Life has been tough on a lot of us lately and as always we try to see the positives in our lives. But when we no longer can force a smile on our face, we hit rock bottom.
Well, I definitely hit rock bottom. As I slowly watched my whole life fall apart I looked for ways to cope with it. I got lost. On purpose. In the forest.
And it healed me. It gave me air to breathe, I felt less trapped, I felt supported… by the forest.
Forest bathing stems from Japan, there they call it shinrin-yoku. In the ’80s a lot of research was done on the effects of forest bathing. This is the mindful practice of taking in the forest through all the senses. We don’t need science to know that being in nature is beneficial but isn’t it wonderful that ‘forest medicine’ has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones. It even elevates immune cells that destroy tumours and virus-infected cells.
The effects on mental health are also significant, including boosting empathy levels, relieving anxiety and depression, improving concentration, problem-solving and increasing creativity. Isn’t this absolutely amazing!?
The Japanese are so impressed by the results that Forest Therapy is integrated into their national health care system and up to a quarter of the population participate in shinrin-yoku every year.
We can no longer deny it. Connecting to nature is powerful medicine. ‘The forest has your back’ is the proverb often used within forest bathing. Trees are the therapists and to me, it absolutely feels like this. Whenever I arrive in a forest, it feels like a warm blanket is being wrapped around me. I feel safe and supported. Relief.
The practise of forest bathing is basically spending slow time in nature. Being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply. Really taking everything in with all the senses, giving yourself the opportunity to slow down. Sometimes it can include some walking but never very far. 1,5km would be the absolute maximum. A normal guided session with a Forest therapy guide takes about 3 hours. In Japan, they start a session by measuring the blood rate and the stress hormones in the saliva. After the session, they do this again to clearly see the difference.
But how come forests have this effect on us? Some speculate that the fractal shapes of nature are more soothing than those of our built environments. Some research also suggests that volatile compounds called phytoncides emitted by trees may play a key role in the health effects on forest bathers.
And then there’s another element of forest bathing that busy modern folk benefit from immensely: slowness. Forcing oneself to focus on our surroundings and be mindfully still is the perfect antidote to our hurried, distracted day-to-day lives. Just like deep breathing, it calms our overstimulated nervous systems.
It simply makes sense. It’s really not that surprising that going back to the roots of where we come from brings us relief and healing. The forest is our safe haven, where we come home.
If you would like to give it a try in a guided session, you’re more than welcome to join me on one of my forest bathing sessions.
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