Header image courtesy of @chinjohn (via Instagram)
In an atomised mega-city where everyone is constantly hustling a lightspeed pace, it can be difficult to find a moment of temporary peace to catch your breath. Weekends fly by at the blink of an eye, seeming only like a brief intermission (of napping and Netflix) between all your responsibilities. What if we told you that there is a simple antidote to that feeling? Enter—forest bathing.
Though individuals from many different cultures have shown a history of engaging with nature as a physiological-spiritual practice, the fascinating therapeutical premise of forest bathing is based upon the Japanese concept of “shinrin-yoku” (森林浴). Referred to by some as ecotherapy or nature therapy, this regimen was publicised as a national health programme by the official Japanese Forest Department in 1982.
A simple process that leads to profound and deeply moving effects, forest bathing revolves around participants coming in contact with and connecting with nature. Being mindful is key. By setting their focus on and tuning into their senses as well as their bodies, they can better open themselves up to healing. According to the view purported by this form of therapy, our world is, in substance, a system of entangled energies. The practice allows partakers to consciously engage with their own intuition, with each other, and with our ecosystem itself (that is very much alive, like us).
Sceptical? True—“Just go out and spend some time around nature” may seem like a cheesy, “so-common-sense-it-shouldn’t-even-have-to-be-said” adage that has lost its persuasive allure, but several Japanese researchers have identified specific chemicals secreted from trees that have been proven to bolster the proposed benefits of forest bathing. Phytoncide is the scientific name of the oil emitted by trees that helps to boost our immune system, whilst protecting the tree from germs and chemical influences of insects.
Cleansing us from inside out, the positives of forest bathing encompass both mental and physical gains. Participants’ blood sugar, stress hormone levels, and blood pressure are brought down. White blood cell production is brought up. On a cognitive level, many have reported a sense of heightened mental clarity, elevated congeniality, lowered anxiety, elevated creativity, and more.
As you comb through lush verdant shrubs, sunrays tickling your face, crisp air enveloping around you, keep in mind a few helpful tips. Firstly, it’s not a race. Reaching the apex of your hike, the finishing line on your trail, or even the central point of the park is not a “win.” In fact, slowing down is fundamental, since really taking your time to notice details are highly beneficial in helping you to reset your attention. It is, after all, a journey to pace at your leisure.
Furthermore, the sessions are not specifically intended to be scientifically informative. In the case that you find yourself overwhelmed by trying to identify every single plant or insect you come across, you are on a botanical excursion, not an ecotherapy encounter. Just let yourself take a breather, clear your mental desktop, and relax...
Leading to the last point, all the aforementioned are not hard guidelines. There is no singular, universal way to go forest bathing, as each person has their own manner of finding their footing in nature. No matter how you choose to apply yourself to this experience, as long as you remain respectful of others and your environment, everything is peachy!
Noticeably a trail with densely concentrated clusters of forests, Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve has been lauded for its richness in trees as well as animal species. Named as the top location for birdwatching by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, this hilly woodland has no shortage of fauna for you to fawn over. Listen to the trickle from the beautiful streams and rivers as you languidly trek through the brimming green thickets.
A section of Plover Cove Country Park, this is a casual 2.4-kilometre shaded route that parallels a hilly stream. A trail that traces back to ancient times, with its starting point cutting through to a seventeenth-century Hakka village, the old banyan trees and laniferous mangroves take you back to times before our modern woes.
This gorgeous trail is joined by passing through three wooden bridges, leading to views that overlook the areas of Tsuen Wan, Tsing Yi, and Ting Kau Bridge. Bathe in the sounds of the animals and the calming atmosphere of the tree-filled domain right before Pineapple Dam and you will find yourself refuelled.
Forest bathing sessions are not just limited to mountainous sites or (sort of) hard to reach nature reserves in the outskirts of the city. A spacious park filled with picturesque foliage and plenty of grassy knolls to lay on, Tsing Yi Park is your small patch of peace that lies a short walk away from the Tsing Yi MTR station. Watch the surface of the pond shimmer as the trees sway above, the shadows of its branches waltzing around you.
Tsing Yi Park, 60 Tsing King Road, Tsing Yi | (+852) 2435 0533
With bowling greens evocative of a painting, the curving and concaving dunes of verdure give off an illusion that the scenery outstretched in front of you go on endlessly. Only a short distance away from Hong Kong Disneyland, the magical aura in this free-to-enter park whisks you away from your everyday worries and responsibilities.
Inspiration Lake Arboretum, Inspiration Lake, Sunny Bay Road, Penny’s Bay Highway, Lantau Island
Here are some Hong Kong-based groups that host forest bathing sessions with professional guides.
Holding sessions of guided encounters with nature, with available private sessions tailored to the individual as well as group needs, Shinrin Yoku Hong Kong is a locally-based group dedicated to opening doors for interested parties to get connected with Hong Kong’s nature. Shinrin Yoku’s structured outdoor experiences revolve around walks that invite you to step out from your daily realities and plug into a natural setting.
Revolving around the concept of a “return” to nature—with its name translating to “come back to” in an Indonesian dialect—Kembali offers therapeutic nature regimens that work to ground participants in the now and to foster a sense of belonging to the earth. From guided meditation sessions to foraging for natural fibres to weave baskets, founder Jasmine Nunns leads participants through different practices. Learn more about Nunns’s philosophy by here.
Becoming acquainted with nature from a young age not only benefits children’s physicality with increased antibodies but also helps them to encourage a sense of curiosity and wonder that is supported by hands-on exploring skills. Transforming Hong Kong’s forests into classrooms that little ones are surely eager to get to, Hong Kong Forest Adventures encourages learning that leads through play and first-hand discovery.