“The planet does not need more successful people. But it desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities who have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
– David Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies
Most of the times, we talk, discuss and argue on environment and nature. While, environment pollution is still at a stake on one hand, on the other hand, the world community is slowly but continuously taking a step back towards nature. Many can be seen, retreating to nature, spending more time in the environment. This movement has different approaches and ‘Forest Therapy’ is one such. The world is starting to talk about it as an effective, evidence-based, natural medicine.
You may have noticed that just walking in a forest, or spending some hours around trees, ameliorates your mood and relaxes you up to certain extent. The reason for that phenomenon is that trees radiate good vibes that affect the human body as well as the soul. Therefore, connecting with nature has been identified as therapeutic.
This concept of ‘forest therapy’ has been originated in Japan, as the practice of practice of ‘Shinrin-yoku.’ It means ‘forest bath’ in direct translation, but the concept is not about bathing in a forest. It senses immersing or deeply connecting with the forest-nature.
“The intent is to put people in touch with present-moment experience in a very deep way. The sights, sounds and smells of the forest take us right into that moment, so our brains stop anticipating, recalling, ruminating and worrying.” says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, explaining what forest therapy is. This practice, indeed, is very similar to mindfulness. In both cases, the mind is trained to live in the present moment and it helps release much stress and return to mental equilibrium.
Though the initial practices of ‘forest-bathing’ were focused on the mind, recent scientific research studies have given the idea that trees have healing qualities too. Thus, it can have a positive impact on one’s physical health as well. The forests have the ability to affect the secretion of several hormones in the human body, such as the hormones accountable for stress and anxiety. Also, it is evidenced that ‘forest therapy’ boosts the healing process by improving the immune system. Synonymously, the therapy is believed to mitigate the risk of cardio-vascular diseases.
In many countries, the practice of ‘forest therapy’ or ‘eco-therapy’ is used in rehabilitation programmes too. Researchers in Finland have recommended a five-hour session of ‘forest therapy’ once a month, to revitalise depression, alcoholism and suicidal thoughts. The fire-fighters with post-traumatic stress disorder, in South Korea, are sent for a nature therapy programme, which has proved to be efficient. As a simplest form of forest therapy, it is advised to keep a green plant on the working desk, o the working area in order to reduce the work-related stress and sooth the mind.
How to practice
There are well-experienced, forest-therapy trainers who can guide you in this regard, but to start with you can follow some simple steps of forest-bathing, recommended by clinical psychologist Scott Bea.
Sit comfortably and notice your breath.
Notice anything that takes you away from the awareness of your breath — whether it’s a sound, a thought or a sensation.
If you do notice something else, see if you can notice that you got engaged with something other than your breath. Try to let that awareness move past you and ease your attention back to your breath.
However, this practice needs regular practice, if it is to succeed and provide with you with benefits, because the brain needs much effort to get adjusted to this system of living. It is difficult to get back on the track, when the practice is interrupted. Nonetheless, keep in mind that this practice does not have a set of benefits that the practitioners ‘should’ receive. It depends according to the person, and most importantly, it is worth remembering that this practice is a journey to find ‘you’.
By Induwara Athapattu