To renew and refresh this connection, there are numerous Nature Therapies that have been created to help recreate our bonds with nature. Of all the nature therapies, Forest Bathing (also referred to as Forest Therapy) is becoming a world-wide phenomenon. This article will give some background into Forest Therapy and give you some idea as to what exactly happens during a Forest Therapy. The many well-researched benefits of participating in Forest Bathing with a trained Forest Therapy Guide will be explored, and specific steps to help you find a Forest Therapy Guide will be outlined.
What is Forest Therapy?
Forest Therapy (also called Forest Bathing) is a nature therapy practice that originated in Japan. In Japanese the practice is called “Shinrin-Yoku”…The Japanese word Shinrin translates to “forest” and Yoku means “bath” or “often.” Forest Therapy was first developed in the 1980’s in Asia, primarily in Japan. In many cases Shinrin-Yoku is translated as “taking in the forest atmosphere.” Many Forest Bathing guides explain forest therapy as “the practice of spending quality time in a forest environment and “bathing” all of our senses in natural surroundings in an attempt to connect with nature.” The popularity of Forest Bathing has spread from a full on “sensory stimulating” walk and has now become a critical tool used in the Japanese medical practice with the hopeful outcome of preventative health care. Much research has been conducted, mostly in Japan and Korea, about the physical and mental health benefits of Forest Bathing, As a result of the documented health benefits of shinrin-yoku, Forest Therapy has become a world-wide phenomenon. Next let’s find out what exactly happens during a Forest Therapy session, and what are some of the major research findings as to the benefits of this Nature Therapy.
What Happens During a Forest Therapy Walk?
During a Forest Therapy walk, a certified Forest Therapy guide takes groups out into a forest, usually for about two to three hours. It is important to experience Forest Bathing with a certified Forest Therapy Guide. While there are certainly benefits to just going on a hike in a park or in a forest by yourself, experiencing Forest Therapy with a certified Forest Therapy Guide is a much deeper, much richer and profound experience, and what we recommend strongly experiencing Forest Bathing with a trained and certified Forest Therapy Guide might be compared to the difference in experience and learning that would take place between taking a cooking class with a chef in a kitchen and preparing a meal with real ingredients, or just watching a cooking show on television.
During Forest Therapy/Bathing, the certified Forest Therapy Guides will facilitate numerous activities to increase your mindfulness of the natural world around you, and connect you to your surroundings through your senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. These activities could involve exploring the natural world around you, meditation, focusing on breathing and being present. While certified Forest Therapy Guides to take groups out into the forest and walk, Forest Therapy is not considered a physical exercise like hiking or running. The purpose of Forest Therapy is to reconnect with nature through all of our senses, and while there are numerous physical benefits, the primary of a Forest Therapy is not to lose weight or get in shape.. The main purpose of Forest Therapy is to allow participants to slow down and reconnect with the nature around them. A Forest Bathing session is conducted at a slow, almost meditative pace, to allow participants the time to relax and open their senses.
What are the Health Benefits?
Going for a walk and being surrounded by nature has always been known to have a soothing effect. It is one thing to know this intuitively, but over the last several decades, many research studies have been conducted that definitively prove the benefits that come from reconnecting with nature through Forest Therapy. To allay any doubts that the outcomes of any one finding was an isolated phenomenon, there was a recent meta study of 143 studies conducted on the benefits of Forest Therapy. The total number of participants in these 143 studies was almost 300 million. That is an enormous sample size. While most of the research has been conducted in Japan and Korea, the participants from these studies came from 20 different countries. The many benefits of Forest Therapy that have been documented include the impact of Forest Therapy on the hormone cortisol, sometimes called the hormone of negative expectations, which has proven to be a critical survival tool for humans. When we are stressed or feel threatened, cortisol is secreted into our bodies. This in turn can start to prepare our bodies for fight or flight. Our heart rate and breathing increase, our capillaries shrink, to minimize bleeding should there be an injury. Digestion shuts down so blood supplies can be moved to areas that may be needed. Cortisol has helped keep humans alive for millenia. Once the threat is past, our ancestors cortisol level would shortly return to normal. Unfortunately, in modern society, where we are constantly on the move, over-scheduled and constantly meeting deadlines, we often don’t have the luxury of relaxing and having our levels go back to normal. We are often left in that high-alert state with elevated cortisol levels for long periods of time. Forest Therapy has been shown, through empirical research, to reduce walkers level of this stress hormone and bring them back to a normal secretion cortisol. A normal level is extremely important in an effort to reduce ones high blood pressure and consequently the potential for a stroke or heart attack. There is also a connection between chronic stress and exacerbated symptoms of asthma, diabetes and even arthritis.
The ability for Forest Bathing to mitigate the deleterious effects of stress is one major finding of the research that has been conducted. Another major finding is the connection between trees and their ability to support NK (natural killer) cells in humans. These cells are one of our bodies natural defenses against cancer. According to research, many trees secrete compounds, known as phytoncides, that actually increase the number of natural killer (NK) cells in our bodies. A Phytoncide is a substance emmitted by plants & trees and generally means the aroma of the forest. “Phyton” means “plant” in Latin, and “cide” means to exterminate. Phytoncides are produced to help plants & trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs – essentially they are aromatic oils that possess antibacterial properties. In one study conducted in Japan, 12 individuals spent a total of four hours in the forest over the course of two days. When the individuals were tested at the end of experiment the majority were shown to have experienced a 50% increase in natural killer cells.This is an incredible discovery.
In addition to these two major findings regarding the positive outcomes derived from engaging in Forest Therapy walks (the ability to decrease the stress hormone cortisol and the increase in natural killer (NK) cells) there are numerous other documented benefits of natural therapies, specifically, Forest Bathing. For example, Forest Bathing has been reported by participants to:
- Increase their ability to focus (even with participants with ADHD – Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder)
- Improve overall mood
- Promote better sleep (especially deep sleep)
- increase level of energy
- Enhance feeling of happiness
How Do I Find a Guide?
The best place to find a wide range of guides and walks all over the world is by visiting www.forestbathingfinder.com and www.forestherapyfinder.com. What is Forest Bathing Finder? ForestBathingFinder.com (FBF) is the only online full-service resource created to help users find Forest Bathing walks globally. FBF is a portal that allows Forest Bathing guides to create profile pages, list their walks and accept registrations / payments. In addition, FBF allows venues to list their forest bathing activities and direct users to their own website for registration. The website forestbathingfinder.com is a treasure trove of information and resources to help you learn about Forest Therapy, and to help you receive the enormous benefits that come from experiencing nature with a trained guide.
Nature therapies are a way to provoke humans to reconnect with the outdoors and its overwhelming beauty and multitude of benefits. We all need to reconnect with nature to balance out our stressed, driven and sometimes isolated lives. There are innumerable mental and physical health benefits to be derived from nature therapies. One of the most well-documented and well-researched nature therapies is Forest Bathing. We want to encourage you to go out and get into nature. If you decide to explore nature through a Forest Bathing session, we strongly recommend going with a trained, certified Forest Therapy guide. We recommend you look at forestbathingfinder.com to find a guide or a walk. Most importantly, have fun on your journey as you reconnect with your nature roots. When you do, you will find a connection that will fill all of your senses with a deep feeling of peace and calm, and will increase your desire and ability to be present and in the moment!