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What is forest therapy

I took the walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees. -- Henry David Thoreau

The strong importance of nature for the existence of humans is part of almost every human culture. People have been and still are dependent on nature, but they were also able to coexist with it to find “medicine” of many kinds, from real medicine and food, to physical and psychological shelter and spiritual development. Such a relationship was also reciprocal in the strict sense, since it included not only acquisition but also care and gratitude.

In today’s modern world, the relationship of humans and nature is strongly separated and objectified, built either on sourcing (resources or “just” resting or as a background for sporting activities), purely knowledge fascination or protection – but this relationship is almost always in a form of “us and nature “, ie human no longer sees himself as a fully equivalent part of it. We are separated from nature not only imaginatively, but also physically: while in 1800 only three percent of the world’s population lived in cities, by 2050 this figure would reach 68 percent according to the UN. At the same time, we still carry the evolutionary heritage of a strong dependence on natural medicine of all kinds.

This has its obvious consequences.

According to WHO statistics, 322 million people suffer from depression, of which 53 million in Europe (data for 2017), an increase of almost 19 % compared to 2005. Similar numbers apply, for example, to anxiety disorders. One of the factors related to mental illness is life in the urban environment.

Another big scarecrow of modern civilization is the stress that the WHO recently declared a new world epidemic. Stress-related chronic and civilization diseases affect hundreds of millions of people.

Thus, forest therapy is a way to use our historically strong link to nature to heal ourselves and the relationship between humans and nature.

In general, it is a way of spending time in the forest or nature that leads to better health, happiness and well-being through the use of different human senses to focus attention on the surrounding nature and significantly slow down. For this purpose we use various activities that will open this mutually beneficial connection with nature. It can be visual, acoustic, tactile, etc., and sometimes communication with beings and objects in the forest – the number of specific ways in which these connections are made are potentially infinite and we always adapt it to the current location, situation and participants in therapy.

To better describe forest therapy, I can also state what it is not. Certainly it is not a physical exercise – in about three hours we travel only a very short distance, usually a few hundred meters. Some “walks” can take place more or less in one place. It is therefore an activity suitable for people with reduced mobility, seniors, etc.

It is also not a meditation, although some forest therapy activities are similar to the mindfulness practice, and if you are used to using it in your life, it will be easer for you. However, this is not a prerequisite and you will receive many benefits from forest therapy without it.

It is important to emphasize that forest therapy is not even an esoteric stuff – it is a scientifically based method whose results are confirmed by independent research. It is founded on the Japanese method of the so-called forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku), which are the result of scientific projects of the Japanese government from the 1980s. The shift of their society to a knowledge-based economy and urban life led to an increase in civilization diseases, and one of the research intentions was to find out if re-exposure of humans to the natural environment could lead to their improved health.

The results were surprising – it was found, for example, that after a few hours in the forest, the levels of stress hormones in the test subjects drop significantly, the beneficial activity of the immune system increases, the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for stress reduction and relaxation) is activated etc. One of the reason is the fact that the human immune system responds to so-called phytoncides,  chemicals that are released to the air by most trees, shrubs, and some other plants. Phytoncides serve the trees as a means of defense and communication and, for certain evolutionary reasons, human body “understands” it too. Hence the meaning of “forest bath” in these beneficial particles (ie not necessarily in water).

Since then, Shinrin-joku has been the subject of further research and, for its health benefits, has become part of the public health system, especially in Asian countries.

More scientific data on forest therapy.

However, there are more of these useful mechanisms during forest therapy and the physiological level is only one of them. And this is related to another common question:

Why forest therapy with a guide?

Most people have found the benefit of spending time in nature and fortunately they go outdoor sometimes. In spite of benefiting from phytoncids, they usually do not in themselves carry out activities that would allow them to connect with nature much deeper and could do more for their health and happiness. Like yoga or meditation, forest therapy is a practice, not just a one-time event. And like any practice, it is possible to improve it gradually, which is useful to do with someone more experienced.

In forest therapy, it is not a coach or a teacher, but a guide, because the therapist is the forest himself. The guide opens the door for you by inviting you to slow down and perceive the present moment with all the senses (and there are not only five of them). Of course, you can use the elements of forest therapy in your everyday life and develop it yourself (and it’s very beneficial!). But if you want to continue to be more inspired, you can use the guide repeatedly, because each forest therapy is unique, even if the same place.

Any other questions? Ask me: