservational arboretum managed by Forestry England. It is home to a world-leading collection of conifers and contains more than 12,000 specimen trees growing across 320 acres including 56 vulnerable or critically endangered species. It also houses five National Plant Collections. The trees and landscape create a beautiful setting for peaceful walks and picnics in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Worcestershire – Wyre Forest, Kidderminster, DY14 9XQ
Wyre Forest is the largest woodland National Nature Reserve in the UK and covering more than 10 square miles across the border between Worcestershire and Shropshire. It is home to numerous bird species and insects such as the rare and colourful moth Oecophora bractella, Visitors can enjoy woodland walks and trails among beautiful ancient oaks woods and fir trees.
Lake District – Grizedale Forest, Hawkshead, LA22 0QJ
Grizedale Forest is the most ecologically significant oak woodland in England, consisting of 10 square miles of woodland. It features several hills, small tarns and the villages of Grizedale and Satterthwaite. Within the forest there are around 50 sculptures made from natural materials such as stone and wood – perfect locations to take a moment to reflect and enjoy the landscape.
Devon – Fingle wood, Fingle Bridge, Teign Gorge near EX6 6PW
Fingle Woods is an ancient woodland in the Teign Valley on the northern fringes of Dartmoor National Park in Devon. The area has eight different woods full of fragrant evergreen trees where you can take in the forest scents and listen to birdsong and the bubbling waters of the River Teign.
Surrey – Shere Woodland, Staple Lane, East Clandon, Guildford GU5 9TD
Shere Woodland is a picturesque and tranquil area of unspoilt mixed woodland and grassland, and is home to many different birds, butterflies, and dragonflies. There are numerous trails, including the North Downs Way. The woodland is renowned for its views of the Surrey Hills across the Tillingbourne Valley and beyond to the Greensand Ridge. The peace and solitude helps visitors connect with nature and unwind.
Derbyshire – National Trust Longshaw Estate, Grindleford, Sheffield S11 7TY
Longshaw Estate is an area of moorland, woodland and farmland located within the Peak District National Park and known for its spectacular views. It is also home to red deer, rare pied flycatchers, ancient oak trees and mosses and ferns that cling to rocky waterfalls and springs. You can immerse yourself in the sounds of the trickling water and birds.
Shinrin-yoku: Northumberland – Kielder Field, Kielder, Hexham NE48 1ER
Kielder Field is England’s largest man-made woodland at 250 square miles and contains northern Europe’s largest man-made lake. With little human population and few roads and railways, this conifer woodland provides a perfect habitat for red squirrels. It is home to around 50 per cent of England’s red squirrel population. Numerous art and architectural installations can be discovered as you walk through the forest.
Yorkshire – Dalby Forest, Low Dalby, Pickering YO18 7LT
Dalby Forest is an ideal place to escape and relax in the heart of the North York Moors National Park. Across its 12 square miles, there are breath-taking views, with more than a dozen trails for running, cycling and walking. Sculptures can also be found throughout the forest. Dalby Forest is a designated Dark Sky Discovery Site perfect for star-gazing.
Dorset – Wareham Forest, Coldharbour, Wareham BH20 7PA
Wareham Forest is located near to Morden Bog National Nature Reserve and is an ideal place to re-connect with nature. Throughout the forest there are tracks through ancient landscapes where you can let go of the busy outside world and relax in the tranquil natural environment.
Shinrin-yoku: Wales – Gwydir Forest Park, Betws-y-Coed LL24 0AA
Gwydir forest in the heart of Snowdonia is full of lakes and mountains. It has a rich wildlife population and visitors can follow its many tracks, old miners’ paths, cycle trails and forest walks. Piles of rock waste on the sites of former mines have created habitats for rare plants, resulting in the designation of part of the forest as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Shinrin-yoku: Scotland – Galloway Forest Park, Newton Stewart DG8 6AJ
Galloway Forest Park covers 300m2 and allows you to get up close to red deer and wild goats. The dense woodland allows visitors to get lost in nature and enjoy being close to wildlife and breathing fresh air. With so many natural sights and sounds to take in, it’s easy to fall into a mindful state and feel calm, supported and connected.
Shinrin-yoku: Northern Ireland – Minnowburn, , Belfast BT8 8LE
Minnowburn is owned by the National Trust, is just four miles from the city centre. Here, you can walk through the meadows and woodlands to the Lagan river, looking out for sculptures and natural artworks along the path, or relaxing on the wooden beds that have been positioned in areas take in the best of the seasonal views.
Mindfulness teacher and coach, Christoph Spiessens’s tips for those who want to forest bathe:
- Set an intention for your forest visit. It can be as simple as “my intention is to be as fully present as possible” or “I intend not to look at my phone for the duration of my trip” or “I am open to discovering new sounds and smells.”
- If you are going with friends or family, it’s all right to let them know you’d like to take some quiet moments to yourself and then encourage them to do the same.
- Consider regularly taking a few deeper, mindful breaths, especially when enjoying the majesty of an ancient tree or the warmth of the sunshine.
- Aim to use your senses consciously: What can you see when you look closely at the bark of a tree? What does the ground under your feet feel like? Can you smell the rain? Hear any animals? Taste the chestnut as if for the first time. What have you never noticed until now?
- Try to practise some gentle mindful stretches:
- Feet firmly on the ground, hip-width apart. Can you float your arms up to shoulder level, then towards the sky?
- Notice the subtle stretch in your body and the keenness from your mind to drop your arms again quickly. And does this perhaps reveal a tendency to rush in other areas of your life too?
- Can you lower them mindfully noticing subtle sensations, as if in harmony with the leaves falling gently?
- Be creative and intentional and remember that every forest visit is a unique experience, filled with boundless opportunities to notice new things.
Meet mindfulness coach Christoph Spiessens
Lexus NX and shinrin-yoku
Though similar to enjoying fresh air and exercise, exponents of shinrin-yoku point out that the practice does not necessarily involve a brisk hike or even a nature walk, though these have their own therapeutic benefits. To get the most of it you need to leave behind the distractions and notifications of the modern world. Peace is found in being on your own, far-removed from others, standing as still and silent as a statue, and enjoying a lingering, unrushed moment to take everything in.
Deliberately pausing stimulates the senses and allows them to detect nuances that would otherwise pass you by. The air smells pure and feels moist and oxygen-rich. A million shades of high-definition colour tease the eyes from every angle; and individual sounds, from the wind scurrying through quivering leaves to each native bird’s chorus, can be identified and appreciated.
It’s true: being out here feels like therapy. Modern research agrees with our feelings, and confirm that which Japanese health practitioners have known for some time. Scientific evidence suggests that activities like shinrin-yoku have a positive effect on a person’s mood and feeling of self-esteem, often reducing the levels of cortisol in the blood and boosting the immune system. It’s also been found that on average people feel happier and healthier in beautiful, natural habitats than even the most stunning urban environment.
We cannot avoid urban life entirely, of course. But our experience of shinrin-yoku with the capable Lexus NX has helped us appreciate the value of a deep-dive escape into the country every now and again.
Did you know: Japan currently has 48 designated ‘forest therapy’ trails, the first of which was within the beautiful Akasawa Natural Recreational Forest, famous for its 300-year-old cypress trees that stretch 35m tall.