What is forest therapy?
The terms forest bathing and forest therapy are often used interchangeably, although one could argue that forest bathing is a specific form of forest therapy. “Forest Bathing” is translated directly from the term Shinrin-yoku, which was coined in the early 1980s in Japan. It is a practice where people are guided in a quiet, mindful nature experience where they are asked to sequentially focus on the various senses. In mindfulness practices, one is taught to notice and witness experiences without attachment or emotion, however in forest bathing we encourage the sensations of awe and wonder as they arise.
How does forest therapy work?
Research is consistently showing that nearly all parameters of mental health are improved by spending time in nature. Studies are finding that doing an activity of your choice, even in small blocks of time, and even in nature that is close to home can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. In fact, studies seem to be landing on 120 minutes per week (which is about 17-20 minutes per day) as a sweet spot for the minimum amount of time that humans “need” to be in nature.
What is a forest therapy walk?
How do forests help mental health?
Over the past few years, health providers and health organisations have increasingly adopted the recommendation that people strive to achieve 150 minutes of physical activity per week, and that those 150 minutes can be achieved in 30-minute increments, 10-minute increments, however you can fit it into your day.
Specific studies have shown:
- Twenty minutes in nature engaging in a chosen activity reduces salivary stress hormones, alpha-amylase and cortisol, by over 20 percent in study participants (Hunter et al, 2019).
- A 90-minute nature walk was associated with decreased rumination [that negative cycle of stress and worry (my definition!)] based on self-reported questionnaires and neuroimaging of subgenual prefrontal cortex (a region that is active during sadness, behavioral withdrawal and depression) (Bratman et al, 2015).
- A review of data from 28 papers found forest bathing to have a significant role in promoting human physiology and mental health (Wen et al, 2019).
My hope is that we will soon adopt a similar prescription for nature: Get outdoors for twenty minutes a day, in any way you can. It’s the best kept mental health prescription. . . and it’s free of charge and comes with absolutely no drug interactions or side effects.
How else can you practice mindfulness in the outdoors?
There are all kinds of ways to experience mindfulness outdoors. Any time you slow down, breathe deeply, and allow yourself to focus on the sensory experience, you’re doing it. My book, “The Outdoor Adventurer’s Guide to Forest Bathing” is full of “invitations” or ways to mindfully explore nature. For the book, I chose the angle of combining various forms of outdoor adventure with the practice of forest therapy (hiking, paddling, trail running, mountain biking, climbing, cross country skiing).
That said, the biggest challenge we often see is that while people want to get outside, they often don’t know where to start, where to go, or how to plan. With AllTrails, outdoor-lovers can find the location and trail best suited for them, so they can focus on the healing benefits of nature, and not stress about getting lost, or trying out forest therapy for the first time.