Nature therapy, or ecotherapy, is just beginning to be known in the United States, but in some other countries, it has been used for decades or centuries. One of the most widely practiced forms of nature therapy is known as forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Nature therapy in general involves individuals going mindfully into the outdoors and fully experiencing the natural world with a therapeutic goal or end in mind. Many people find it very effective to help with many issues and conditions.
Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, began in Japan in the early 1980s and has continuously grown in popularity there since then. In a nation that is known for its large and busy cities, it’s no wonder that people have been craving contact with the natural world and therefore benefit immensely when that hunger is satiated – even for a little while.
In a book released last year entitled Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Japanese Dr. Qing Li, some interesting statistics are revealed. The average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors each day, and by 2050, nearly three quarters of the world’s population will live in cites. We are losing our connection with the earth and with nature, and some people are trying to encourage re-connection.
It seems clear that forest bathing is good for mental health, and anything good for mental health is surely good for recovery, too. Read on to find out more about forest bathing, and the ways you can use it to help support you in your recovery from addiction.
Japan and Forest Bathing
Japan has a number of very large cities, but much of the country is rural and heavily forested. Its terrain is similar to that of the United States’ Pacific Northwest region. There are very tall trees, lots of deep greens, and quite a bit of rain and moisture, but not much snow in many areas, not even in the winter.
Conversely, the Tokyo metropolitan area is home to nearly thirty-nine million people. The hustle and bustle is constant, and the trains, streets, and elevators are packed.
The leaders of the country realized that the people would benefit greatly from stepping out into nature more frequently. They launched a national program to encourage forest bathing. In 2004, a formal study of the link between forests and human health began and found great results that were passed on to the citizens. Today, nearly 2.5 million people of Japan purposefully go to the forest trails to help self-treat for stress and to improve their health.
What is Forest Bathing?
Although exercise is a component of forest bathing, that’s not the primary focus of it. The main reason that people participate in forest bathing is to commune with nature. This connection allows people to calm their minds and in turn, feel physically, mentally, and emotionally better overall.
To participate in forest bathing, the participant simply needs to go to natural area and walk in a relaxed way for an extended period of time. Deep breathing is encouraged, as is focus on all the senses. Mindful walking and meditating can also be a big part of a forest bathing experience. Listen to the sounds of the forest. Touch the textures. Look at the colors. Take in all the different scents. Feel the wind on your body.
People who participate in forest bathing can experience a number of scientifically proven benefits. One study found that workers who were heavily stressed experienced much better sleep and more predictable and manageable sleep patterns after practicing forest bathing regularly. The researcher had two groups of workers go for walks; one walked in the city, and one walked in the forest. The group that walked in the forest showed a great improvement over the others.
Other proven benefits include boosted immune system function, reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, improved mood, increased ability to focus, and accelerated recovery from surgery or illness. Many participants experience increased energy levels and improved sleep as well.
For those who practice regularly, even more benefits are clear. They report deeper and clearer intuition, increased energy flow, “increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species,” deepening of friendships, and overall increases in their sense of happiness.
Those are some incredible results. It seems clear that this sort of therapy can have a huge effect on the people who participate in it, in Japan, or anywhere in the world.
How to Forest Bathe
Clearly, this is something that anyone can do. Even if you live in a city, there are places in or just outside of almost every city where you can take a break and commune with nature. Find a park or an open space that has enough room for you to walk.
Take your time when walking; don’t rush. Look around you and breathe in the air. Be mindful of your surroundings, and take it all in.
Try to practice as often as you can, but you will surely experience some benefits with even one session. If you can go once a week or more, you will find even larger changes starting to take route. This is a healthy practice you can experience rain or shine – just get out there and do it!
Forest Bathing and Recovery
Although there are not yet many if any studies about forest bathing and addiction recovery specifically, some research has been done about the connection between addiction recovery and nature therapy in general, and the outlook is good. It makes sense. So many of the positive benefits of this sort of self-administered therapy are things that can be of great help to you on your recovery journey. Since it helps with sleep, it may aid individuals in recovery with their insomnia. The mindfulness factor will help people to work on their emotions and knowing themselves and their triggers. Lower stress will help them to develop a baseline that they should seek for optimum calm and tranquility.
In general, forest bathing is worth doing and easy to start at any time. It may be just the therapy you have been looking for, and it may become a key helper in your path to a happy, healthy, drug and alcohol-free life.
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