The idea of nature therapy isn’t something new. For millennia many cultures have been using the healing properties of nature. In fact all preindustrial native communities had customs, ceremonies, medicines and rituals that were based on nature, in most cases – the forest. Wherever you find groups of indigenous people you are likely to find forest based healing practices. Some examples of this are …
- Over 2500 years ago in the capital of Persia, Cyrus the Great saw there was a need to increase human health and create a feeling of “calm”. To this end he planted a garden in the middle of the city.
- Originating from South America, Ayahuasca (an entheogenic brew commonly made out of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, the Psychotria viridis shrub or a substitute, and possibly other ingredients) is still used in ceremonies to assist people with their physical, psychological and spiritual well being.
- There are some orders of forest Monks who have relied on the solitude that they find in a forest setting as a support on their path to enlightenment.
The practice that I follow is based on forest therapy developed by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides (ANFT) and is based on the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku – a term coined by Tomohide Akiyama in the 1980’s, it translates as Forest (Shinrin) bathing (Yoku).
It was at a time when there was the tech boom, a mass urbanisation, and an increase in unhealthy lifestyles where the population of Japan were quite literally working themselves to death. The Government at the time saw a huge spike in the number of people being diagnosed with cancers and autoimmune diseases. Research was undertaken to understand the reasons behind this.
Some other research had been carried out into how trees protect themselves from disease by emitting chemicals called phytoncides. These phytoncides search out any potential diseases that might harm the tree. It was also found that when we absorb these phytoncides into our bodies they become natural killer cells (NK cells) – white blood cells that travel around our bodies seeking out and killing off cancerous and virus infected cells. The connection was made and was the start of Shinrin Yoku – a structured way of spending time in the forest where you are bathing in these phytoncides.
Shinrin Yoku created an identity to the practice of time spent embracing the atmosphere of a forest for both physical and mental health benefits. Across Japan there are now dedicated trails in forests set up for this practice. It is a practice that is an evidence based approach and is quite prescriptive in its approach.
Sessions with me are less prescriptive – whilst we follow the practice that has been developed by the ANFT, we let the session evolve based on the conditions, the group and how the environment in which we’re in. At the ANFT we live by the motto the forest is the therapist, the guide opens the doors. Let me open the doors for you …
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.Albert Einstein