Nature therapy

In the age of digital distraction and fast paced living, connecting to nature is more important than ever. 

The problem with urban living

Most of you reading this will live in a town, city or even a megacity – like London or Tokyo.

Although urban centres increase job opportunities and centralise communities, they also disconnect us from nature.
We humans have evolved over 5 million years in the great outdoors. So it should be no wonder that spending time in artificial environments is bad for our health.
Studies have linked urban living with increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression, reducing our quality of life. The era of social media and digital distraction has also increased our time spent indoors. This reduces our exposure to natural light and fresh air – important factors for stimulating a healthy sleep cycle.
Over time, high levels of stress combined with low-quality sleep wreak havoc on our body, which weakens our immune system. This makes us vulnerable to illnesses like cancer or cardiovascular disease.

History of nature therapy

Humans have long recognised the benefits of nature throughout history.
Cyprus the Great created gardens in the middle of Persia 2500 years ago to induce calm and relaxation in the city. Over in America, Frederick Law Olmsted designed New York’s famous Central Park in the 1800s and called for the protection of Yosemite Valley. He stated “the occasional contemplation of natural scenes” … “is favourable to the health and vigour of men”.
Roger S. Ulrich, was the first to quantify the positive benefits of nature in 1979 with a scientific experimentHe made the famous discovery that post-surgery patients facing a view of nature recovered faster and needed fewer pain killers than patients facing a brick wall.

Discovering forest bathing

Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, arose in Japan during the 1980s. It was originally a government initiative to combat growing levels of stress and depression.

In 1990, Japanese Professor Miyazaki Yoshifumi began exploring the physiological benefits of forest bathing. His first study involved analysing 12 students both before and after walking through urban and forest environments. He found that the men’s cortisol levels, pulse rates, and blood pressure were significantly lower after walking in the forest compared to walking in an urban environment. These findings sparked a variety of studies around the world on the effects of forest bathing and other forms of nature therapy.
Another long-term study in Tokyo found lower rates of senior citizen mortality in neighbourhoods with plenty of walkable green spaceIn 2009, Dutch researchers discovered that people living near green spaces had lower cases of heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

Prescribing nature as medicine

Forest bathing has now been part of a preventative health care programme in Japan for four decadesIn 2018, Dr. Qing Li (president of the Japanese Society of Forest therapy) published his book Shinrin-Yoku – The Art and Science of Forest Bathing. This book brought together a decade of his research on forest bathing benefits. After publishing in 18 languages, it has introduced forest medicine to the world. 
The growing scientific support for forest bathing prompted the creation of The Forest Bathing Institution in the UK. Its goal is to make forest bathing a prescriptive form of preventative medicine across Europe. Other nature therapy retreats have also started to spring up around the world.

How to start your own forest bathing practice

To gain the full benefits of forest bathing, it’s important to understand that it’s not just about walking through the woods. It’s also about being mindful and fully present in a natural environment. To start your own Forest Bathing practice, here are some guidelines, taken from Qing Li’s book:

  1. Find a forest or natural setting that is easy to walk along. You want to be able to wander calmly and aimlessly.
  2. Leave your phone, camera and other digital devices behind. You need to be fully present to get the full benefits of forest bathing.
  3. Walk slowly and aimlessly. Forest bathing is about the journey and not a specific destination. Just wander and enjoy the natural settings around you.
  4. Use all your senses. Touch the trees or remove your shoes to feel the earth beneath your feet. What colours can you see? What does the air smell like? What sounds can you hear?
So if you want to reset, reduce stress and improve your overall wellbeing, go get lost in the forest… Doctors’ orders.

Authors note: One of my happiest memories is picking wild blueberries in the Black Forest of Southern Germany. It’s a simple memory, but I have always felt more at home in nature, whether it’s walking through a forest, hiking mountains, or watching birds eat fruit from my compost bin. My preference for nature over the big city life has always mystified me until I learnt about the Japanese concept of Shinrin-Yoku or Forest Bathing.

2 thoughts on “Nature therapy”

  1. I was very happy to find this website. I want to to thank you for ones time due to this fantastic read!! I definitely loved every part of it and i also have you book-marked to check out new stuff on your site.

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I am glad you enjoyed reading my article 🙂

      Do you have any other subjects you would like me to write about?

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