The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne is about to launch its first forest bathing (or forest therapy) sessions. Over two hours you'll go on a guided amble through the gardens, stopping occasionally for relaxation exercises and emerging from the experience feeling like a million bucks.
Not familiar with the practice of forest bathing? Neither were we, so we went along to find out what the fuss was all about.
It can improve your physiological as well as mental health
Forest therapy started as a way to reduce stress and anxiety – and after a couple of hours strolling through the Royal Botanic Gardens, you’ll probably agree that it does. But some research has also suggested forest bathing can reduce blood pressure, pulse rate and cortisol levels (that’s your stress hormone) as well as increase immunity.
Forest therapy is like meditation but with more leaves
Forest therapy shares a lot of techniques with other wellbeing practices like meditation and mindfulness. Participants are asked to enjoy the sessions with minimal speaking and noise and there’s a lot of eyes-closed reflective moments where you’ll start noticing every subtle breeze and warm ray of sunlight.
The air has a taste and it tastes better in a forest
Once you’re done listening to the forest you’ll graduate to the next level of sensory exploration: smelling and tasting. Don’t worry, you won’t be licking the trees (though the guides don’t explicitly say you can’t). You will, however, learn to taste the air – and it tastes pretty darn good in the gardens, a little bit like an especially earthy cup of green tea.
Australian forests are filled with (helpful) chemicals
Supporters of forest therapy are all about the phytoncides – a chemical released by certain plants that helps protect them from pests. These chemicals are part of the reason forests smell like they do and (as the guides at the RBG forest therapy sessions informed us) old Australian eucalypt forests are a great source of the chemical.
It is very relaxing
Once you finish your two-hour forest bathing session you’ll feel a little dazed – sort of like the fogginess you feel after a really good massage. The trick is to embrace the airy fairy-ness. In a world ruled by ticking clocks and the tacit message that your job is your life, it feels pretty darn good to give the middle finger to society by sniffing trees and listening intently to streams.
Time Out tip: Wear comfy clothes – exercise legging or pants are ideal. You’ll be on your feet so sneakers are best so long as they’re easily slipped on and off (you’ll get the chance to squish your tootsies into the earth).