Japan’s ‘forest bathing’ treatment: Burnout stopper or esoteric fad?

IF YOU’RE burnout patient of Professor Iwao Uehara at the University of Tokyo, then your prescription will likely involve one thing: the forest.

Once they arrive there, the professor tells his patients to carry fallen trees and to only eat food they can get from the natural environment. This method of treatment, called Shinrin Yoku, has been practised in Japan since the 1980s, and a toned-down version of it is now starting to catch on in Western countries.

Shinrin Yoku means “bathing in the forest environment” – or simply forest bathing. In Europe, forest bathing is used more as a wellness and spa experience that is meant to help recharge your batteries and de-stress from the modern life of overstimulation and multitasking.

Christine Mueller is a pioneer of forest bathing in Germany. As the medical head at Das Kranzbach hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, she takes the guests into the forest to do yoga and breathing exercises. “The forest is a place full of sensations and experiences, somewhere you can really find your way back to yourself,” she claimed.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Austria, Uli Felber helps to de-stress his guests by taking them on four-hour workshops in the forest.

In Europe, forest bathing is used more as a wellness and spa experience that is meant to help recharge your batteries and de-stress from the modern life of overstimulation and multitasking
Those suffering from intense stress or burnout are increasingly being sold a wellness experience in the forest as a form of treatment. While some may just prefer a simple walk in the forest, researchers are optimistic about the medical benefits of being in the woods. – PHOTOS: DPA

In the Swiss town Flims, you can go forest bathing by a waterfall and in the Bettmeralp village up in the Alps you are taken to the Aletsch Glacier. Relaxing in the forest, it seems, is definitely a trend.

But is forest bathing just another esoteric practice?

“It’s not about being a tree-hugger,” said Martin Kiem, a psychologist and well-being coach. He takes his guests to the mountainous forests in Italy where they can walk slowly, sit down, lean against the trees, remember, dream and take in every aspect of the green surroundings, which Kiem says calms the soul.

Experiencing the healing powers of the forest does not require participation in an organised forest bathing course or any mystical beliefs.

But the medicinal uses of forest bathing are now also being analysed in Germany – Karin Kraft is a professor of natural medicine at the University of Rostock and she is conducting the first scientific study on the effects of forest bathing for patients suffering from asthma and COPD in Heringsdorf on the island of Usedom.

The patients do simple gymnastics in the fresh air by the sea in the forest. Kraft thinks the patients do truly benefit from the exercise and the fresh air.

But as always, there are a multitude of esoteric rip-offs in the industry. So if you’re sceptical, you can always start with the free version: going for a walk in a forest of your choice. dpa