Forest Therapy, also known as Shinrin-Yoku, refers to the practice of spending time in forested areas for the purpose of enhancing health, wellness, and happiness. The practice follows the general principle that it is beneficial to spend time bathing in the atmosphere of the forest. The Japanese words translate into English as “Forest Bathing,” or “taking in the forest with all of one’s senses.”
Despite many native cultures throughout the world embodying the practice for millenia, Nature and Forest Therapy is a relatively new formalized practice in the United States. Silvae Spiritus, with a certification from The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, bases its practice on Japan’s concept of Shinrin Yoku. The phrase Shinrin Yoku was coined in 1982 by the Japanese government in response to a national health epidemic: they noticed the rapidly declining health and rapidly increasing rate of suicide in their workforce, and focused resources on studying both the causes and possible solutions. Increased time indoors and in front of a computer was a significant factor in increased instances of auto-immune diseases, stress, sympathetic nerve responses (“fight, freeze, or flee”), depression, and cancer.
Enter Nature as an antidote.
Of course, it is difficult to replicate the forest in a lab, but the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries was able to gather significant evidence to illustrate the human body’s positive responses to immersion in nature. Japan then dedicated 22 sites nationwide for the sole purpose of forest bathing. In particular, scientists found that exposure to Phytoncides (a compound released by plants and trees to ward off pests) had been shown to increase levels of white blood cells (which help our bodies fight off illnesses and heal from injuries), increase our parasympathetic nerve response (“rest & digest”), decrease our cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and increase our variable heart-rate (a good sign we’re de-stressing and relaxing). They also found that the effects of time spent in nature “forest bathing” can last anywhere from two weeks to an entire month.
For more information about the science, including links to published studies, please visit The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs’ “The Science.”