Shinrin-Yoku literally means ‘forest bathing’, or ‘taking in the atmosphere of the forest’. The modern version of this ancient tribal practice developed in Japan in the 1980’s, quickly becoming a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. It is now fast expanding to the the rest of the world, fulfilling an often deep yearning for reconnection with nature in a way that is accessible to almost everyone.
Shinrin-Yoku is practiced through a series of gentle, guided walks in forests or other naturally healing environments, and supports physical, mental and emotional well-being. Japanese and South Koreans researchers have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Some of this research is available here.
For example, many trees give off organic compounds called phytoncydes that support our NK (natural killer) cells that are part of our immune system’s way of fighting cancer and other illnesses.
Scientifically proven benefits of Shinrin-Yoku include:
– Boosted immune system function, with an increase in the body’s count of NK cells;
– Reduced blood pressure;
– Reduced stress and cortisol levels;
– Improved mood;
– Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD;
– Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness;
– Increased energy level;
– Improved sleep.
On the beyond-physical levels, this practice also results in:
– Deeper and clearer intuition;
– Increased flow of energy:
– Increased capacity to communicate with the land and her more-than-human species;
– Increased flow of eros & life force;
– Deepening of friendships;
– Overall increase in happiness.
The forest is the therapist, and the guide opens the door through a series of invitations that are created and perfected specifically to allow for each individual’s best experience. In order to be prepared to offer this, guides go through an extensive training and certification process with the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy, founded by Amos Clifford, M.A. and based in Northern California.
I began this practice in January 2015, and found it so joyful and beneficial that I decided to train as a Forest Therapy Guide.
You might ask: why do I even need a guide to walk in nature? I asked that same question myself when I first started.
My friend and Forest Therapy co-guide, Denell Nawrocki said it perfectly:
“Shinrin-Yoku is a practice, and just like any other practice (yoga, zen meditation, etc.), teachers and mentors are there to provide information and inspiration for the practice itself. Guides help people slow down, they help people connect with their senses. Guides are open-hearted witnesses to the experiences of the participants, and they hold safe space for the participants to experience something new.”
If you would like to read about my personal experiences with Shinrin-Yoku and see some of the beautiful forests I have explored, you can click on the images below. Each one will be a post about a different location and Shinrin-Yoku walk, starting with my first ever set of Seven Walks in Seven Weeks between February and March 2015.
Over the months, my own practice has inspired a series of invitations, which I have collected in a downloadable e-book together with some of those I have learned during my training. I am making this e-book available for free, and you can find out more about it at this page.
For further in-depth information about Shinrin-Yoku you can go to this website.
For a list of scheduled walks in the San Francisco Bay Area guided by myself or my fellow forest therapy guides, you can check this page.
To find a guide in your area, check this page on the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Site.
If you are familiar with the practice and are interested in becoming a guide you can find more information here.
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Wow… I must admit I’d never thought of walking in a forest with a guide in this way (apart from the usual try not to get lost way!).
It’s actually a really beautiful idea and I’ll have to keep an eye out for guides on my travels. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Amanda: Shinrin-Yoku is truly a beautiful practice. I know that there are trained guides in New Zealand and Australia now, as the latest training cohort was in New Zealand and they are just completing certification. If you connect with the ANFT website at this page: http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/find-a-guide.html you can see where there are guides in your area.