Does our modern, plugged-in, constantly on-the-go lifestyle have you on the fritz? Pull the plug and let nature be your medicine. Forest therapy – wandering slowly, quietly under a green cathedral of trees – can reconnect you with your roots, make you a раrt of thе moment, feel аlіvе аgаіn, bе rеbоrn. A Japanese pastime since 1982, Shinrin-yoku packs a powerful punch. Vitamin “nature” boosts your natural killer cells: white blood cells that squash tumors and infections. It also lowers your heart rate, blood pressure, and the stress hormone cortisol. Your brain on nature? Less depressed, sharper, and more creative.
Forest Therapy is simple
If you’re suffocating in our goal-oriented society, let the forest reset your stress button. Says Heidi Korhonen, of Forest Therapy Today:
“When the tree breathes out, you breathe in. When you breathe out, the tree breathes in.”
Trees are giant filters, pulling in gases like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone, and releasing clean, crispy oxygen. The forest air gives off negatively-charged ions that’ll increase your serotonin, the neurotransmitter that controls social behavior, sleep, and even sexual desire. Trees also give off beneficial bacteria that’ll ramp up your metabolism. They may even stomp out eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, according to a study from the UNC School of Medicine. There’s a reason that in the ‘30s and ‘40s TB patients were sent to sanatoriums for “fresh air and rest.” The cure was more than do-nothingness. It was an unseen airborne healer called phytoncides. In a nutshell, they’re plant-based essential oils that clobber bad bacteria while revving up your immune system.
Whether you’re a city slicker or a country gal, you have a “nature side”. “Nature is home,” Korhonen said. “We live in it and it lives in us.” Looking to return to your jungle roots? Here’s how to do forest therapy yourself:
1. Find your green space.
The Coastal Redwoods. The Great Smoky Mountains. The Superior National Forest: “with forest therapy, it seems like there is a common misconception, that you should go into someplace really secluded, dazzling, and rare.” But that’s not the case. Just find a big tree with deep green colors. Sit under it everyday for two minutes, 20 minutes, or 2 hours — the time is completely up to you. Not a tree in sight? Find your city’s signature park or plant some green in your backyard or on your balcony.
2. Have an attitude of gratitude.
The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s really greener where you are, and you just haven’t stopped to look. So close your eyes and count your blessings. Want to take it a step further? “Introduce yourself” to the forest. Thank an oak, a clover, or whatever green bit draws your eye for its presence, or hug it out with a tree. “If it doesn’t feel natural to you,there’s no need to heavily pet bark,” says Korhonen.
3. Channel your inner animal.
Deer ears: Want super hearing? Cup your hands behind your ears. Your “dear ears” will pick up the rustling of leaves, the kerplunk of rain, the tweeting of songbirds, and much more.
Fox walk: Hello, foxy. It’s time to foxtrot. Whether you’re up for scurrying on all fours or just the two-legged tour, put your toes down first then follow with the outside edge of your foot. Your heel should strike the ground last. When something catches your attention, freeze. Pretend that your next meal, or possibly even your life, depends on your undivided attention.
Bear Smell: Did you know that bears have the best sniffers in the animal kingdom? That’s right. So put your “muzzle” to good use. It’s said that the world laughs in flowers. Pluck them, crush leaves, pull bark. What do the smells remind you of? A word of caution, though, don’t have a schnauz-affair with toxic plants. A general rule of thumb: if you don’t know what it is, identify it in at least three different field guides or leave it alone.
4. Try earthing.
“Historically, human beings, prior to the advent of modern materials such as shoes, carpets, plastic, etc., have been walking, sitting, and sleeping on the ground as a way of life, thereby staying connected with nature,” Korhonen said. So toss those kicks aside. And go to the dark side — plant your bare feet into some chocolate-colored soil. Let the grass, the flowers weave between your toes.
5. Give the forest a gift.
“Nature doesn’t sense that we are scared, suspicious, or even disgusted. It grants its gifts for anyone who crosses its path,” Korhonen said. The secret to living? Giving. So collect flowers, pine cones, rocks, leaves, or moss, and create an artwork for the forest. You might even think of it as a housewarming gift. After all, the forest is an ecosystem – alive – the home to all sorts of beings. But remember to toss perfection out of your dictionary. Play with the items like a child, forming a Picasso-esque piece. Then make a mental checklist of how you feel different after visiting the forest.
Want to learn more about forest therapy? Follow certified nature coach Heidi Korhonen on Instagram @foresttherapytoday.