Written by our Vice President, Margaret Stepniewski, originally published in our Spring 2020 edition of
True Natural Health.
According to the World Health Organisation, stress is the health epidemic of the 21st century and is responsible for many forms of chronic illnesses. In the 1980s, Japan recognised the physiological and psychological dangers of stress and depression and sought out a new, affordable and effective way to combat it. This was the beginning of “Shinrin-yoku”, roughly translated as ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest immersion’.
Here in Australia, personal wellness coach, Susan Joachim, has embraced Forest Therapy with her team at ‘In My Nature’. She offers guided walks through natural environments in and around Melbourne and Sydney, including the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Blue Mountains. Susan says that “Shinrin-yoku is a simple and effective practice that anyone can do to reconnect with nature for healing and wellbeing. Forest therapy is very different to visiting a national park or going on a bushwalk. It is about immersing yourself in nature. You consciously choose to slow down and soak it all in. Noticing the sounds, smells, sights, textures and even the taste of the air allows you to slow down, relax and re-energise”.
The guided walks through the trees are suitable for all ages and physical abilities. The pace is gentle, the intention mindful. “If you really listen to nature, it can transmit enormous vital energy,” she says. Within a short time, you will experience just a few of the medically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku:
• Boosted immune system
• Reduced blood pressure
• Improved mood with reduced stress and cortisol levels
• Enhanced energy levels, mood and ability to focus
• Improved sleep
• Decrease in anxiety and depression
• Increased ability to lose weight naturally
Opening our senses to nature also develops our intuition. We learn to connect in new ways to the world around us, increasing our energy flow and our overall sense of happiness. During these coronavirus restrictions, Susan has been actively training Forest Therapy guides in different areas to encourage more people to benefit from this simple pleasure. ‘In My Nature’ is an Accredited Training Provider.
The International Nature and Forest Therapy Alliance (INFTA) says “Forest Therapy is a research-based medical practice of guided immersion in forests with the aim of promoting mental and physical health, while relaxing and enjoying the forest. Now recognised and widely practised as a public health initiative, Forest Therapy is gaining acknowledgement globally as evidence based, cost-effective and natural medicine”.
INFTA is engaged actively in research projects with a variety of partners. One of the currently ongoing projects is the collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. INFTA and the Institute of Forests Therapy have begun to collect health data from participants of the regular guided Forest Therapy walks. A first research report will be released soon. However, one of the key findings is that the stress levels reported by participants before and after each guided Forest Therapy event dropped significantly by about 20 percent! This underscores the remarkable health
effect that guided Forest Therapy walks have on all of us.
INFTA also certifies and accredits training providers and Forest Therapy guides. The relevant national and international references on forest and nature therapy, Shinrin-Yoku, the effects of phytoncides, biophilia and green space as well as related topics can be found here
In 2004, researchers in Japan found that being in the forest has beneficial effects on blood pressure, heart rate and the immune system. They also found that people who just looked at a forest view for 20 minutes had a 13 percent drop in the level of the stress hormone, cortisol. Dr Qing Li, an associate professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, says the benefits of Shinrin-Yoku have been researched for nearly 40 years. This also led to the establishment of forest medicine, a science that focuses on the effects of the natural environment on human health.
“We found that study participants who practised Shinrin-Yoku for three days had significantly increased levels of natural killer-cell activity in the body,” says Li. “These cells are responsible for fighting diseases, including cancer.”
2021 update: The NHSA and INFTA are partnering to bring you the benefits of Forest Therapy in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The session is currently scheduled for August 13. Tickets are available on our website here