Forest Therapy for Coping with Covid-19 Crisis
There may never be a better time to expand the practice of forest therapy to the masses. With the Covid-19 crisis, many people are experiencing legitimate anxiety, stress and overwhelm. The call for social distancing will lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection. People need to do what they can to keep their immune systems healthy. The closing of places of worship may make it difficult for some to maintain their connection to their divine source.
If you’ve never heard of or have never experienced forest therapy, I’d first like to offer you an introduction and then, at the end of this article, a guided experience of forest therapy. I’ve recently been certified as a forest therapy guide through the Global Institute of Forest Therapy and I feel called to introduce the practice of forest therapy to as many people as possible in these unprecedented times as a way to navigate and cope with the challenges.
If you have experienced a guided forest therapy walk with me or another guide, you know the benefit of having a guide offer the invitations to help you connect with nature more deeply than you can if you simply go for a walk outdoors. Feel free to go to “Guidelines…” later in this article if you already know the history and benefits of forest therapy.
Introduction to the History and Benefits
Forest therapy is a recent practice rooted in ancient wisdom. Indigenous cultures all over the world have historically turned to nature for a variety of healing purposes and spiritual connection.
It was in the 1980’s that the Forest Agency of Japan coined the term “shinrin-yoku” which translates to “forest bathing”. This government initiative was in response to high levels of stress experienced by its population. They created specially designed forests and encouraged people to take regular, slow-paced walks.
Since then, much research has scientifically proven that forest bathing, also called forest therapy, improves all areas of health; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
The practice of forest therapy has now expanded to all parts of the world. Its growth can be attributed to the fact that research proves its effectiveness and the current ills of our human population point to a great need for healing.
A number of the health concerns resulting from the current situation with Covid-19 can be countered to at least some extent with a forest therapy practice. A slow, mindful walk in nature of at least 20 minutes has been proven to boost the immune system, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and enhance mental wellness. For social wellness, an experience of deeply connecting with the nature world reminds us that, in the absence of direct social contact with people, we can still connect with the more than human world. And a deep connection with nature can facilitate a spiritual experience of knowing we are loved and not alone.
Respecting the recommendation for social distancing, I am not offering in-person guided forest therapy walks at this time. In the meantime, I’m providing some guidelines and support to create your own forest therapy experience.
Guidelines to Prepare for Your Forest Therapy Introductory Experience
- Rather than seeing nature as a resource and something you use for your own benefit, acknowledge the aliveness of the forest and accept it as your friend needing a mutual exchange. Nature also benefits from your connection, respect, and gratitude.
- Choose a place close to home so it’s easy to access as often as you’d like.
- Choose a path that is safe and easy to navigate. This practice isn’t about challenging yourself physically.
- While you can do forest therapy in any natural environment, a wooded area away from an abundance of human made noise is ideal.
- Plan to cover no more than 50 to 150 meters. Again, this isn’t a hike.
- Typically, when I guide forest therapy walks, it takes a minimum of two hours. As this is an introduction, it’s intended for you to do in about 35 minutes.
- As well as not being a hike, a forest therapy walk is not a biology project for brain learning in which you identify different plants, birds and animals. The intention is to get out of the brain and into your body and heart using your senses.
- Let go of specific expectations. Be open to outcome rather than attached to outcome.
- I’d usually encourage you to leave your phone behind while doing a nature therapy walk as it can often be a distraction. However, for this introduce, I have recorded an audio invitation to guide you into a sensory connection with nature. So obviously you will need your phone to listen but I suggest you put it in airplane mode.
- The recording is meant to be played during your forest therapy experience. Upon arrival at the spot in nature you’ve chosen, simply stand (or bring a chair to sit if you need), hit play and tune into the guiding words.
I hope you find comfort in this experience. If for 30 minutes you can step away from the stress of our global health crisis, you will have boosted your own energy to contribute to the global need for healing and health.
Click here to access the recording and download onto your device to playback as needed. Feel free to pass along to others.