Forest bathing and eco-therapy

By Lynette L. Walther | Jan 26, 2018
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Forests are an important part of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, with miles of trails to enjoy where we can soak up the benefits forests provide.

My husband, who spent the better part of his forestry career walking through Florida’s wiregrass pine lands, where the sight of a coiled rattlesnake in his path was a common occurrence, and slopping through waist-high blackwater swamps of cypress trees expecting to see a fat water moccasin with each step, had quite the belly laugh when I mentioned the topic of “forest bathing.”

Crabby comment of the day

All you neat freaks, I know what you are doing. You’re picking up those limbs and twigs that have been falling all winter, maybe even bagging them up to take to the landfill. Knock it off! Instead, find a corner of your yard and pile them up. By doing so you will provide shelter for wildlife at a time of year when it is most needed. Deal with the sticks and stuff in the spring, when everything thaws; in the meantime, stop being so neat.

But venomous snakes and teeming swamps aside, the woods and forests have a lot to offer our sense of well-being and our health, no matter the season. Recognized by the scientific community for its healing properties, from the official Shinrin-yoku website (shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html), comes this definition of forest bathing or forest therapy: “This is the healing way of Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy, the medicine of simply being in the forest.

“Shinrin-yoku is a term that means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing.’ It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.”

Imagine going into a forest, being surrounded by trees and plants, taking in the subtle sounds of leaves falling, trees creaking slightly in a breeze, birds chirping and moving through the landscape. It can have a calming effect, while awakening the senses at the same time. The silence and absence of manmade sounds and noise can produce a number of beneficial responses. That forest can be the one you experience on hiking trails, in botanical gardens or, if possible, your own landscape.

The Shinrin-yoku site lists these scientifically-proven benefits:

• Boosted immune system functioning

• Reduced blood pressure

• Reduced stress

• Improved mood

• Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD

• Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness

• Increased energy level

• Improved sleep

Just as impressive are the results that we can experience by making forest bathing a a regular practice:

• Deeper and clearer intuition

• Increased flow of energy

• Increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species

• Increased flow of eros/life force

• Deepening of friendships

• Overall increase in sense of happiness

And there is more, according to the Davey Tree Co., “Trees make neighborhoods more walkable by shading hot sidewalks, providing scenery and buffering pedestrians from traffic, noise and pollution. They act as an essential layer of protection for our skin against harmful effects of the sun.

“Trees play a key role in making common places attractive, engaging and comfortable, which increases use and better facilitates relationships.”

Another approach to the wonders of nature and its healing powers is “ecotherapy.” Ecotherapy (according to Howard Clinebell,, as quote on the Ecotherapy website ecotherapyheals.com/whatisecotherapy.html) refers to healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth. It is also called “green therapy” and “earth-centered therapy."

The website goes on, "It becomes clear that what happens to nature for good or ill impacts people and vice versa, leading to the development of new methods of individual and community psychotherapeutic diagnosis and treatment.

“Ecotherapy,” the site explains, “is different from psychotherapy in its focus on transforming our relationship to the natural world and in its reliance on non-risky and non-intrusive interventions.”

The benefits of the forest can be found any time of year. And I would hold that gardening could indeed be considered a form of ecotherapy, as we reconnect with the earth and growing things. This would especially be the case when practices of organic and self-sustaining gardening are employed. Making that connection can be as simple as growing a little herb garden of medicinal or culinary herbs, or as complicated as creating a lush, thriving landscape. In the meantime a hike through the woods can do wonders.

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Award of Achievement for her newspaper columns, the second time she has earned the recognition. She gardens in Camden.

In the forest even the light is special. Forest bathing, developed in Japan, has become an important part of preventive health care. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.