Nature is a scientifically proven stress reliever. Knowing this, we incorporate our beautiful surroundings at the base of the Berkshire Mountains into our programming. Our clients take hikes and go camping as therapeutic interventions. We know this works anecdotally. However, these are evidence-based treatments as well. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that walking for 90 minutes in nature “reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.” At Mountainside, we recently added a new program that leverages the healing qualities of natural environments – forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku.
Shinrin-yoku was developed in Japan in the 1980s, and it is designed as a mindfulness practice that requires participants to consciously use all five senses to experience a walk in the forest, or woods. Mindfulness and exposure to nature are already scientifically proven to improve an individual’s well-being. Together, in the form of forest bathing, mindfulness and time in nature are a dynamic duo.
Japanese researcher Yoshifumi Miyazaki and his team at Chiba University conducted a study in 2009 on the physiological effects of forest bathing. In each field experiment 12 subjects (280 total) walked in or viewed one of 24 forests across Japan. Others walked in or viewed a city environment. The results: forest environments promote lower concentrations of the “stress hormone” cortisol, lower pulse rates, and lower blood pressure than do city environments.
According to Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stress and substance misuse have a strong correlation, and stress can lead to relapse. “Although exposure to stress is a common occurrence for many of us, it is also one of the most powerful triggers for relapse to substance abuse in addicted individuals – even after long periods of abstinence,” she wrote.
In addition to the mental health benefits of forest bathing, the practice is good for the immune system as well. Many trees, particularly conifers such as white pine, release natural compounds that stimulate the body’s “NK” (natural killer) cells, which protect against cancer.
Our Wellness programming, including forest bathing, helps our clients develop coping skills and healthy behaviors that reduce stress. Forest bathing encourages and prompts clients to take in everything their senses can digest so they get the full experience of being submersed in the natural world.