People often complain that the UK is overpopulated with 66 million people living on this small island. It is a lot if you stop and think about it. But there are other places with a much higher population density. Japan is one of them. I lived in Tokyo for three years in my early 20s and London for three years in my early 30s. Don't get me wrong. Although I loved the hustle and bustle and the adventure of living in such large metropolises I also felt desperately disconnected in both.
In Tokyo, I was fortunate Doug, a Scottish guy I worked with, introduced me to walking in the forest. Every weekend I would hop onto a train, travel a couple of hours outside central Tokyo and get off in a small town at the edge of a forest. Armed with a rucksack filled of sandwiches, fruit and lots of water, I would spend 3-6 hours walking in the forest alone. Without any music or podcast playing in my ears, I simply listened to my thoughts, the birds in the trees or the wind in the leaves and would take in all the sights and smells around me. I would then return to Tokyo feeling energised, full of life and yet relaxed, eager to face whatever the city would throw at me the following day. Today, this would be called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing.
In the last couple of years forest bathing has become one of the latest health and well-being crazes to hit the UK. This is because researchers have found that taking in the forest atmosphere reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system, and improves mood, concentration and memory. In fact, the research went further than the usual fresh air, exercise and well-being. Japanese researchers found that chemicals released by tress known as phytoncide, could have an anti-microbial effect on our bodies, boosting the immune system.
This research saw the introduction of forest bathing as a national health programme in Japan many moons ago. And this year, the Forest Commission in England, which manages almost a million hectares of woodland, is launching a nationwide forest bathing programme. Not only has it taken off in London and New York, but you can even do an eight day residential course to qualify as a forest-therapy guide.
Today, my forest bathing looks very different to what it did 20 years ago. With a two and seven year old in tow, it's more of a mindful amble through woodland near home. And that is just perfect for us. I leave my phone in the car and immerse myself completely in the forest. We go very slowly often stopping to look, touch or smell a new discovery. This is easy to do with a two-year old as kids this age are champions of living in the present. Sometimes I ask the kids to stop, close their eyes and breath deeply. This reminds us and our bodies to slow down and relax even more. I mute my inner voice which is usually creating lists upon lists and try to be more like my two year old. 100% present in the now.
I am thankful I no longer live in Tokyo or London as I can easily hop into a forest bath ten minutes from home and take the kids with me.
So much of our lives today are tuned into a 2D world which just doesn't make sense. There is 3D (or you could say 4D) world out there with which we have lost touch. With spring soon in the air, why not visit some of these places below near home if you want to feel more relaxed, reduce blood pressure and boost your immune system. Slowly work your way up to a two hour visit for the full benefits and do wave if you happen to see us.
· Otterspool Woodland, Otterspool Drive, Liverpool L17 5AL
· Storeton Woods, Birkenhead, Wirral
· Upton Meadow Millennium Wood, Wirral, CH49 6PBig Wood, Windmill Hill,
· Runcorn Freshfield Pinewoods, Formby Pinewoods, Victoria Road, Formby, L37 1LJ
· Delamere Forest, Cheshire, CW8 2JD