Humans love their crazes! Since our creativity and imagination know no limits, there are always food, dance, fashion and health crazes popping up every day. No matter where you look in the news, there is a new ‘craze’ happening.
Here’s where I draw the line. I draw the line at reading about the newest health craze called Forest Therapy. Forest Therapy isn’t one of those crazes and, calling it such, makes me, well, a bit crazy. You see, I’m a certified Forest Therapy Guide and I believe Forest Therapy is here to stay.
Let’s define a craze. A craze is a “short-lived” trend, or “a wild or exaggerated enthusiasm for”. A craze is deep-fried watermelon and lava lamps; it’s push-pops and ring pops; it’s boy bands, revealing your bra-color-of-the-day and swallowing goldfish; it’s pet rocks and hula hoops … well, maybe not hula hoops. They seem to be here to stay, too. Dashboard hula girls, then … now that was a craze.
Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy, although identified by some as the latest health craze, is, in fact, not a craze at all.
When it comes to Forest Bathing, Forest Therapy, or Shinrin Yoku, nothing summed it up more than a recent article I read stating that Forest Therapy is “spurring an evolution in the understanding of links between personal, communal, and ecological wellbeing*.”
I can understand why some might call it a craze. It seems to have sprung up from nowhere. From that perspective, it’s hardly recognizable from deep-fried watermelon. Suddenly, everyone is talking about it, like an actor, who’s spent the last 25 years building his or her career, only to be called ‘an overnight success.’ Uh, no.
Knowing more about Forest Therapy helps to dispel the myth of ‘a craze’ or ‘overnight’ anything.
From Shinrin-Yoku.org, Shinrin-Yoku is a term that means "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing." It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Now their research is helping to establish Shinrin-Yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.
John Muir wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” John Muir, born 1838, died 1924. Muir is one of many people who we must include when we think about the origins of the practice of Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy. I wonder what he’d think of us now, if he thought we were tired and nerve-shaken in the early 1900’s?
So, that establishes some history. What about the research being done to support the benefits of Forest Therapy?
While we know intuitively that we feel better when we are outside and around nature, in the past several decades, many scientific studies are corroborating this knowing we have about being in nature by studying the healing effects of wild and natural areas. For example, certain trees share their immune systems with us by emitting phytoncides, their essential oils. When you smell pine, for example, you’re receiving the benefits of those phytoncides. Phytoncides support our “NK” or natural killer cells; the cells that are key components of our immune systems and a way that our bodies fight cancer. Show me a craze that can do that.
And the list of benefits goes on. From the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs,
spending time in nature can:
Here’s what I’ve noticed as a certified Forest Therapy Guide:
· We are constantly seeking a deeper connection and community. Even though our technology connects us in ways we’ve never been connected before, I often hear people say that something is missing in their lives.
· We’re stressed; we’re in overwhelm; technology gives us the ability to take in more information about what’s going on in the world; that includes the good things as well as the disturbing things.
· Many long to connect with nature and are hesitant, even fearful, about taking a walk in the woods alone. I hear expressions of gratitude all the time for my Forest Therapy walks or even one-on-one coaching in nature.
· We often shut down our senses to move through the day with one outcome or goal in mind, our list of things to do. Opening our senses on a Forest Therapy walk reminds us to stay open to the journey even if we’ve got a ‘to do’ list.
· Slowing down and noticing what’s in motion when it isn’t us can create an awareness and appreciation of how much we miss when we are moving so quickly through our lives. Noticing all the worlds within worlds in the forest helps us notice worlds within worlds in our daily lives, too.
· Making Nature personal again; Nature was once very personal. In the words of philosopher Alan Watts:
"You didn't come into this world.
You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.
You are not a stranger here."
As a Forest Therapy Guide, my purpose is to make Nature personal again. When something is personal, we care more about it; we protect it. The only way Forest Therapy might be considered a craze is if we lose our forests, national parks and other natural resources; if we forget that we belong to each other and we let them slip away into extinction. The only way Forest Therapy will be called a craze is if there are no more forests in which to walk or national parks to learn about Earth’s history or wonder at the majesty of mountains or endless rivers flowing to a distant sea. You may not ever feel the loss of deep-fried watermelon or dancing the Electric Slide at a wedding – except those of you who might. You will certainly feel the loss of the forest. It will impact the air you breathe, the foods you eat, the material goods that progress gives us so we can live our 21st Century lives. Nature impacts everything. Tell me that Pet Rocks can do that, or your dashboard Hula dancer - come on, you know who you are.
Forest Therapy is “spurring an evolution in the understanding of links between personal, communal, and ecological wellbeing*.”
We are at the tipping point of remembering that we are connected to Nature. Let’s stay awake and reconnect. Our personal, communal and ecological wellbeing depends on it. Synchronously, so does the natural world. The next time you see or hear Forest Therapy called a craze, remember that, unlike deep-fried watermelon, lava lamps and push-pops, Forest Therapy is an evolution and it’s here to stay.
Certified Forest Therapy Guide