Forest therapy is a term we’re re-familiarising ourselves with here in the UK (Google Trends shows a colossal spike in the search term, since May this year). But shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” is a concept that’s been appreciated in Japan for generations.
There, immersing yourself in nature and taking time to soak in the therapeutic and revitalising atmosphere of the forest, for the benefit of your physical and mental health, is a priority.
These are the facts – a UK wide survey last year found that 74% of people reported feeling so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. A study from YouGov across 16 countries found that those working desk jobs regularly spend as little as 15 minutes outside each day. A survey from mental health charity, Mind, discovered that 94% of people who take part in outdoor activities (like walking or gardening), said it improved their mental wellbeing.
Likewise, time spent outdoors is a cherished part of Scandinavian culture, where they even have a word – friluftsliv – dedicated to the act of getting outdoors in the open air. So much so, in some cases, the time is built in to the working week by employers.
Of course, here, we know that time spent in nature is salve for the soul. But, seldom do we make it a priority. And yet, it seems attitudes are changing. “Mother Nature is at last getting her moment in the sun-dappled spotlight,” Sarah Ivens, author of Forest Therapy, told GLAMOUR UK. “Research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows that being exposed to restorative environments such as a forest, lake or beach restores mental energy, and that natural beauty inspires feelings of awe which gives a secondary brain boost. Studies even prove how simply looking at pictures of nature increases our positive thinking, (so think about switching the lock screen photo on your phone to a favourite nature photo from a recent holiday),” she says.
Beauty brands wishing to tap into the world of wellness are getting in on the act, too. There’s been a boom in products developed to replicate the effects that nature can have on our senses.
Nothing can beat getting outside, of course and given we know, for sure, the benefits that the great outdoors can give, time spent in the open should be climbing to the top of our to-do list. However, numerous studies have shown the intrinsic link between scent and memory. It’s the whole concept behind aromatherapy. “The sense of smell plays an important role in the physiological effects of mood, stress, and working capacity,” a 2016 study confirms. A physical walk through the woods will unite all your senses – touch, sight, sound, taste and smell – but conjuring up the scent alone can not only help to trigger memories of the other four (thereby stimulating the feelings of clarity and relaxation brought about by those memories), additionally, natural scents like sandalwood, in isolation, have been found to have a calming effect on our mood.
It makes sense then that beauty brands have been working to recreate those scents for us to access in our own homes, irrespective of the seasons – especially helpful, now that declining temperatures are more likely than ever to keep us inside.
“Our need for a year-round ‘green prescription’ was the inspiration behind Aromatherapy Associates’ first new blend in seven years, the Forest Therapy collection,” explains Sarah. “Two new products, a Bath Shower Oil, £49, and Wellness Mist, £18, each contain an exceptional blend of 22 of nature’s most healing ingredients, including Pink Pepper, native to the Peruvian Andes, which is known to help with respiratory health and has an uplifting effect on our wellbeing; Juniper Berry, gathered from the mountainous regions of Macedonia, which has a cleansing effect on the mind and soul; and Mediterranean Cypress, which helps to instil an overall sense of calm. The handcrafted blend – bursting with those powerful phytoncides – allows you to bring the outdoors in to your home, whatever the weather outside.” Add it to a hot bath while the wind howls outside, or trickle it on during a steamy shower.
Similarly, Weleda’s new Forest Harmony Shower Gel, £7.95, seeks to encapsulate the evergreen power of pine. “As much of the natural world slumbers through winter, pine’s invigorating and harmonising properties are called upon to awaken the senses during the darkest days of the year,” they say.
Influenced by Japan and China, bodycare brand, Rituals, features woods like cedar and pine routinely. My favourite Happy Buddha scent (from £8.50) with sweet orange and cedarwood, feels deliciously comforting come autumn, and offers up candles, dry oils, foaming shower gels and fragrant reed diffusers. The newest range, The Ritual of Tsuru (from £8.50) is scented with pine.
Part of the scandinavian H&M family, Arket has a small but perfectly curated edit of body care (including hand wash, hand balm, body wash and body cream, from £7) in its staple earthy scents of Vetiver, Oakmoss, Rosemary and Geranium. Meanwhile, nordic brand Skandinavisk has a collection of candles and reed diffusers that beautifully capture the nature of the great outdoors. Robust Skog, £23.20, is inspired by the Boreal forests that stretch through Sweden, Norway and Finland (notes of spruce, birch and pine), while Ro, £24, depicts crumpled leaves and ambered woods.
Effectively, you can conjure the fresh, uplifting scent of a walk through the trees, from inside your bathroom or batten down the hatches with mossy aromas while warm on your sofa.
Admittedly, it’s not quite the real deal, but in between autumn stroll and winter walks, it’s not a bad alternative.