Feeling overwhelmed or a bit stressed lately? Good news! There is a new type of therapy (technically not new — it’s been used in Japan for years) sweeping the globe that provides free and all-natural stress relief. It’s called Forest Therapy.
Before you close this article, understand that this is a real, scientifically based and researched method that is gaining popularity in therapeutic circles. Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Japan’s leading scholar on forest medicine and director of the Center for Environment Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University, has been conducting physiological experiments to examine whether forests can make people feel at ease. He has concluded that what conventional wisdom knew all along was accurate. The forest, through its aromas, sounds of babbling brooks and creatures stirring, coupled with the feeling of sunshine through forest leaves, can have a soothing effect on the human body.
The Association of Nature and Forrest Therapy defines forest therapy as:
“…a research-based framework for supporting healing and wellness through immersion in forests and other natural environments. In Japan it is called shinrin yoku, which translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” Studies have demonstrated a wide array of health benefits, especially in the cardiovascular and immune systems, and for stabilizing and improving mood and cognition.”
Forest bathing provides natural stress relief
Japanese research shows there are physiological impacts of spending time in the woods. Research findings indicate that it does have measurable health benefits, such as:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy levels
- Improved sleep
How it works
Practicing shinrin yoku is very simple. You go to a forest or heavily wooded area and walk slowly and calmly. Breathe deeply. Allow your senses to become open and engaged. Pretty soon, you will begin to experience the calming, rejuvenating, and restorative benefits of bathing in the forest.
Now, I am sure to some this sounds like a tree-hugging, Eastern religious pseudoscience. However, there is a growing body of evidence that supports the theory that spending time in wooded areas really does have tangible effects on our bodies by boosting energy, combatting depression and anxiety, and providing natural stress relief.
And if you really think about it, research aside, it actually makes sense. Consider the surroundings of a peacefully wooded area. Crisp clean air fills your nostrils, providing your body with clean oxygen. While breathing in the fresh air, you are also getting a healthy dose of natural aroma therapy.
Aromatherapy is a type of alternative medicine that uses essential oils and other aromatic plant compounds aimed at improving a person’s mental state and mood. Medical News Today describes the science behind aromatherapy as:
“… the inhalation of essential oils stimulates the part of the brain connected to smell — the olfactory system; a signal is sent to the limbic system of the brain that controls emotions and retrieves learned memories. This causes chemicals to be released which make the person feel relaxed, calm, or even stimulated.”
The difference between forest bathing and other outdoor activities
Forest bathing is different from other activities people associate with the forest such as hiking, jogging, biking, or fishing in that it is a contemplative exercise rather than an active one. Other forest activities can actually raise stress levels, elevating your heart rate and blood pressure. This process slows down all of the body’s systems, allows the mind to relax, and purposefully engages all of the senses. With other activities, the woods merely serve as a backdrop and the main activities take center stage.
The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy is just one organization of many that is providing therapeutic services to individuals, groups, and organizations by arranging guided tours by trained and certified forest therapy guides. These services and tours are perfect for those interested in reaping the benefits of all-natural stress relief but are unsure how to get started.