Forest Therapy: An Ancient Ritual for Modern-Day Mindfulness
Today, human beings are more detached from nature than ever before. It is vital that we find ways to keep that connection alive in our modern world and Forest Therapy is one way of doing just that.
In the past few years, Forest Therapy has piqued the interest of many healthcare practitioners and nature lovers. It is admired for its health benefits and the ease with which it aids people in reconnecting with nature. The practice found its conception in Japan under a different name. Shinrin-Yoku, or “Forest Bathing” as it translates, has been prescribed to folks in Japan for several decades with the support of the government. Shinrin-Yoku was founded under the intuitive belief that spending time in nature is good for our health. Since its first appearance in the Japanese healthcare system, it has caught the attention of the world and has spread its roots to many other countries, undergoing much research to prove its benefits. Studies have shown that spending up to an hour in nature reduces the stress hormone cortisol, meaning participants of a forest therapy walk usually leave feeling a sense of improved health and a positive change in mood overall.
Forest Therapy Walks, as they are known in the States, support health, happiness, and well -being, through reconnection with nature. Walks are intended to promote wellness through a series of slow-paced sensory-awareness and mindfulness practices where guides invite participants to interact with nature in new ways. Forest Therapy is unique in that it can’t be characterized as “therapy” or “outdoor recreation” in any traditional sense. It is a practice of slowing down, unplugging and wandering through nature as a means to deepen connections, open and answer questions, and revitalize each individual’s life-force. Unlike a hike or outdoor adventure class, this is a practice in simply observing and does not require any naturalist training or outdoor experience. As one wanders, nature may provide the therapy they seek. The guide does not act as a therapist but is merely there to open the door to one’s connection with nature.
As the practice emerges in the United States, organizations such as the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy are working hard to inform people of this exciting new field of wellness. ANFT is training new guides each year, currently certifying hundreds of practitioners across the country and the world at large. Guides have incredibly varying occupations and experience; from nurses to farmers, artists to bushcrafters, folks from all age groups and all walks of life. Under ANFT’s guidelines, a full Forest Therapy Walk consists of several guided invitations; beginning by opening the senses, then moving through and interacting with nature in a mindful way, and ending with a light council, where participants reflect on their experiences as they enjoy freshly foraged tea. Each walk lasts two to three hours, and are led with the intent of being safe and as accessible as possible while maintaining the Leave No Trace principle.
If the sound of a walk interests you, the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy has a Guide Locator Map with a growing database of guides around the globe. Find a guide near you and learn more about the walks they provide. No matter what environment you are in, there is always something positive to be gained from spending a little time outside.
— Photos and Text: Mishka Viscardi. Mishka is an ANFT certified practitioner and founder of Ravyn Walks, a guided forest therapy service in Western Mass. A Smith College alumna with a degree in Sociology, she brings to the field her passion for nature, love of people, creativity, craftsmynship, and love of mentorship. When she isn’t guiding walks, she works as a Wilderness Skills Instructor and a Personal Care Attendant.