Natural Mindfulness

The Origin of Forest Bathing & Forest Therapy

The origin of Forest Bathing & Forest Therapy.

I first came across Forest Bathing shinrin-yoku, in 2013. I was researching ways to encourage and inspire more people to reconnect with the therapeutic benefits of walking mindfully in nature. I was also about to launch my own forest therapy approach Natural Mindfulness.

At that time I reached out to M Amos Clifford, who with Julianne Skai Arbor (now www.forestecotherapy.com) and Sky Maria Buitenhuis (now GIFT Global Institute of Forest Therapy) founded and developed the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) in the US and now worldwide.

The ANFT pioneered and promoted shinrin-yoku as a more accessible format for inviting people to connect with nature. Forest Bathing – shinrin-yoku, is a form of Forest Therapy that originated in Japan in the 1980s and is now becoming mainstream all over the world.

In 1982 the Japanese government coined the term Shinrin-yoku which translates in English as Forest Bathing. It is based on ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices. It means to let nature into your body through the 5 senses of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. The creation of this forest therapy was a response to a public health crisis – high levels of stress at work and a worrying ‘spike’ in rates of auto-immune disease. It was also an economic project to revitalise the economy of rural areas that were suffering from the mass migration of people from rural areas to the cities.

In 1988 Prof. Yoshifumi Miyazaki the author of ‘Shinrin-yoku’ – the Japanese way of forest bathing for health & relaxation, was employed by Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI) where he started his research into ‘why we feel relaxed when we encounter nature’. The first Forest Bathing experiments were carried out on an island called Yakushima, where Prof. Yoshifumi researched the effects of cedar on stress hormones in the human body. Japan now has

Japan now has 48 official ‘Forest Therapy’ trails designated for forest bathing by the Forest Agency. The government of Japan has funded about $4 million in forest bathing research since 2003. This led to a private foundation establishing and trade-marking a ‘version’ of Forest Therapy in 2005 called Shinrin-serapi®. commercialised and productised forest bathing activities include ForestBase®, ForestRoad® and ForestTherapist®. Most of the studies and research supporting this version of forest therapy was and is carried out in Japanese parks and laboratories.

Forest Serapi® is not the only version of forest therapy in Japan.

In 1999, Prof. Dr. Iwao Uehara a professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and president of The Society of Forest Amenity & Human Health Promotion in Japan, presented and defined Forest Therapy shinrin-ryoho, at the Japanese Forest Society. Shinrin-ryoho is a therapy for people with a disability, suffering from illness, mental health and lifestyle diseases. Dr Iwao, who is also scientific advisor for the International Forest Therapy Days IFTDays, community, promotes Forest Therapy as a way of making both forest and human beings healthier.

Shinrin-ryoho promotes the health of both forests and human beings, utilising the many healing properties found in forests and trees. Shinrin-ryoho experiences are designed to promote health, prevent illness, provide relaxation opportunities, and a rehabilitation environment. The forest can be a treatment place and/or a peaceful counselling space. Walking mindfully and exercising in the forest to help change our mindsets and perspectives are also part of a shinrin-ryoho experience.

Prof. Dr. Iwao has discovered that some forests are also ill, depressed, and experience stress like human beings. So, this Shinrin-ryoho approach to Forest Therapy also aims to help heal forests and human beings together. Working in the forest to improve forest health, can be a very therapeutic experience in itself. Unlike shinrin-serapi®, Prof. Dr. Iwao has been using natural wild forested areas to study and research shinrin-ryoho.

Forest Therapy studies in Japan and South Korea have revealed that there is a proven relationship between the health of the forest and the health of human beings. One of the leading scientists from South Korea is Prof. Bum-Jin Park who has two PhD degrees – ‘Ergonomics of Forest Work’ and ‘Forest Therapy’. He is currently researching and evaluating the therapeutic environment of forests and the design of therapeutic forest environments. I recently met Prof. Park and discussed his studies of phytoncides at the International Forest Days Conference in Finland.

Prof. Park explained that phytoncide is a substance emitted by plants & trees and generally means the aroma of the forest. “Phyton” means “plant” in Latin, and “cide” means to exterminate. Phytoncides are produced to help plants & trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs. The oils boost mood and immune system function; reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress, anxiety, and confusion; improve sleep and creativity; and may even help fight cancer and depression. These and other impressive benefits of forest medicine are available to research online – Here is a link to the studies

I asked Prof. Park about the difference between phytoncide emissions from Korean pine trees compared to our UK broadleaf trees, such as Oaks, Beech etc. The findings are very interesting. Korean pines do produce more phytoncides than UK broadleaf trees. However, the latest research suggests that it isn’t about the quantity of phytoncide, even exposure to small amounts can trigger healthy responses.

This is a very exciting discovery and I look forward to learning more over the next few years. For those of you interested in learning more about Forest Therapy, Forest Bathing and Natural Mindfulness, why not join me on a CNM walk, attend one of my guide trainings, and/or come to the next International Forest Days Conference and meet the scientists & researchers pioneering Forest Medicine & Therapy.