Becoming a Forest Therapy Guide (Part 2): Show Me the Science!
The benefits of moving slowly and being fully in the present in the woods were first researched by the Japanese. They noticed that when their country’s population began migrating in large numbers from the rural countryside into large cities that health issues became significantly more prevalent. Cancer rates when up along with hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stress. Their research into the underlying cause of these changes led to the establishment of Shinrin-yoku whish literally means “bring in the forest.” Research in Japan as well as other parts of Asia and Europe revealed that the benefits from the practice of slow, sensory-rich walking and sitting in the woods included improvements in the cardiovascular, respiratory, and immune systems.
I think of it this way. Up until very recently in the history of our species, we lived very close to nature. We evolved there. In terms of our understanding of how evolution works, it would make perfect sense for our bodies to utilize the world that constantly surrounded us to support our health. Research supports that. For example, breathing in organic compounds that plants and trees give off called phytoncides benefits humans. The plants send these compounds into the air to fight off parasites and disease. When people breath in these compounds there are positive physical benefits. For example, the number of a specific kind of white blood cells called NK cells increases. The NK cells search and destroy cells in the body that ‘aren’t quite right’ such as cancer or pre cancer cells.
In a sense part of our immune system is in the air of the forest and leaving the woods for the cities has left us more vulnerable to physical health problems.
However, the benefits of time in nature go beyond physical health and include emotional psychological and spiritual well-being. Time in nature, particularly the sensory rich practice of guided forest therapy walks, supports stress reduction, improves cognition, and increases creativity. On walks I lead, there is often a moment when the worry and care of every-day living drops away and people become totally present. They frequently comment on how long it has been since they were fully relaxed.
Below are some websites that provide more information on the benefits of “bringing in the forest.”
The Association of Forest and Therapy Guides and Programs has a science page with links to over 30 articles on the science of the benefits of forest bathing.
There are also interesting documentaries on YouTube.
For more on the Japanese research: Science of "forest bathing": fewer maladies, more well-being?
A doctor shares here experience Prescribing Nature for Health | Nooshin Razani | TEDxNashville
--or do your own internet searches to explore the topic.
Thanks for reading!