By Camille Aubin
Known since 1982 by a large majority of Japanese people, ‘shinrin-yoku’ is still relatively unknown on our side of the planet, but in recent years it has attracted a growing number of adherents here. This therapeutic practice consists of immersing yourself in the forest and its components in order to benefit from the relaxing effect of specific molecules, called phytoncides, which are diffused by vegetation.
You can take forest baths worldwide: Canada, United States, Finland, Sweden, France, Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, Costa Rica, Australia, the United Kingdom and more. Here in the Columbia Valley, Pat Bavin, founder of Forest Therapy Guides, organizes immersions in different forests. Shinrin-yoku provides many benefits, argues Pat Bavin, the pioneer of this practice in Invermere. It will allow you to slow down, connect with nature and let the forest carry out its therapeutic mission. “We have a natural tendency to go to the forest. That’s why we have national parks, provincial parks, municipal parks, all of these different kinds of parks because that’s a natural thing for us to go and find a place to settle, to calm, to relax.”
The biggest challenge for Bavin with his clients is that some of them actually have a hard time slowing down their pace: a trend he said is not uncommon when bringing active, outdoorsy people to participate in this walk. And I was one of them. When I met Pat, I told him that I am a really experienced hiker and spend most of my time outside. But I hadn’t understood what forest therapy was until I tried.
So, what is it exactly? It is a slow and contemplative walk in the forest. This Japanese practise aims to reconnect humans with nature so that they can take care of their body, mind and soul. A guided shinrin yoku walk consists of a series of invitations that appeal to your senses, taking the time to breathe, feel, observe, slow down and listen to the sounds of the forest. Slowness is the key, and silence is the order of the day.
Over the past few years, many Japanese studies have demonstrated the physical and psychological benefits of shinrin-yoku. This practice, recognized by the medical profession in Japan, can be prescribed to treat stressed and anxious patients or people who suffer from cardiovascular disease. Yet, it is not recognized in North America. Something that might change in the next year or two, according to Bavin, one of the nine certified guides in B.C.
In a Japanese study, beneficial effects of this practice were observed regarding depression, fatigue and anxiety. Many researchers have studied the therapeutic effects of the forest. They observed, in forest walkers, a decrease in stress markers, an improvement in attention, a stimulation of creativity, a decrease in aggressiveness and an improvement in mood. They also observed a drop in the level of glucose in the blood (in diabetic patients), a drop in blood pressure and an improvement in the immune system. The mere sight of green landscapes has positive effects on health.
The practice of shinrin-yoku takes on its full meaning in the world we live in today, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic appeared and changed the way we live our life. People experience stress due to the unknown and fear of the threat, said Bavin.
To learn more about local forest therapy, visit patbavin.com.