What is Forest Therapy?
This is the question I had when a close friend and mentor of mine suggested that I sign up for a course to train as a Certified Forest Therapy Guide, run by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) this past January. "It seems to me that this would be a very good fit for you right now," she said.
After reviewing the website for approximately 10 minutes, I agreed and signed up.
After beginning the course on January 22nd, 2022 (four months ago), I started to gain a basic understanding of the objective and origin of Forest Therapy. This is summarized in the "Introduction for Participants," I wrote for the first assignment a few weeks into the course:
You may have heard of the term "forest bathing," which is a translation from the Japanese term, Shinrin-Yoku. This term originated in Japan when in the 1980's the government started to notice an increase in stress-related illness and suicide from "over-work." To combat this, investment, and research into health benefits from spending time in nature was accelerated. Scientific discoveries included the identification of chemicals produced by conifer trees, termed "phytoncides," which function not only to protect and heal the tree, but that also have statistically significant positive impacts on both human physical and mental health. The term "forest bathing," is therefore a literal reference to spending time "bathing" in the phytoncides produced by the forest - otherwise, described simply, as spending time in nature.
In practice of Forest Therapy, we are aware of the many associated health benefits of forest bathing. What we don't do as part of the practice, is quantify, or measure these. Also, helpful to know, is that we don't look at our time in nature as anything with a specific objective or outcome. We don't focus on any goals such as getting to a certain location in a certain time, as we might if we were hiking. Rather, time is spent connecting with one's senses, slowing down and noticing the More-Than-Human World (MTHW) around us, and incorporating this experience as further knowledge of ourselves and the natural world.
As a Registered Nurse by background and having worked in healthcare for over 15 years, the scientifically proven benefits of Forest Therapy are convincing. A meta-analysis of studies on the effects of forest bathing, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health concluded that,
A harmonizing effect of Nature, especially on physiological stress reactions, was found across all body systems.
Additionally, there are measurable mental health benefits, which I would imagine no one would argue are hugely beneficial these days.
Japanese researchers found that 20 minutes of Shinrin-Yoku (compared with 20 minutes in an urban setting) altered cerebral blood flow in a manner that indicated a state of relaxation. More specifically, the total hemoglobin (as found in red blood cells) was decreased in the area of the prefrontal cortex while in the forest setting. - Your Brain on Nature (2012)
What appeals to me about Forest Therapy is that both my mind and body feel good learning about, and participating in, the practice. Spending time in nature is something I have focused on for our family over the past four years, however, Forest Therapy is giving me additional, and specific tools, to connect with nature in a deeper, more beneficial way. As a fellow student in my cohort said, while debriefing a walk last week, "there is literally nothing bad about a