Forest therapy is a practice that involves spending time in nature, amongst the trees – using all of your senses to soak up the therapeutic atmosphere of the forest. Inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku (which translates to ‘forest bathing’), it’s a powerful way to relax and unwind and leaves you feeling refreshed and restored. Here’s what you need to know about it…
Understanding is key
Forest therapy is more about melatonin and less about adrenaline. It is more about calm and less about competition. It is more about natural wonder and less about manmade structures. It is more about noticing the weather and less about moaning about it. It is more about mental gain and less about weight loss. It is more about slow healing and less about quick fixes.
It's proven to help
There’s good reason why forest therapy has been gaining attention recently – and numerous scientific studies have supported its benefits. Researchers at the University of Essex studied people exercising outdoors and found just five minutes of physicality in a green space lifted spirits and self-confidence while physicians at the University of Exeter Medical School studied the health data of 10,000 people who lived in cities and found those living near a green space reported less mental distress.
It has similar benefits to aromatherapy
There is a significant overlap between forest therapy and aromatherapy. Both are sensory experiences that bring relief from anxiety and depression, improve quality of life and reduce pain. Both can help you sleep better, brighten your mood and give you an energy boost. Get double the benefits by dabbing an essential oil on the back of your wrists, elbows and knees and getting outside. We love the Forest Therapy oil from Aromatherapy Associates that transports us to a forest no matter where we are.
It encourages you to be more mindful
This isn’t just about being aware of the natural environment you’re in, but also of the energy around you, your senses and the peaceful surroundings. We walk, we observe, we breathe in the green scene. Most of us spend our days indoors, glued to screens and hunched in chairs. Being in touch with nature pushes us to change that, at least for a few minutes a day – to see, smell, touch, hear and taste, if it’s safe, and view the world with awe and wonder, probably how we did as a child. If we switch off our phones and look up to the sky, we become mindful of the world, not just our tiny, stressed, manmade corner of it. This mindfulness restores focus, energy and creativity and increases our sensory awareness, empathy and gratitude.
Everyone can benefit from it
Forest therapy is universal and endless in its benefits. Reconnecting with nature reduces blood pressure, improves sleep, strengthens the immune system, calms the nervous system and relaxes an overworked brain. Nature is a quick worker and efficient soother. Just ten mindful minutes outdoors a day can decrease the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which helps us to calm down, and boosts our vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin which helps us sleep better - and serotonin, the happiness hormone.
Even city-dwellers can practice it
It’s not just about taking a walk in the woods. It’s a practice, not a one-time event. Even if you live in a city, you can make time for a ‘green prescription’. Try taking your workout outdoors to your local park, meet friends for walks in gardens or along tree-lines streets and arrange a picnic instead of sitting in a dingy pub. And always put your phone away. Observe your surroundings and avoid the urge to document it online. If you can’t be present amongst nature itself, look at photos of nature instead. It is said to have a similar effect – so change your laptop and phone’s screensaver to a picture of your favourite beauty spot.
TRY IT YOURSELF
Here are five ways that Sarah Ivens, author of Forest Therapy – Seasonal Ways to Embrace Nature for a Happier You, suggests you get up close and personal to nature.
1. Look down at your feet for small creatures, not at your Insta feed.
2. Lose the shoes and gain perspective. Let your bare feet feel the grass or sand – even leaves and mud feel nice if you’re careful.
3. Be as quiet as you can. Then you’re more likely to be approached by friendly animals or ignored and allowed to observe them.
4. If you can’t quieten your mind, distract yourself by focusing on your breathing. Counting slow, deep, rhythmic breaths should keep your mind away from niggles until you relax into your solitude.
5. Enjoy it. There are worse things you could be doing than having quality you-time while observing the changing seasons in a place of beauty.
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