How Forest Bathing Helps Save Forests

The Forests

Forests are being depleted at an alarming rate every day.  In my state home state of Vermont where I host forest bathing walks, 1,500 acres of forest are being loss every year [1].  This is a very disconcerting trend.  And it’s not just happening in Vermont.  New England is losing nearly 24,000 acres a year and the global acreage loss is staggering.  An estimated 18 million acres of forest, which is roughly the size of the country of Panama, are lost each year [2].  What on earth do we do about this!?

Speaking The Language of Conservation

At this rate just in New England, we need to triple our conservation efforts.  Land trusts such as the Nature Conservancy are hard at work.  You can join as a member, donate, volunteer or even work for these organizations.  I’ll tell you how in a future blog.  In the meantime, you can also help by Forest Bathing. To understand how this works, let’s learn some conservation lingo.

Our well-being depends on the benefits that nature provides us at no financial cost, everyday and everywhere. We depend on ecosystems such as forests and coral reefs for clean water, fertile soils for fuel, storm protection, minerals and flood control [3].  These generous “free” services that nature provides us are what’s called “Ecosystem Services”. 

When we define and appreciate the true value of earth’s Ecosystem Services, we can make a stronger case to conserve nature.  By practicing and hosting Forest Bathing walks in your area you are increasing the value of the forests.  The Ecosystem service that nature provides us while we practice Forest Bathing is called the Cultural Service.  Below are the 4 categories and how Forest Bathing helps appreciate the value of nature.

How Forest Bathing Helps

 

1. Recreation & Mental & Physical Health

forest-bathing-by-creek-vermontWalking and recreating in nature is essential to good health.  Activities such as Forest Bathing let’s you relax and de-stress.  The importance of having access to green spaces to maintain mental and physical health is just now being widely recognized.  By participating in Forest Bathing you are emphasizing nature’s important role in supporting our wellbeing.  With this added value, conservationists can make the case to policy makers that it is worth saving.

2. Tourism

Nature plays an important role for many kinds of tourism which provides significant economic benefits and is a vital source of income for many places.  For example in Vermont with its unique natural landscape, the tourism industry is the leading economic industry.  In Japan where forest bathing originated, there are 62 designated therapeutic woods, attracting about 5 million visitors annually.

By hosting and participating in Forest Bathing, you are contributing to the land’s value. When the majesty of the land is appreciated with our hearts, it will inevitably attract others who would travel far for the same special experience.  Here the value of nature can be measured by the economic benefits that tourism provides.   

3. Spiritual Experience & Sense of Place 

All throughout the world there are awe-inspiring natural features that are considered to have a religious meaning or sacredness.  Nature is a common element in traditional, indigenous knowledge and of all major religions.  Customs, rituals, and community gatherings are important to having a sense of belonging and a sense of place. 

By practicing Forest Bathing you have the opportunity to commune with the earth and understand that we are not separate from each other and that we are a part of nature.  You join others to experience and find your sacred places amongst the trees.  By participating in Forest Bathing, you emphasize and elevate the true non-monetary value of nature’s cultural services.

4. Aesthetic Appreciation & Inspiration for Culture, Art & Design

Linguistic, cultural and artistic knowledge while being inspired by our natural environment has been our story throughout human history [4]. Nature has been the source of inspiration for our great artists, communities and scientific minds.  Think Henry David Thoreau, Leonardo Davinci and biomimicry designs. 

When you practice Forest Bathing, you are immersing yourself and studying with your senses the beauty, infinite complexity and functional designs of nature.  By giving ourselves the time to observe nature and let our minds be inspired, we are adding value to nature’s Cultural Services.  This may be hard to measure but it is nonetheless an important offering nature gives us and must be valued and protected.

Saving the Forests

Saving the forests and the natural environment involves a multi layered approach with everyone doing their part.  Through the very act of Forest Bathing, you are helping save the forests.  So unplug, de-stress and rest assure that your calming forest experience is also a vitally important act of conservation.

 

Click on the image below for a chance to win Your Guide to Forest Bathing!

your-guide-to-forest-bathing

The Forest Bathing Phenomenon

The Rise 

There is something truly inspiring and hopeful happening right now that I want to tell you about. A worldwide grass-roots movement is underway that is bringing the healing power of nature to the forefront of our modern wellness modalities. Leading the way is Shinrin-yoku or otherwise known as “Forest Bathing” and its meteoric rise in popularity is phenomenal.  Can Forest Bathing save the world?

The Birth Of Shinrin-yoku

Japan Forest BathingTranslated as “Forest Bathing”, Shinrin-yoku was created in Japan as a organized wellness activity in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.  The simple and elegant practice is essentially taking slow walks in the forest to get in touch with nature through the five senses. The health benefits are real and profound. 

The Cultural Leap

Shinrin-yoku’s first leap across cultures was to Korea where it was readily adopted and given the name, salim yok. It wasn’t until about 30 years later that countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany began to take notice of Shinrin-yoku.  Steeped in the countries’ own complicated relationship between its people and the natural world, you might be wondering how a practice from the other side of the world has taken such hold at the time it has.

Why Now?

  • The supportive scientific research that we can get behind.  
  • Global warming and our grief.  The practice offers solace and a proactive means to connect to the beauty of the earth and address our disconnection. 
  • Our willingness to try self-care to heal from life’s maladies in the modern technological age. 

How It’s Catching On

Scientific journals continued publishing results from researchers. Media outlets from The Washington Post to the Atlantic continued to spread awareness. Interestingly, the language of science could speak to pragmatic minds about the benefits of nature.  Nature Connection Books mixing science and storytelling started reaching the hearts and minds of people everywhere such Braiding Sweetgrass and the Hidden Life of Trees

Irony of Internet: The thing that keeps us indoors has been essential to spreading Forest Bathing, the thing that brings us outside. Click To Tweet

Nature Connectors Among Us

Forest Bathing Guides Map

Interactive map of Forest Therapy Guides around the world.

Astute leaders in nature connection in the U.S recognized the potential of Shinrin-yoku. Wellness and mental health professionals such as ones in Ecotherapy, Wilderness Therapy and Horticultural therapy readily adopted the tenants of Shinrin-yoku and offered new and invigorated care to those in need.   What developed in United States became known as “Forest Therapy” or more widely as “Forest Bathing”. 

Way of The Guides

There are currently Forest Therapy guides trained in 23 countries on 6 continents and there will be close to 450 certified guides by May 2019 by California based Association of Nature and Forest Therapy.   I am proud to say I am one of these guides practicing in the beautiful state of Vermont.

With each guide around the world from South Africa to Ireland giving walks in their communities, the practice of Forest Bathing will continue to grow exponentially.  And this is just one training organization amongst many.  The cultural embrace of shirin-yoku is adding fodder to the growing lexicon of nature connection practices across the world.

Institutional Embrace

International Forest Day

Right now in the U.S. and beyond, government and institutional organizations are beginning to formally recognize the importance of how nature can care for the community’s wellbeing. Case in point: The United Nations has proclaimed International Day of Forests to be March 21st.  Here’s another: The Park Prescription program or Park Rx which is “A community of practitioners advancing the use of parks and public lands to improve health and wellness among individuals and communities”.   In Vermont there are doctors who prescribe park passes for their patients to experience nature to support their health.

This comes at a time when precious lands are threatened by lack of policy, funding and protections from Federal government. Forest Bathing has huge potential.  It justifies the preservation of our land. It is an effective treatment and preventative measure to combat the onset of psychological and physiological conditions.  It is just beginning to be realized and widely utilized.

Hope

The movement of folding our traditions of nature connection into modern wellness practices is underway.   Our planet is grateful.  We are hopeful.  The phenomenon is comforting: As we continue to recognize the health benefits that nature provides, we will inevitably want to preserve and conserve the very entity that has been so giving to us.  Adaption of new and different ideas has always been the way traditions are renewed and maintained.  As we adapt our age old traditions of nature connection and shinrin-yoku into the modern mainstream way of life, we will continue our evolution to live in nature in a more harmonious and sustainable way.  Join this movement.  If you’ve read this piece it’s likely you already have.  For that, I thank you. 

10 Words From Different Languages that Perfectly Describe Nature

New Orleans, Marti Gras

1.  Shinrin-Yoku

(n) Japanese word directly translated as “forest bathing”. A visit to the forest for relaxation.

2.  Friluftsliv

(n.) Translated as “open-air living”, this Swedish word describes the ancient Nordic philosophy of outdoor life.

3.  Waldeinsamkeit

(n.) German for a feeling of forest solitude, being alone in the woods and a connectedness to nature.

4.  Komorebi

(n.) Japanese for describing the phenomena when sunlight filters through the trees and the interplay between the light and the leaves.

5.  Mångata

(n.) This Swedish word is used to describe the light the moon casts on the water that looks like a road.

6.  Biophilia

(n.) A love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life forms.  This English word was made popular by American biologist, E. O. Wilson describing the connections that humans subconsciously seek with the rest of life.

7.  Dadirri

(n.) An Aboriginal Australian word describing contemplation, deep inner listening and quiet awareness of creation that allows you to be at peace with yourself and come to a deeper understanding of the beauty of nature.

8.  Meriggiare

(n.) A perfect word from the Italians.  Best translated as a means “to escape the heat of the midday sun by resting in the shade.”

9.  Madrugada

(n.) Spanish for the moment at dawn when night greets day.

10.  Aloha aina

(n.) A lovely Hawaiian word to express one’s love of the land.