Japan’s shinrin-yoku is making waves in the Western World. How do we do forest bathing the American way? How effective is forest therapy?
Forest bathing, forest therapy, nature therapy, eco-therapy – this practice might come in different names, but it stresses out the same simple idea: surrounding, immersing one’s self in trees. In an article of Marjie L. Roddick, MA, NCC, LMHC, “Spiritual wellness is related to your values and beliefs that help you find meaning and purpose in your life. Spiritual wellness may come from activities such as volunteering, self-reflection, meditation, prayer, or spending time in nature.”
Origin Of Forest Therapy
Forest therapy or forest bathing originated from Japan where it’s known as Shinrin-yoku meaning “forest bath.” Japanese people’s favorite pastime is picnicking under the lovely cherry blossom trees, so the method isn’t a deviation to them.
Embraced by the Japanese government as part of the country’s public health program since 1982, individuals are encouraged to just take in nature as it is, gets lost in trees without hiking or counting steps. The ultimate goal here is to relax and do nothing, not to accomplish anything. It’s no surprise why country officials made this therapy standard preventive healthcare. After all, while a report divulged that the suicide numbers in the country declined last year, its suicide rates are still high – ranking sixth worldwide and second among the eight high-industrialized nations throughout the globe.
Japan indeed is in need of an efficient de-stressing method to address the stresses its citizens face daily from work and school. Because Christina L. Gmyr, LMHC, NCC once said, “Mental health issues can be caused by a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors, and can have a minor or major impact on a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors.”
The country’s scientists went as far as studying the medical benefits forest therapy / bathing practitioners get from the practice. Through their studies, they found that:
- Trees release a myriad of essential oils or phytoncide that forest bathers get to inhale. Doing so makes them gain the benefits brought about by these natural substances including a significant improvement in the functions of the immune system.
- Forest therapy also increased the NK (natural killer) cells of participants in a 2009 study. These cells are essential to cancer prevention and immune system strengthening.
- Forest therapy was proven to lower cortisol levels (cortisol being the body’s stress hormone), blood pressure, and eventually stress and pressure.
- In a study on the psychological effects of forest bathing, researchers found out that the practice has a significant positive impact on individuals’ mental health like depression and hostility reduction.
Forest Bathing For The Americans
Forest therapy is gaining traction in the Western World, America in particular, where people are overloaded with stress day in and out. But according to Dr. Carlene Taylor, LMHC, LPC, CPCS, NCC, “Exposure to nature enhances the ability to cope with and heal from stress and recover from injury or illness more quickly.”
It certainly holds an appeal to individuals who have handheld device separation issues but are worried that their smartphones are their number one source of stress and anxiety. As more and more Americans either believe they’re riddled with mental health issues or are diagnosed to have one, this natural therapy practice makes an ideal “natural drug” to prescribe.
Nature Therapy: My Personal Take
I tried forest bathing in a bid to find peace from the hectic busy-ness of my work and home life. The outing happened at a trail site in California where I met up with three other forest bathers and our guide.
Our phase wasn’t snail-paced slow, but it wasn’t purposeful either as one would when hiking and eager to get to a designated spot. Our guide encouraged us to take everything in, be mindful of every nuisance and glory in the forest’s colors as we went deeper into the trees. Talking wasn’t discouraged, but it also wasn’t encouraged, either. I was left on my own to ruminate.
The two-hour stretch in the forest did me well that first time. I didn’t come out from the trees with solutions to my problems, but the emerald beauty surrounding me did give me a fresh perspective the next week I reported for work.
When I asked the guide about how to do forest bathing in areas where there’s no forest nearby, this was his answer: “’ Forest’ isn’t a limiting word. Nature is everywhere, so if a forest isn’t around to do forest bathing, why not try other alternatives like the beach or anywhere where natural beauty is abundant?”
He, then, went on to talk about studies about nature-based therapies in general.
Indeed, forest therapy is more than just immersing one’s self in the trees and nature. It’s also about the participant’s willingness to plug out and get away from civilization and to just breathe in the world in its most natural form.