What exactly is forest therapy?
Forest therapy is a gentle, mindful experience in nature, where you are skilfully guided through a series of sensory invitations enabling you to connect, in the present moment, with yourself and your natural surroundings. Inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku (which translates to ‘forest bathing’), it’s a powerful way to relax and unwind - and it’s known to have far-reaching benefits for health and wellbeing.
It’s the opposite of our increasingly urban, busy, stressful and digitally connected lives. With forest therapy, you slow right down and become totally immersed in nature, allowing your sense of curiosity, awe and wonder to re-ignite, while your brain and nervous system calms and restores. The natural surroundings support this effortless relaxation.
So, what are the benefits?
There’s loads of scientific evidence to show that spending time in nature can improve mood, mental performance and creativity; and reduce anxiety, depression and blood pressure. Forest therapy is established as a preventative health care intervention, assisting with both your physical and mental wellbeing.
And we’re continually discovering other health benefits, too. The trees themselves give off phytoncides, which are similar to essential oils. There is growing research to suggest these natural chemicals help to reduce inflammation and boost the immune system.
But the most immediate benefit of forest therapy is a sense of calm. People come away feeling relaxed, uplifted, revived and with a greater degree of clarity. Some describe the connection with the forest, themselves, the group and the guide, as a profound experience, and it can help unlock feelings and emotions.
Why the hype?
Forest therapy is becoming increasingly popular across the world. I think with more people than ever before living in urban areas, and with technology almost running people’s lives, they’re realising the benefits of experiencing nature regularly and how important it is to give ourselves permission to pause, to get away from screens, pollution, noise and the demands of everyday life. And as more people train to become forest therapy guides, it’s easier to find a guided experience near you.
Will everyone enjoy it?
It’s suitable for anyone and everyone should try it. But a bit like yoga, it is a practice – the more frequently you’re able to experience it, the more deeply you develop that connection with nature and gain its reciprocal benefits.
You don’t have to be physically fit, because it’s not a long hike. You might walk a kilometre in two or three hours on a guided experience. As an individual you can join a public session, but it’s also great for groups of work teams, friends, colleagues, students or rehabilitation groups.
Any tips for beginners?
If you have the opportunity to take a 30-minute lunch break, find a local, natural spot you can sit in, that’s easily accessible, safe and one that your body enjoys. Take yourself there as often as you can, with no agenda, and experience the natural setting in all the seasons. If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed – after a challenging meeting, perhaps – take 10 minutes outside with a warming drink and take not of the pace of nature. Look near and far, wherever your curiosity takes you, and listen to your thoughts. By inviting your body and mind to pause in this way, you’ll help reset your day moving forwards. By making a daily nature experience as regular as our morning coffee ritual, it’ll go a long way to bolstering our overall resilience and wellness.
For more information, visit NaturalEdgeCoaching.co.uk.