What is Forest Therapy
Many of us rarely spend our time in nature. If we do, it often isn't just to be in nature. Rather, the natural setting is secondary to another activity, like hiking or socializing. Forest Therapy is a therapeutic practice that teaches how to be present and connected to nature. It is derived from the Japanese practice "Shinrin Yoku, which translates to "forest bathing" or "taking in the forest atmosphere."
Forest therapy can increase mindfulness skills, which allow individuals to connect with the present and live in the moment without judgment or evaluation. It teaches us how to bring ourselves into the present moment without worry or stress.
It encourages individuals to notice and sense the things around them, allowing them to feel a part of nature rather than separate from it. We are part of the same ecosystem, we are from the same cells; forest therapy can deepen our relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with mother nature. This sensory-oriented practice supports human, as well as nature well-being and health.
What are the Benefits of Forest Therapy
Learning how to be mindful within a forest setting can allow us to reap the benefits that nature has to offer. Participants in forest therapy usually feel more relaxed and have a sense of greater clarity.
It has also been shown to lower the levels of the long-term stress hormone cortisol. Long-term stress and chronic elevations of cortisol can wreak havoc on the body; it has a role in high blood pressure, heart disease, headaches, anxiety, depression, fatigue, weight gain, and many other ailments.
Other studies also show that even just being in nature can have a positive effect on immunity, boost attention, a better quality of sleep, and improve overall health and well-being.
Tip #1: Find a Guide
A guide is an essential part of the Forest Therapy process. Sometimes it can be hard to tune into your senses and practice mindfulness on your own; a guide can help you on your journey. They also already know the best spots and trails, so you do not have to go out looking. They can help organize group walks, which will allow you to reflect and share your experiences with others and create a sense of community and connection with the people around you.
If you have any questions about the process or want to learn more about the practice, it is nice to have an expert there with you.
Tip #2: The Perfect Place
If you choose not to find a guide, or there may not be one in your area, you can still have a forest bathing experience. The first step is to find the perfect place to go. Forest Therapy can be done in any natural environment, a wooded area, or a beach. Ideally, one that has a diversity of sounds, sights, and smells. This could mean choosing a place with lots of trees, a vast meadow with a stream running through for example. You just want a multitude of ways for the environment to interact with your 5 senses. Natural waterways are also ideal.
Your perfect place must have minimal human intrusions. This means away from traffic, construction, or crowded walking trails. You want somewhere where the soundscape is as close to 100% natural sounds as possible. Having places to stop and sit is an integral part of the experience, so find a location with areas where you can rest in solitude with nature.
To start, you should probably pick a place that is close to your home. This makes it easier to return as often as you'd like.
Tip #3: Follow These Guidelines
1. Don't view it as an activity.
The forest is not just the setting for this activity but a tool or a partner helping you on your journey. Work with the nature around you to get the most out of your experience there.
2. Do not overthink it
Focus on your senses and feelings. Keep your expectations at bay, and do not force those expectations into existence. There is nothing to be achieved per se. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling and experience what you experience.
3. It is not about the distance
A walk should ideally be 2-4 hours, which is just enough time for your body to relax and slow down. This doesn't mean you have to walk far, half a mile or less. You can take it slow and wander aimlessly or stop and go as you wish.
4. This is not a workout
Forest therapy is not a physically demanding activity. It is not a hike or a climb, but a space for you to play in meditative feelings. If you feel like you are working out, pause for a moment, breath, and try to achieve inner stillness.
5. Do not bring technology
Leave behind any distraction from the present. This means cameras, phones, and anything else that will pull you out of the moment. Practice your ability to unplug and just enjoy the nature around you.
6. Do not try to create experiences
A part of being mindful is bringing yourself to the present. Reading the studies or hearing the experiences of others can influence your expectations of the process. Try and leave those goals and expectations behind. Everyone's experience is different. Let yourself be open to any feelings, emotions, and experiences that you may encounter along the way.
7. Move slowly
Allow yourself to notice the environment around you instead of rushing right past it. Nature is rarely entirely still, so match your inner motion to the motion surrounding you. This will help you connect with the environment around you rather than passing it by
8. Sit Spot
Find a place to sit for 15-20 minutes. This will give you time to really notice the things around you. Cultivate awareness for yourself and your surroundings. Try your best to stay still and find inner stillness. You may find the behaviour of the birds or other little creatures of the forest will interact with you differently.
Tip #4: Tune In
To experience forest therapy fully, you can't just show up in a natural setting. You must be able to tune in to the environment, your body, and your senses.
Learn how to notice the environment around you and deepen your awareness of where you are. Pause and notice a leaf blowing in the wind. Walk closer and inspect it if you wish. Speak out loud what you are seeing and what you are feeling. Do what you can to increase the connection between you and the place you are in.
Tune in to your body and your movements. Feel how you are standing or walking and how you interact with the nature around you. Notice the path beneath your feet and the muscles, tendons, and bones that allow you to walk on it.
And lastly, engage with your five senses. Allow them to connect with the natural setting. Focus on each individual sense: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Closing your eyes may help you focus on the senses, like sounds and smells, that you may not have noticed before. When you breathe in, do you taste anything? Blend the sound of your breath with the sounds of the forest. This will help you reduce the separation between you and nature.
Looking for a Forest Therapy guide? Call Dan Klco at Nomina to see how he can help.