Julie is a certified Forest Therapy Guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT)
Forest Therapy is a natural way to heal our bodies and minds. Since we co-evolved with the trees and the rest of the natural world, our disconnection from nature due to the digital age we live in creates a tremendous amount of stress on our nervous system. This “tech-stress” can result in anxiety, depression and other illness and discomforts. By connecting fully into nature, we can rest and reset in a way that modern technology doesn't provide.
“The Forest is the Therapist, The Guide Opens the Doors”
What is Forest Therapy?
Forest Therapy is a research-based framework for supporting healing and wellness through immersion in forests and other natural environments. In Japan it is called “shinrin yoku,” which translates to “forest bathing.” Studies have demonstrated a wide array of health benefits, especially in the cardiovascular and immune systems, and for stabilizing and improving mood and cognition.
What is a typical walk like?
Walks are typically 2-3 hours long depending on group size and take place in a local forest, woods, or beach chosen for your group. Through a series of invitations you will be guided to reconnect with the more than human world and experience the medicine the forest has for you.
There are an infinite number of healing activities that can be incorporated into a walk in a forest or any other natural area. An activity is likely to be healing when it makes room for listening, for quiet and accepting presence, and for inquiry through all eight of the sensory modes we possess.
Some baseline requirements for Shinrin-Yoku and Forest Therapy follow from this view of healing interactions:
There is a specific intention to connect with nature in a healing way. This requires mindfully moving through the landscape in ways that cultivate presence, opening all the senses, and actively communicating with the land.
It is not something to rush through. Shinrin-Yoku walks are not undertaken with the primary goal of physical exercise. We prefer to avoid the term “hiking” because of its implications of physical exertion. As taught by the Association, Shinrin-Yoku walks are typically a mile or less and range in duration from two to four hours.
Healing interactions require giving generously of our attention. We encourage mindfulness through an evolving series of suggested invitations. Each invitation is crafted to help participants slow down and open our senses. As we do this we begin to perceive more deeply the nuances of the constant stream of communications rampant in any natural setting. We learn to let the land and its messages penetrate into our minds and hearts more deeply.
It’s not a one-time event. Developing a meaningful relationship with nature occurs over time, and is deepened by returning again and again throughout the natural cycles of the seasons. Like yoga, meditation, prayer, working out, and many other worthy endeavors, shinrin-yoku is a practice. And because it is a practice, it is best to learn it from a qualified guide.
It’s not just about taking walks in the forest. The walks are important, but there are other core routines that we can do that will help in our deepening relationship with nature, and in the exchange of health benefits between humans and the more- than-human-world. We often incorporate some of these practices in our guided shinrin-yoku walks, particularly the practices of sit spot, place tending, and cross-species communication.
These five elements together provide a framework for the practice of Forest Therapy.