Before the session, everyone filled in a private survey online about how they were feeling (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
Living in London for eight years, I’ve always appreciated the city’s grand Victorian parks having a functional beauty – open spaces with abundant trees, playgrounds and cafes to entertain my two young children.
But I’ve never considered urban parklands as somewhere to immerse myself in nature or switch off.
After all, a stroll in the local park isn’t quite the same as a hike through the wilderness. I’m usually haring after my scooting toddler, or cramming in a quick run – neither are my first choice for a little me-time.
So I was intrigued to discover a new community project, ParkBathe, on Instagram, that was teaching Londoners the Japanese wellness technique of forest bathing in Crystal Palace Park – the local park that I visit every week.
I’d assumed forest bathing was a new wellness trend, but it turns out that it was originally launched in the eighties by the Japanese government to encourage frazzled workers to spend time in ancient woodlands, in attempts to prevent burn-out.
Yet I was sceptical – I’m sure it’s possible to reap the stress-busting benefits of forest bathing in remote woodland. But could it be adapted for a busy park in Zone 3?
Still, I was curious. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone.
At my first ParkBathe session earlier this month (May 2022) there were around 12 others, some first-timers like me, and other seasoned ParkBathers who kept coming back for more. Described as an hour-long slow, guided walk through the park, sessions are free, with the option to donate.
ParkBathe takes place in the wooded area along the edge of Crystal Palace Park that was once part of the Great North Woods, one of the UK’s last remaining ancient forests.
I hadn’t even realised there was ancient woodland in the park, having always stuck to well-trodden public paths and lawns.
Before the session, everyone filled in a private survey online about how they were feeling.
My answers revealed how anxious I was; keyed-up with the nervy feeling I always get before starting any new, unknown activity.
So it was a relief to discover there wouldn’t be any small talk or phone usage once ParkBathe began – we were asked to walk in silence to truly appreciate our surroundings.
It was incredibly peaceful, yet it wasn’t an isolating experience (Picture: Getty)
ParkBathe founder, Vanessa Potter, explained we’d only be walking about 500m, so the glacial pace might feel frustrating at first.
And it was – at points it felt like we were barely moving. But after about five minutes of slow walking along a deserted woodland trail, I realised my heart rate had slowed. It also meant there really was no option for me but to look around, and not just fleetingly, to really see everything I was passing.
I found myself doing things I used to do as a child, like trying to identify different trees from their leaves. Something I wouldn’t ever think about on my usual trips …read more
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