Back in the Summer of 2019, I wasn’t really looking for a new healing modality to work with as I’m happy with my current portfolio, nor was I needing another earning opportunity. However, when I saw my friends Olga and Gary, founders of The Forest Bathing Institute (TFBI), were offering their second intake of Guide training, I just couldn’t resist.
The theme of my work is ancient healing for modern living and I felt that Forest Bathing fitted nicely into that remit. I completed my training and fully supervised assessed case studies plus my exam, at the start of 2020 and am now fully qualified as a certified TFBI Forest Bathing+ Guide.
Participants by an ancient Yew Tree at Newlands Corner
I managed to get in a few professional sessions at venues, including Winkworth National Trust (Godalming), Newlands Corner (Guildford) and Harry Edwards Healing Centre (Shere) just before and between the various lockdowns and loved every minute of it. The plethora of thank you and testimonial emails would indicate that many of the participants did too. This conversation with Physiotherapist Agata Majchrak, uploaded to You Tube at https://youtu.be/tdXbc1R2LOs is a delightful example.
I first joined Olga and Gary in Surrey woodland for a session of Shinrin Yoku in 2016. This is Japanese Nature therapy, the concept really refers to quality time spent focussing on health and wellbeing, under the canopy of trees in a forest. However, it’s more commonly translated as Forest Bathing, which is a bit misleading as there’s no swimming involved, it’s a reference to immersing yourself in the atmosphere.
It’s not a new idea in Japan at all, it’s been established over 30 years. Japan is 67% forest and the residents have realised that walking mindfully in the forest is therapeutic since time immemorial. In fact, it’s so ingrained into their culture that for many years those seeking medical advice from Japanese doctors might well be offered a forest bathing prescription as an alternative to medication. Why is this?
Dr Qing Li, of the Japanese Nippon Medical School, has been researching the benefits since the 1990s. In 2005, his studies demonstrated that field visits to designated forest areas increased the production of NK (Natural Killer) cells within the immune system, boosting the ‘anti-cancer enzyme expression in peripheral blood lymphocytes’. This was an exciting discovery and, realising that their extensive forest land was a fabulous health and wellbeing resource, has led the Japanese to value and protect their forest areas. They’ve even designated 70 ‘healing forests’ across the country.
Dr Li’s subsequent research has identified several other therapeutic effects of forest bathing including the discovery that 50% of the beneficial outcome for your health comes from the forest air chemistry. During daylight hours woodland trees are emitting life supporting oxygen as well as other chemicals known as phytoncides, which are the raw ingredients for what we are more familiar with as essential oils.
Dr Li’s extensive studies have shown that Forest Bathing can:
lower blood pressure,
improve cardiovascular and metabolic health,
reduce blood-sugar levels,
enhance concentration and memory,
lead to better pain management,
boost the immune system by increasing the body’s natural killer (NK) cell count,
increases anti-cancer protein production,
facilitate weight loss.
Feeling inspired by all this, Gary & Olga started running forest bathing sessions here in the UK and founded The Forest Bathing Institute (TFBI).
Whereas in Japan, Forest Bathing sessions can be largely unsupervised exposure in one of the designated forests, Gary & Olga soon realised that with ‘mindfulness’ already proven to bring health and wellbeing benefits, a higher focus on mindfulness training for guides could only enhance the experience. In addition to a selection of sensory mindfulness exercises, a meditative ‘treelaxation’ to their session format plus an educational element. The term Forest Bathing+ was used to signify this modification.
TFBI contacted Dr Li and made plans to replicate, and extend the research here, with the aim of convincing our NHS that this was a fantastic resource. Several UK Universities leapt at the chance to be involved in properly funded empirical research. The first scientific field trials started with the University of Derby in 2019, supervised by Kirsten McEwan, who was a contemporary on my training course. The results are now being published and, as expected, they showed enough beneficial impact on participants for the first NHS social prescribing trials to be rolled out in Surrey. And the timing couldn’t have been better.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for innovative new approaches to healing and prevention of susceptibility to illness, with natural remedies receiving increased attention. During our 2020 UK Lockdown, a survey showed 85% of adults reported being in nature makes them happy.
It’s surely human instinct that nature is good for us, hence nature-based therapy is a logical step for the NHS. There are now 11 UK universities involved in continuing clinical trials and we believe this will revert us back to recognising, valuing and utilising our natural resources. Like our forefathers did for thousands of years.
I’m so excited to be involved at the beginning of this initiative. I foresee lots of demand for Forest Bathing Guides and I encourage anybody who feels a surge of joy at the idea to investigate the training. We will need a large task force to get this show on the road.
And, I can’t help but suppress a smug little smile that my hunch was right, training as a Forest Bathing+ Guide fits perfectly into my ancient healing for modern living portfolio …