Many people enjoy spending time in nature. But did you know that time among the trees is therapeutic? Forest therapy is a growing practice that promises benefits for your mind and your body.
It can help you relax and refuel — and give you a break from the devices, worries and stress that can dominate your daily life.
Forest therapy is rooted in the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, which is often translated as “forest bathing.” But it’s not a literal bath; the term refers simply to immersing yourself in the atmosphere of the forest.
Forest therapy is more than just a meander through the woods, though. Trained forest therapy guides help participants engage in activities that help them experience the natural environment with all their senses.
“The intent is to put people in touch with present-moment experience in a very deep way,” says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “The sights, sounds and smells of the forest take us right into that moment, so our brains stop anticipating, recalling, ruminating and worrying.”
If you think that sounds like mindfulness, you’re right.
“Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment with intention, without judging,” Dr. Bea says. “Forest therapy involves noticing and sensing things rather than judging or evaluating.”
Common sense says that taking in the sights and sounds of the forest can help you relax. But it’s not just our brains that get a boost. There’s evidence that forest therapy is good for our bodies, too.
One study showed that forest therapy reduces cortisol, a stress hormone. Another study found that forest therapy had a positive impact on blood pressure and adiponectin, a protein that helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Although the focus of forest therapy isn’t on physical exercise, regular practice can help you lead a less sedentary lifestyle, too.
Although the occasional forest therapy outing may help you unwind for a few hours, you need to engage in forest therapy regularly to really reap the benefits.
“It’s like taking a piano lesson,” Dr. Bea says. “If you never play the piano after that, the lesson doesn’t make much difference.”
He suggests finding ways to make mindfulness a part of your daily life, even if you can’t practice forest therapy every day.
“You can take the forest therapy experience and then form a brief five-minute practice every day,” he says.
Try the following practice:
“The reason we practice this is that if we find ourselves lost in thought or worry or regret at some other time, we can more easily re-center ourselves,” Dr. Bea says. “It takes a lot of practice. Our brains have been worrying and ruminating and overthinking for many years.”
Dr. Bea says forest therapy is a great way to get started with mindfulness, but it’s not enough by itself.
“You have to make mindfulness a part of your daily existence across a long period,” he says.
Take the time to breathe deeply and turn your focus inward. If you can, get yourself outside among the trees. Leave your screens, your deadlines and your worries behind. It’s worth it — even if you can only spare a few minutes.