Forest Bathing for All

By Gina Taylor, OT

Forest bathing is a free and accessible activity that many people can benefit from.

Forest bathing is a therapeutic way of spending time in nature.  It can be done alone, in a group or with a guide. This practice has traditions all around the world and a growing body of research to support the benefits of forest bathing.

Forest bathing can take place in any natural setting, including back yards, parks and open spaces. To begin, it is helpful to set an intention for the time you are making for this activity. You may choose to commit to stepping away from daily worries to focus on the present moment.  You can say a phrase to help you step into this mindful state such as, “I am now ready to notice all the forest has to offer me”. Following this, there are many practices to support present moment awareness of the beauty in nature. For example, you can choose to focus on what you are receiving from each of your five senses, to walk slowly down a path, to complete a craft activity that uses found natural objects, or to simply select a quiet and comfortable place to sit. Each of these encourages a person to slow down and focus on the environment around them.  To conclude a forest bathing session, tea or a light snack can help with the transition back to daily life. In this way, forest bathing has a beginning, middle, and an end.

The benefits of forest bathing include increased immune system activation, increased healing speed, improved mental health (decreased depression, anxiety, PTSD symptoms and increased social engagement), improved attention and focus, improved sensory processing, and a healthier lifestyle.  There is research supporting the interactions with nature for people with physical disabilities, mental health challenges, children with ADD/ADHD and autism. This should encourage all people to find opportunities for forest bathing.

In order to make forest bathing accessible to all, consider the following:

  • Use parks with paved trails– paved trails can provide access to natural settings used in forest bathing for people with decreased mobility or people using wheelchairs.  
  • Go in a group– a group setting can be more social, engaging and can be helpful for people with anxiety about being in the woods, or for those unfamiliar with nature.
  • Find a facilitator– a forest bathing facilitator or nature coach can be helpful in setting up invitations that are therapeutic and helping people process emotions and insights that come up during forest bathing.
  • Set boundaries– when forest bathing with children, boundaries are essential for keeping everyone safe.  These can include location boundaries, going with a buddy or avoiding certain types of environmental features such as water or overlooks.

Forest bathing is not hiking and does not need to involve much space or distance.  Picking a location close to home that is accessible is the best way to incorporate forest bathing time as part of a regular healthy routine.  Forest bathing is a purposeful way to spend time in nature and receive therapeutic benefit. It is easy to adapt for people of all abilities and nature is all around us.  Sometimes we just have to slow down long enough to see the opportunities available to us.

Gina Taylor, OT is a New Jersey licensed pediatric occupational therapist. She has focused her career on animals helping people, nature based therapy and family supportive services: providing a unique view of health and healing. She is  the owner of a small therapy business, Epona Therapy Services, LLC. Her therapy focus is nature based therapy, integrating horses in occupational therapy and early care services. She provides home based occupational therapy services to children and families, as well as consultation and support to families, teachers and other professionals who want to include nature when working with children. You can learn more at www.eponatherapyservices.com

References:

Clifford, M. A. (2018). Your guide to forest bathing: Experience the healing power of nature. Newburyport: Conari Press.

Miyazaki, Y. (2018). Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing. Storey Publishing, LLC.

 

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