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Forest bathing: an experience for body and mind

forest Baden

Out of the office, into the countryside. Away from the desk, towards the trees. Thoughts still rattle from the job to the household, from the bank account to the evening class. But with every step the sound of crunching gravel on the forest road displaces a bit more of the thoughts, with every breath there is ever deeper calm. Here a bird is chirping, there the leaves rustle, from the side the scent of sun-warm pine needles fills the nose. After a few minutes in the forest, you feel free and light. Esoteric humbug? But not, numerous studies prove the health-promoting effects of the forest.

The power of terpenes

This is where the deep breaths come into play, taking in the air exhaled from the trees. This includes the so-called terpenes, which have been proven to have a positive effect on people many times over. Terpenes are aromatic compounds that we know well, for example as the essential oils of leaves, needles and other parts of plants - that is what we smell as typical forest air when we are out and about in the forest. There are a number of studies that show that terpenes strengthen the body's defenses and reduce stress hormones.

The team led by scientist Qing Li from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo did particularly well in the field of forest research. The Japanese made one of the most groundbreaking findings on the health-promoting effects of forest landscapes in 2004. At that time, test subjects were quartered in a hotel. In one half, the air was enriched with terpenes unnoticed during the night. Every evening and in the morning, blood was taken from the participants and the day after the test subjects with terpene air actually showed a significantly higher number and activity of endogenous killer cells as well as an increased content of anti-cancer proteins. In other words: the immune system had increased significantly. The effect lasted for a few days after the study.

Holistic effect

This was one of the first modern studies on the subject, which was followed by many more by Qing Li and other scientists around the world - all of which came to the conclusion: Going into the forest is healthy. For example, it has been confirmed that the stress hormone cortisol (measured in saliva) is significantly reduced during a stay in the forest and that the effect here also lasts for days. Blood pressure and blood sugar levels are also lowered. However, it is not only the terpenes but also the natural sounds that have a positive effect: The presentation of natural sounds in a virtual forest environment was an essential factor in increasing parasympathetic nerve activity in a further test arrangement and thus contributed significantly to reducing physiological stress reactions (Annerstedt 2013).

A meta study by the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences from 2014 came to the result: Visiting forest landscapes can lead to an increase in positive emotions and reduce the extent of negative emotions. After spending time in the forest, people report that they feel less stressed, more relaxed and more energetic. At the same time, a reduction in negative emotions such as exhaustion, anger and dejection can be observed. In a nutshell: forest has a positive effect on body and mind, strengthens the immune system and takes us off the stress of everyday life.

Waldness from a professional hand

Basically, you can get this burn-out prophylaxis from nature at any time and free of charge by going for a walk in the forest. The concentration of terpenes is highest in summer, but the air is also laden with terpenes in wet and cold weather, after rain and fog. The deeper you go into the forest, the more intense the experience, the terpenes are particularly dense near the ground. Breathing exercises from yoga or Qi Gong are recommended so that you can switch off in your head. In Japan, a term for it, Shinrin Yoku, has even been established, translated: forest bathing.

In a wooded country like Austria, you really don't have to go far to enjoy a forest bath. If you want to be absolutely sure that the health effects really work, you can be instructed to do so. The offer in the Upper Austrian Almtal is the most professional. A few years ago, the forest's tourist potential was recognized here, in line with the "back to nature" trend that was already emerging at the time, and forestness was invented. Andreas Pangerl from the Waldness founding team: "We give our guests instructions on how they can best benefit from the healing power of the forest and thus open themselves spiritually to new perspectives". Head forester and forest guru Fritz Wolf conveys the broader connections in the ecosystem while he and the group collect forest fruits and later cook them. Forest Vyda, which is known as Celtic yoga, is all about body awareness and concentration, while forest bathing in a laybag between the pines is about total relaxation.

Asian combination

Angelika Gierer, on the other hand, takes her guests to the Vienna Woods or the Waldviertel, where she grew up. She is a qualified yoga trainer and calls her offer Shinrin Yoga, where she combines the “healing knowledge of Japanese forest bathing with the Indian tradition of breathing, sensory and consciousness development”. On her walks in the forest, however, you wait in vain for classic yoga exercises, but she places great value on breathing as the “key to happiness”. An essential element of her forest baths is going barefoot, Angelika: “Going barefoot is incredibly valuable. The foot reflex zones are stimulated and practically all organs of the body are massaged. By constantly wearing shoes, stunted nerve endings are awakened again. You can feel the roots, antioxidants are absorbed through the soles of your feet, you slow down. Yes, our consciousness comes automatically into the here and now when we walk barefoot ”.

Just give it a try

In the Styrian Zirbitzkogel-Grebenzen nature park, forest bathing is associated with the regional theme of "reading nature". Claudia Gruber, certified forest health trainer, accompanies the guests on forest bathing tours through the nature park: “We do certain exercises to calm down and to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. In addition, we also do walking meditations on the individual elements, earth, air, water and fire. It's about the inspiration of nature, what does it have to tell and teach us. ”There are physical exercises for this, Gruber talks about the essence of each element. “Earth, for example, is food and roots for trees, but it also gives people support. Air is about freedom, water is about rhythm, fire is about life energy ", Claudia tries in a short summary," We also do seated exercises where everyone looks for a nice spot and stays alone for 15 minutes. "

In the Gastein Valley, too, people rely on forest bathing. In cooperation with the "natural thinker" and tourism geomancer Sabine Schulz, a free brochure was developed and three special forest swimming areas with different stations were defined: the Angertal, the waterfall path from Bad Hofgastein and the Böcksteiner Höhenweg with start and finish near the Montan Museum in Bad Gastein . Beginners in forest swimming are recommended to take part in the guided tour, which is offered once a week.

TIPS FOR SWIMMING IN THE FOREST

Forestness (Almtal / Upper Austria): Four days of being in the woods in the Almtal and in the future you will not only see the forest with different eyes, you will also perceive it much more strongly with your other senses - at least promises Waldness inventor Pangerl. On the program: forest bathing and forest school with forester Fritz Wolf, mountain pine bath, forest kneippen, forest walk and forest vyda. traunsee-almtal.salzkammergut.at

Shinrin Yoga (Wienerwald and Waldviertel): There are regular Shinrin Yoga sessions with Angelika Gierer in the Viennese part of the Wienerwald (Tue evenings, Sundays) and in the Yspertal (quarterly), a forest bath can also be booked individually or in pairs. shinrinyoga.at

Forest bathing and nature reading (Zirbitzkogel-Grebenzen Nature Park): During Claudia Gruber's forest bathing tours, the trainer deepens the growing closeness to nature. There is a fixed date every month, the tour lasts four hours; Dates for groups of four people or more on request; Occasionally longer units such as a tour with an overnight stay in the forest.
natura.at

Forest wellness (Gasteinertal): Get (or download) the brochure and set off - or take part in one of the weekly forest bathing tours. gastein.com/aktiv/sommer/waldbaden

Mentally immersen: You can delve deeper into the topic of forest bathing in workshops, seminars or training courses lasting several days. Corresponding modules can be found in Austria at Angelika Gierer (Shinrin Yoga), Ulli Feller (waldwelt.at) or at Werner Buchberger in the Innviertel. For him, "forest bathing is an attitude towards life in which we can enjoy life in its originality and freedom again in nature, in the forest, in connection with trees and our surroundings." He differentiates between the first level of forest bathing, which is us is common when we find relaxation in the forest and the second level, where one begins to consciously connect with the forest, the trees, mother earth and the environment (waldbaden-heilenergie.at).

Immerse yourself physically - Take the time pressure out of the forest bathing completely - just stay overnight. You don't have to go out with a bivouac tent, it's much more convenient: book an overnight stay in the tree house! The best offers are in the east of the country.

Tree house lodge in Schrems (Waldviertel): Five tree houses are nestled between granite rocks, calm waters, beeches, oaks, pines and spruces. Chef Franz Steiner has created a place here - based on the New Zealand model - where you can feel the special spirit of the place. baumhaus-lodge.at

Ochys (Weinviertel): The Weinviertel is not exactly the classic destination for forest bathing, but Ochy's climbing park near Niederkreuzstetten is a woody oasis in the vineyard landscape with wonderful old oaks. During the day you can climb here, at night you can look out of the eco hut through the glass roof into the canopy of leaves. ochys.at

Ramenai (Bohemian Forest): Without a lot of Chi-Chi, the Hofbauer family built a hotel village in the typical Bohemian Forest shape. Nine huts are firmly anchored to the ground, the real hit is the tenth: a tree bed at dizzying heights, it basically dangles in the treetops. ramenai.at

Baumhotel Buchenberg (Waidhofen / Ybbs): The beech tree in the crown of which the tree hotel was placed is a hundred years old. Since there is only this one hut in the zoo, there are no other overnight guests. tierpark.at

All travel tips

Photo / Video: Shutterstock.

Written by Anita Ericson

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