One of the best things about living where I do, is being able to enjoy walking in the densely forested mountain of Medvednica, which proudly looks over the city of Zagreb. Medvednica means “bear mountain” in Croatian. Aptly named as large numbers of bears once roamed here. Of course, adding to the allure of the enchanting forest which blankets Medvednica are tales of witches who once upon a time met under the emerald canopy of the beech trees. Today Medvednica is a place that city folk go to for forest walks, and to rejuvenate their senses.
I say rejuvenate their senses because I was recently introduced to the term forest bathing. This is when a person goes into nature and mindfully takes in the forest’s atmosphere. Once you are among the trees you begin by paying attention to your surroundings: listen to the birds and the wind rustling the leaves, see the different shades of green and notice how the sun rays break through the tree tops, feel how the leaves crunch under your feet, touch the bark of the trees, notice the scent of the forest and breathe in the fresh clean air.
This form of therapy serves as a highly beneficial and preventative measure for ill health. It was developed in Japan in the 1980’s when it became apparent that urban indoor living was on the rise. The benefits of forest bathing include breathing in phytoncides, a compound given off by trees which helps to ward off infection and cancer and lower inflammation. Other benefits of taking a stroll in nature are lowered cortisol levels which decreases stress, increased creativity and mental wellbeing and lowered depression levels.
Shortly after arriving in Zagreb I decided to join a group of friendly people from the International Women’s Club of Zagreb on their walks to ‘Sljeme’, the main peak as its affectionately known by the locals.
The forest of Medvednica is rich in varying shades of green, especially in the summer and early autumn months. Green is a calming colour and I became conscious of the soothing effect it had on my eyes and the need to take in a few deep breathes of invigorating energy around me. After a steep climb along winding wooded staircases, we arrived at a natural spring. Here we drank the coldest mountain water, free from chlorine and other urbanised contaminants. The sun peeked through the lace of green above us, casting cylinders of light down the trunks of these giant-like trees. The girth of some of these trees are wide enough to wrap a family of four, hand in hand, around each of them, testament to their age and environmental contribution over the years. The ground underfoot was moist and sometimes slippery in places from the forest’s precipitation, which mosses and ferns abundantly thrive on.
Medvednica has an established sense of peace and tranquillity with a youthful crispness in its air. Now I know why when I join the Zagreb ladies for a forest walk, I have more energy afterwards and I sleep better that night. Next time you find yourself in nature, try forest bathing.