Spending time in nature provides a respite from the everyday pressures of life. Natural areas bring opportunities for a sense of perspective and peace. It is no surprise more and more people are looking to temporarily disconnect from their connected worlds. The practice of forest bathing is gaining momentum as a means to de-stress and rejuvenate. Forest bathing started in Japan in the 1980s where it is known as “shinrin-yoku.”
“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
—John Muir, Our National Parks
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing is simply being in nature. Shinrin-yoku translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere.” Consider it mindfulness of nature–a chance to take in a natural area with all your senses.
What are the benefits?
In the early 2000s, the Japanese spent millions of dollars researching the psychological and physiological benefits of shinrin-yoku. Subsequent research from other countries affirmed the value nature has on one’s well-being. Forest bathing’s benefits are similar to practicing meditation. They include:
- Improved Mood
- Reduction of Stress
- Increased Energy
- Increased Mental Focus
- Improved Sleep
- Decreased Blood Pressure
- Deeper and Clearer Intuition
Then Comes The Phytoncides…
Trees, as well as some plants, emit essential oils into the air as a protection from germs and insects. These organic compounds also serve as protection for us. Phytoncides support our natural killer (NK) cells which boosts the immune system function to help fight cancer and viral-infected cells.
Implications for Recreation Therapists
If you have natural areas near your facility, it is worth giving this activity a try. This is especially true if you work in a residential setting where clients do not have a chance to get out much. Clients experiencing the same rooms, hallways, and artificial lighting daily could be starving for such an activity.
Before You Run Out to Forest Bathe….
Here are a couple things to consider for preparation and safety:
- Find a safe and accessible area for your clients.
- Get a good idea of the trails and paths. Getting lost in the wilderness certainly wouldn’t do much for stress levels.
- Depending on the season, pack bug spray and sunscreen.
- Be sure to pack water and snacks just in case.
- Be aware of your clients’ allergies related to being in natural areas.
- If you have a population that loves to explore, have a basic knowledge of poison ivy and other locally dangerous plants.
- If it is a time of year when ticks and other pests are present, take preventative measures. Perform a tick check after your forest bathing session if necessary.
- Consider purchasing a field guide to teach your participants about different trees and plants.
- If you are not comfortable with the area, consider finding a ranger or guide that could help. There are also certified Certified Forest Therapy Guides spread throughout the country.
- Don’t forget to check the weather on the day of your trip.
Once your preparations are complete, go out and enjoy nature. Unlike hiking, this isn’t about walking a certain distance or getting to a destination. Connect to nature with all your senses. Bask in the joy of being surrounded by the natural world. Have your participants unplug from any screens or devices. If you feel it is prudent, unplug from your own devices. Plan to spend at least a half-hour forest bathing. Don’t be bound by a strict time frame, though, let the experience flow. Making this a routine activity greatly increases its effectiveness.
What if there are no accessible forests nearby?
Japanese research has shown even a short walk at a park could help decrease cortisol levels–a hormone released during stress. Parks generally are easier to navigate than forests, so if your clients have mobility issues, this is a viable option.
If your clients are unable to get out of the facility, give them opportunities to see and hear nature scenes. Even this brings some of the benefits of forest bathing. Find ways to incorporate nature into your groups and activities.
Consider running a meditation with guided imagery. If you read the last couple posts, you probably noticed my affinity for visualizations. This is an important technique. If one wants to change their outside circumstances, it makes sense to first change what’s going on inside. For instance, if clients struggle with anxiety, leading a forest guided meditation could help soothe their nerves and reset their thought patterns. Lead the group in some relaxing breathing exercises. Then have them imagine walking in a forest. Let them imagine it with all their senses.
Self-Care for the Therapist
Consider forest bathing as a self-care technique. Find a natural area near you. After a long work week, let the forest help restore and rejuvenate you. Appreciating the personal effects of forest bathing will make you a better leader for this activity.
Tell The Real Recreation Therapist:
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How do you incorporate nature into your programming?
Do you have any experiences with forest bathing?
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