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We all know the delight of stepping out into the wild when we feel stuck inside.
A breath of fresh air, a breeze of sanity, a beam of light, the scent of earth, the relief of birdsong, and solace of the soul.
Yet, few of us would deem this felt sense of release as a form of therapy or healing. The obvious benefits we feel are often not given deserved appreciation. We tend to take nature for granted.
Nature therapy is all about becoming mindful of the miraculous properties of nature and allowing this awareness to increase and sustain the positive effects on our entire system – mind, body, and soul.
Forest Bathing (Shinrin Yoku)
Shinrin Yoku – playfully translated as “Forest Bathing“, is a Japanese form of Nature Therapy that is fast gaining popularity and interest from all over the world.
Forest Bathing has successfully gained the accreditation of medical science to prove its efficacy on helping people out of depression, anxiety and other types of psychological suffering that are so often caused or exacerbated by the stress and strains of modern lifestyles.
According to the World Health Organization, stress is the health epidemic of the 21st century and is responsible for many forms of chronic illnesses.
In the 1980s, Japan recognized the physiological and psychological dangers of stress and depression and sought out a new, affordable and effective way to combat it. This was the beginning of “Shinrin-yoku”, roughly translated as ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest immersion’.–International Nature and Forest Therapy Alliance
It has also been shown to have a measurable effect on our physiological systems such as lowering of heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol, stabilizing of glucose levels in diabetics, and strengthening the immune system. (Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li)
The study “Physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere of the forest) in an old-growth broadleaf forest) in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan by Yuko Tsunetsugu et al shows us just some of the benefits.
In summary, in the forest area,
- Blood pressure and pulse rate were significantly lower, and
- the power of the HF component tended to be higher and LF/(LFHF) tended to be lower.
- Also, salivary cortisol concentration was significantly lower in the forest area.
The physiological responses suggest that sympathetic nervous activity was suppressed and parasympathetic nervous activity was enhanced in the forest area, and “Shinrin-yoku” was responsible for reducing the stress.
In the subjective evaluation, “comfortable”, “calm”, and “refreshed” feelings were significantly higher in the forest area. The relaxing effect of “Shinrin-yoku” was also felt subjectively.
In conclusion, the present study has proved the relaxing and stress-relieving effects of “Shinrin-yoku” by means of a physiological investigation, with subjective evaluations providing supporting evidence.
Seeing the overwhelmingly positive results of the studies, we can only imagine that there are many more benefits yet to be investigated.
The Most Profound Benefit of Nature Therapy Is a Spiritual One
From my perspective as a meditator, I’d say the most profound benefit of nature therapy is a spiritual one.
Spirituality is all about retrieving the lost knowledge of our inner nature – yet the joke is on us when we realize that this nature is what we are! “Inner nature” isn’t fundamentally any different from “outer nature”, no matter how hard we pretend that we are somehow “different”.
The natural innocence and freshness found in nature seem to stand in ever greater contrast to our contemporary human society which seems hell-bent on hurling itself clear of any sense of natural order at an alarming velocity.
Whilst governments conclude that the best way to deal with a global health crisis is to impose ever more desperate ways to isolate and restrict its populations in concrete homes, the spacious, interconnected web of the woods becomes a more and more distant reality for so many of us.
In our attempt to protect ourselves from the inevitable peaks and troughs of life, we have removed ourselves yet another step further away from the steady mooring of our origins.
Entering a forest at this time, we might even feel a wave of exultation as the sanity of nature effortlessly sets to work on repairing our tragically warped sense of “normality”.
With a few tools to increase our awareness, we can enhance the effect of these benefits profoundly:
My favorite way to begin a forest therapy session is to ask my participant to breathe deeply and slowly.
To engage properly with nature, we need to synchronize with her heart rate. This kind of deliberate breathing is a powerful tool to slow down the entire system into a more “natural” or normal state.
As we enter the doorways of the forest, I suggest that our entrance be a conscious one.
Mindfulness is key from our very first step into the woods. With our conscious entrance, we pay respect and gratitude to nature, for being an eternal source of refuge and respite, no matter how out of alignment our inner or outer lives may have become.
Walk In Awareness
With this attitude of gratitude, we begin walking in awareness through nature’s glades using a method of “walking meditation”.
Whilst many of us imagine meditation as something we do while sitting, walking meditation is a wonderful way to incorporate the essence of meditative awareness into our daily lives.
Synchronizing our breath with our footsteps, we silently move through the forest with a settling sense of rhythm – washing away the noise of busy minds, and into the empty space that is permanently available within us.
One step at a time…
Set your intention
Having reached this first landmark of inner-stillness, I invite participants to pause and consider their highest wish for healing or growth during our session.
Allowing an intention to blossom in us is integral to the fruits of our therapy being born.
Yet we cannot make our intention come to life on our own.
Surrender to Nature
Just as a flower requires a pollinator to help it bear its most prized fruit, we too need the help of nature to make our most heartfelt desires become a reality.
We become attractive prospects for the agents of pollination when we let go of fear, open up, and allow nature access to the irresistible nectar of our surrender.
We let nature remind us of her unconditional generosity by offering our faith, reverence, and gratitude.
Now to make room for the gifts that we’ve humbly asked for, we must further open up the gates of our perception to make way for the gifts that we’ve asked for. ..
Engage the Five Senses
Opening up the portals of our five senses whilst in a state of surrender, we let back inside a sacred world that we’d previously been obscuring behind the veils of our minds.
Deliberate exercises to fine-tune our senses can be helpful at this point:
Tasting, smelling, hearing, touching, and seeing the forest in the immediacy of the present moment can be a wonderful way to reconnect with a reality that permanently lies beyond the fantasy of our imagination…
The vivid red of a freshly fallen maple leaf, the sensual touch of moss, the fragile scent of the first primrose, the mystical taste of juniper berries…
Discover a Deeper Unity With Your Sixth Sense
Each expression of nature carries its own unique character, yet behind them all lies a familiar basis.
Opening up the sixth sense of our inner feeling, we may experience the unity that lies beyond all of nature’s miraculous forms.
Sometimes we may find that physically lying down under a tree or any other space that sparks inspiration in us can help in the surrendering process. To fall into a light sleep out in nature may be a wonderful way to “lose ourselves” and find ourselves again, waking up in the glad sense of being at home in our surroundings.
Connect the Dots – Nature Is What You Are!
Whilst we are all wonderfully unique, we also share the same natural essence. That essence is beyond definition, yet unmistakably beautiful, vast, and “good”. Knowing this, a revolution of understanding can take place inside us.
Faithlessness gives way to faith, and loneliness makes way for the discovery that our true shelter is right here, and right now.
As we come to know this goodness, our tired systems respond with a surge of vital energy so vast that it carries a power capable of profound healing, and a turning point in our lives.
Create a Symbol – Take Your Lessons Home With You
Nature is a superb setting in which to awaken our inner being. Yet, if we want to bring home our deliverance from difficulty, we must also bring home the lessons that we learned whilst out in the woods.
As the final stage of a session, I suggest bringing back a gift from the forest to place in your home.
A branch, a stone, a feather, or a snail shell can all serve as a persistent reminder of our experience, and the qualities which made it so profound.
I’d recommend placing your object of choice in a dignified part of your home where you will see it often. Creating a shrine for nature can help us to honor and deeply value her importance in our lives.
As the symbol of your healing, treat it with reverence and care, and clean it often. Its sanctity will bless you in direct proportion to the care and devotion you offer it.
Abide in Your True Nature and Let Your Light Shine
The more lasting effects of any kind of therapy depend upon the degree of dedication and devotion we offer it.
Frequent outings into nature can bring us the inspiration and support needed to maintain a healthy, vibrant state of mind, body, and soul, no matter how dim our world may become. If it’s our task to illuminate the world from the inside, then nature is an invaluable resource to keep our light burning even in the darkest of nights.
Set a beautiful intention today: Become a light unto the world, and humbly ask nature to aid you through the sparkling glades and dense canopies that you’ll meet along the way.
A New Dawn Is Arriving
Our collective predicament has never been so alarming, and more and more of us are waking up to the understanding that we can’t afford to diverge from our origins any longer. Nature therapy is an invaluable tool to illuminate the path of our returning, and is surely more relevant in today’s world than ever before.