Forest Bathing...in the Bathroom?
When I first heard ‘forest bathing’ being touted as the next big thing, I pictured an open-air bubble bath surrounded by lush greenery in the middle of nowhere. ‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘not another woo-woo wellness trend.’
Little did I know that ‘forest bathing’, or shinrin yoku, doesn’t actually involve bathing at all. It simply means being in a forest, specifically for therapeutic reasons. In Japan, where the concept has been around since the 80s, forest bathing involves visiting a forest in order to slow down, connect with nature, and be more mindful. By focusing on what’s immediately around you using your senses, you can de-stress, and potentially even start to heal physical ailments - or so the theory goes.
And today, that theory is starting to be backed up by science. Research is showing that being in forests lowers blood pressure, cortisol levels and improves your mental state, with effects lasting for hours afterward. And it’s not just because forests are quiet, either; trees actually emit chemicals called phytoncides that have been shown to have specific health benefits in humans, like supporting the immune system. The benefits of forest bathing are clear, and even better, only two hours of exposure per week is enough to reap the rewards.
But what does all this have to do with your home? Well, bear with me.
How to take inspiration from forest bathing
One of the main theories about why shinrin yoku works is known as biophilia: an innate affinity for nature that all humans possess. The idea is that biophilia is biological, and that we’re pre-programmed to exist in the natural landscape - to the point that it even benefits our health to be in them (which, when you think about evolution, makes complete sense).
But biophilia is not something we can’t benefit from just because we live in an apartment in the city. As the recent plant trend (or, explosion) shows us we’re craving a connection with nature. Crucially, it also shows that it’s entirely possible to get one in our own homes without spending much money.
But forest bathing goes further than a few houseplants. The experience of being in a forest is multi-sensory: the smell of earth and dried leaves, the sound of twigs snapping beneath your feet. While you can’t transplant a real grove of trees into your house (though you are welcome to try), you can use specific design elements to create a calmer, more biophilic home.
The most obvious component to forest bathing is vegetation - and it’s a great time to get started with indoor plants. The ‘plant lady’ phenomenon has truly taken off, and you’ll find many books and articles to help you get started. However, rather than go for trendy sub-tropicals and succulents, consider plants that have a bit more of a forest vibe, like:
Boston ferns like warm, humid places - so the bathroom is ideal for growing these feathery fronds.
This is rated the 1# air cleaning plant by NASA, so not only will it remind you of the woods - it’s also good for you. Ivy is a great choice for anyone short on floor space, as it’s at its best trailing down from a hanging pot.
Not many people in the UK think to grow moss on purpose. But in other parts of the world, growing moss is a full-blown hobby. Mosses work really well in terrariums, pots, and even in picture frames. For some serious inspiration, check out ArtisanMoss.
If plants aren’t really your thing, the next option is surrounding yourself with deep forest greens.
Blue and green are consistently voted our most popular favourite colours. Both have been shown to have calming properties, too. Perhaps that’s because they remind our primal brains of two resources that we need to survive: water and plants. So, if you can’t keep an indoor garden or simply don’t want to, simply using forest-inspired colours in your interior could give you some of the benefits of biophilia.
After leaves and plants, the next most dominant quality of a forest is the structure that keeps it all together. So, when choosing flooring, furniture or accessories for your home, go for materials that evoke the bark of a tree, or the rocks on the forest floor.
We all have wooden furniture somewhere in our homes, but reclaimed wood has that raw, naturalistic look that more ‘polished’ pieces can’t match. This kitchen (in an Airstream, no less) combines a wood countertop with planting and gold accents:
Note: Ensure you know the where the wood has been reclaimed from before you use - wood can harbour lots of bacteria!
A significant chunk of the world’s forests are bamboo forests, and today, it’s getting easier to find items for your home made from it. The fact that bamboo grows so quickly also makes it more sustainable than other materials.
If you have large windows, French doors, or a conservatory, then there’s no better way to create a sense of lush greenery than...to plant lush greenery!
Take this shot from MyGardeningStories. The ferns and overhanging plants frame the view from these windows - a technique that could easily be re-created in any home with even a little outdoor space. If your back doors enter onto a balcony, deck or patio, you can copy this photo here and use potted plants; if you’re entertaining or simply want to change things up, you’ll be able to move them around easily.
Last but not least: pictures. What better way to remind yourself of the woods than to have images of them on display? Whether you prefer paintings, photography or sculptures, there’s plenty of forest-inspired artwork out there. If you want the full experience, you could even get a forest wall mural to literally bring the outdoors in. After all, it’s the next best thing to being there.
Suggested read: https://www.apa.org/monitor/apr01/greengood
By Amy Murnan