Part of my long and illustrious career as a journalist involves writing about Wellbeing. You know the sort of thing – ‘twenty five things to do with an avocado’, and ‘what your shower gel says about you’ type stuff. I’ve won awards for it, honestly.
While the deeply-cleansed world of wellbeing and the slightly more grubby universe of mountain biking rarely collide, this week my attention was caught by a press release about the joys of Forest Bathing, which, it turns out, is a bit like mountain biking, but without mountain bikes.
For Forest Bathing is all about spending time in a forest absorbing the health giving properties of the environment (the name is translated from the Japanese term ‘Shinrin-yoku’ – it is so popular in Japan that there are accredited forests dedicated to the activity). Devotees claim clearer intuition, increased flow of energy, a capacity to communicate with the land, deeper friendships and a sense of happiness. Concentrate hard and you may even see a vision of Chris Martin*. (*not really).
Unlike mountain biking, a forest bathing experience involves walking a short distance without exerting yourself (though some of you might like to note that even forest bathers don’t use an uplift service). You then simply sit and gaze at the trees, being aware of your senses and enjoying the peace. Spending time in the forest has been proven to reduce stress, anger, depression and sleeplessness. Pulse rates, blood pressure, and parasympathetic nervous activity levels all improve, as does the body’s immune function (due to breathing in phytoncides, organic compounds emitted from trees to protect them from rotting).
There is no kit, no wheel size or tyre debate, nor flats vs spds dilemma. No wonder its good for stress levels.
Now, I am all for encouraging people to enjoy the great outdoors (except for people who insist on doing so while smoking – they can stay indoors with the windows shut, frankly). But as a mountain biker, I don’t need research papers to tell me that spending time in the woods is good for me: I have hours of happy forest memories and a low resting heart rate as proof. We come from the forest (albeit via Stoke on Trent, in my case) – of course we are happiest there.
In fact I consider myself to be something of an advanced level forest bather already – Forest Free Diver has a nice ring to it – for I am a great advocate of splashing around up to my neck in the therapeutic tides of the forest, on a bicycle, with a great big grin on my face.
Admittedly some of my more extreme methods of communing with nature – inhaling the heady aroma of pine needles by landing in them face first following a conscious uncoupling with my bike, for instance – are best done infrequently. And I’m not really one to stop and stare: instead I want to be stuffed full of feel-good endorphins and fill my lungs with essential-oil infused air as a result of pedalling hard and challenging myself.
There is no doubt in my mind that the earth is where it is at. I remember a friend taking a tumble down a particularly loamy descent and, rather than getting up, she declared that she was going to stay on the ground, staring at the sky ‘because its really rather nice down here’. And no, she hadn’t banged her head. Communing with roots and rocks, being lost in the moment, hugging it out with a friendly tree: mountain biking never fails to cast its mood enhancing magic.
So, all things considered, I will continue to undergo my wildnerness therapy with full suspension and a dropper post.
By the way, there must also be post-ride cake: though in a nod to well being, it could perhaps be made of avocado.