A forest guide with a difference
In addition to organising forest walks, the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy also trains future guides. It’s a one-month immersion course followed by a six-month placement, to be taken in California, Massachusetts, Ireland, Ontario or New Zealand.
The first of the ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ walks – or Forest Bathing, as it also known – took place over 30 years ago (the term was introduced by the government in 1982). Originally based on Sintoist and Buddhist techniques, only recently have their health benefits started to be recognised: lower blood pressure, reduced glucose levels in the blood and strengthening of the immune system. Yoshifumi Miyazaki, an anthropologist at Chiba University, has carried out the main studies into Shinrin-Yoku. He collected data from hundreds of people at the end of their forest walks, and in 2011 reported that the therapy could indeed alleviate stress. As he explained: “Throughout their evolution humans have spent 99.9% of their time in natural settings. Our physiological functions are still adapted to them. In our day-to-day life, we can get a sense of wellness if we synchronise our rhythms with those of nature.”
The Japanese Forestry Agency has a network of official Shinrin-Yoku centres in 50 forests, and plans to create more in the coming years to meet the increased demand for forest bathing therapy. The Japanese countryside offers many alternatives that contrast with the hectic rhythm of city life and some businesses encourage their staff to take forest bathing as an antidote to stress.