Welcome to our series of articles written by Magdalena Petryna, editor and mountain guide in the Beskids, promoter of local and conscious tourism, nature educator and blogger. Read on to learn various interesting eco-trivia about tourism from the region, and to get inspired to explore the green way. If you want to learn all about slow travelling, without as much as leaving a trace, about using literature and art to find your next destination, about the power of local things and about forest baths, you should definitely keep on reading and look out for further texts on www.visitmalopolska.pl.
Can you bathe in the woods?
And I am not asking about swimming in a stream or forest pond. The notion of “forest bathing” is becoming increasingly popular among nature aficionados. What is it all about?
The concept came to us from Japan, where shinrin-yoku (Japanese for "forest bathing") started to be practised and scientifically studied in the 1980s. Scientists have proven that going to the forest not only relaxes you, but also has a number of other benefits for your health. Spending time surrounded by plants slows the heart rate, reduces cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the blood, lowers the risk of type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, helps healthy sleep and boosts your immune system.
Over time, the idea of shinrin-yoku has spread around the world. Research continues in America and Europe, and forest healing is becoming an increasingly important part of taking care of our well-being. This is hardly surprising, seeing how our everyday life is dominated by busy urban life, work, news and information coming at us from everywhere, as well as constant rush. Nature seems to be the perfect remedy for that. It has been our natural environment for hundreds of thousands of years, which means it is the source of everything our bodies need, even if we are not aware of it.
What makes a forest bath different from a regular walk in the woods? During a forest bath you get immersed in the surrounding world, becoming mindful of everything that surrounds you. The forest is not a place where you talk with your loved ones, call your friends or work out. It is the goal in itself. You take it in with all your senses. You don’t just look at your surroundings. Instead, you also touch, listen, smell and taste as much as possible, depending on the season and time of year. While doing shinrin-yoku, you do not plan your route or set a destination. You do not even have to go far. What is important is to follow your observations and do what your body tells you to do.
That’s the theory. How can we do it in reality? I would recommend going for a forest bath with a guide, who will offer you some exercises that will help you turn on all your senses and focus on the here and now. However, this is not a requirement. You can also do it alone or with your loved ones. All you need is any green area. Ideally, you should be able to set aside an hour or even two for forest bathing. Before you start, turn off your phone – this is important! Then take a few deep breaths and think about how you feel. Do you feel any pain? Are you comfortable? Stressed out? Worried? – and then slowly start exploring the space around you. You can touch the rough bark of the nearest tree or the soft, springy moss. You can lie down under a tree, close your eyes and listen to the birds singing. You can stand under the fragrant pine trees and breathe in their distinct aroma for a few minutes. You can look for colourful flowering plants and follow their trail through the forest. You can look at the gentle movement of the leaves, rustled by the wind, and then try to mimic this movement with your body. You can find strawberries by the forest path and enjoy the flavour of sun-warmed fruit. The possibilities seem to be endless.
The most crucial thing to do is to do everything very carefully and pay attention to the little things. When your mind starts wandering off and focusing on your everyday life, your to-do list or the difficult situations at work, it helps to take a few deep breaths and focus on your surroundings. Focus on the multitude of shapes of the plants around you.
That’s all you need. After about 15 minutes you will notice a change in your mood. What is more, regular forest baths make you feel better every day. You feel peace, joy and childlike curiosity about the world. Your body gets stronger, and you will soon find that focusing gets easier as you go.
Do you want to try it? You can be close to nature even in a city park, but for the best results you should go to a beautiful forest. You don't have to look far – you will find the perfect spots for shinrin-yoku even near Kraków, in Niepołomice Forest. A vast forest complex that is both easy to get to and mostly flat, meaning you can stroll around without much effort. Most importantly, Niepołomice Forest is filled with charming nooks and crannies, old trees – many of them are natural monuments – and habitats of numerous plant and animal species. Go there to encounter majestic oaks, fragrant pines, mysterious wetland-loving alder trees, and deer, sometimes even elk strolling around. Listen up to hear the songs of many birds. This diversity and richness of the world of nature encourages people to go there, leave the hustle and bustle of everyday life far behind, and enjoy the beauty of the forest in a mindful way. In the past, Niepołomice Forest was particularly beloved by kings of Poland. Today, it is a wonderful place for all nature lovers and people seeking some respite from everyday life at any time of the year.
The time you spend in the wilderness is sure to be full of delights, especially if you experience it with all your senses, focusing on mindfulness.
The forests are always there, waiting for us with their treasures. All you have to do is go there, turn off your phone, take a few deep breaths and let yourself be carried away.
The “Green Tourism in Małopolska – sustainable tourism development in the region” project is carried out by the Partnership Fund as part of the EkoMałopolska Programme, financed by Małopolska Region.