Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” was born in Japan in 1982. It was introduced to combat “death by overwork”. It’s now gaining traction around the world, but what is it, and why is everyone suddenly so keen?
Bronwyn Paynter is one of only three forest-therapy guides in SA to be certified by the US-based Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. She says forest bathing isn’t about “strenuous bushwalking, identification or thinking”. Rather, “It’s an opportunity to engage our senses as we allow ourselves to just ‘be’ in nature.”
Bronwyn and her colleagues at Nature & Wellbeing Australia run guided forest-bathing sessions around Adelaide. They help participants “relax, slow down, become present and make contact with nature”, she says, through “invitations” to absorb its sights, sounds, smells and tastes. She cites benefits such as reduced stress, a boosted immune system and decreased blood pressure.
But you can also go forest bathing solo. Here are four spots for it around Adelaide. Tip: leave your phone in the car.
South Australia’s oldest national park – only 20-odd minutes from the CBD – is a perfect place for a forest bathe. It’s one of the few relatively undisturbed areas of native vegetation in the Adelaide Hills, which means native flora and fauna galore. Paynter says guided groups often see kangaroos, koalas and echidnas. Plus birdsong is ever present. “Notice the sound of the wind in the trees, the smell of the eucalypts and the sense of being away from it all – so close to the city,” she says.
It’s not impossible to connect with nature in the city. The Adelaide Park Lands hold the title of the largest inner-urban park system in Australia, and they’re packed with biodiversity and tranquil spots to unwind. “The bush regeneration area in the south-east corner (opposite St Andrew’s Hospital on South Terrace) has some enormous gum trees and accessible paths,” Paynter says. “Notice the height and girth of the ancient trees and consider what they’ve seen in their lives as the city has developed around them. Listen to the birds in the trees and notice how they find their voice among the sounds of the city.”
This three-and-a-half-hectare reserve, on the corner of Sturt and Marion Roads, is packed with native plants and animals, including 30 bird species. And it’s a significant place in Kaurna culture. “The park surrounds the last part of the Sturt River with natural banks, and the river is accessible to dip your toes in when it’s flowing (though, watch out for bees),” says Paynter. “Wide grassy areas provide a perfect place to lie on your back and gaze at the sunlight or the clouds through leaves.”
Unless you’re a frequent visitor, it’s hard to believe there are pockets at one the CBD’s most popular tourist attractions that’ll transport you far away from the city. The Australian forest section directly west from the Bicentennial Conservatory, for example, is laced with narrow paths and dense and towering trees, some of which date back to the garden’s original plantings more than 150 years ago. “It can be fun to sit inside one of the large conifers on the lawn areas that has branches that come down to ground level,” Bronwyn says. “The wisteria walk is a magical sensory experience when in flower in spring. The Moreton Bay fig trees, with their massive buttress roots, are just as fun to lean against or sit in as an adult, as they are for children.”