Being among trees and out in nature is good for the body, mind and soul. Andrene Alejandro, Forest Therapy Practitioner, writes about its benefits:
Growing up in a small village in Scotland, I had a close connection with the countryside as a welcome retreat from everyday home and school life.
When my career took me to large cities, I would seek out parks and wilder spaces to relax and recharge my mind, body and soul, instinctively knowing that being in nature was nourishing and healing for me.
I’ve since entwined my career in nursing with complementary health practices and continue to be fascinated by the powerful benefits the natural world can share with us.
I took the opportunity to train with the European Forest Institute in 2019 as a forest bathing guide and therapist and introduced this practice to the Isle of Man, where I have enjoyed living since 2017.
In these challenging times I think it is even more crucial that humans acknowledge and show respect to the natural world and our ecosystem as a valued partner with precious resources and gifts we cannot live without.
'We cannot pretend to be healthy on a sick planet' was voiced from the Vatican earlier this year and the science that has brought awareness to the practice of Forest Therapy (bathing) is helping develop a relationship of reciprocity, in which nature and the practitioner find a way to work together that supports the wholeness and wellness of each.
I believe this fits in well with the Isle of Man, continuing the UNESCO Biosphere philosophy.
Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku (as the practice originates from Japan), literally means 'showering oneself in the forest atmosphere' and is globally known as an effective, research-based, practice supporting healing and wellness in forests and other natural environments.
Forest bathing is not bathing as we usually know it, but wearing comfortable clothing suitable for the changing seasons.
Regularly practicing forest bathing can be of great benefit to us. When we take the time to slow down and really engage all of our senses, noticing the beauty and rhythms in our natural surroundings, we may, in turn, come to value nature more.
By intentionally slowing down our pace of walking and increasing attention to our surroundings, our body's metabolism and 'mind chatter' take a pause, making it possible for the body to rest and repair from the low-level stress we may experience daily.
Many plants and trees release chemical messengers (phytoncides) into the air, which can help boost our health by reducing levels of stress hormones and certain types of inflammation which can lead to diabetes, cancer and feelings of anxiety and depression.
Studies also show that being in nature allows our brain to relax, rest and recharge, increasing short-term memory and concentration giving us headspace for more imagination, creativity and happiness in our lives.
A forest bathing walk with a guide (when Covid restrictions allow again) typically lasts two+ hours and covers 1.5-2 kilometres but can be tailored to everyone’s ability and, of course, weather conditions on the day.
As when starting any new practice such as yoga or meditation, taking a forest bathing walk with a guide will teach you the skills to develop your own practice for continuing your self-care.
Focusing on your senses and breathing in nature takes attention away from any anxious thoughts into the present moment which allows us to cultivate a sense of awe and wonder so often missing in our lives today.
Nature becomes the therapist and each walk is unique, partnered by the influence of nature's elements present during the walk - and sometimes with a little bit of magic.
To close the walk, I like to offer a thank you to our surroundings. We do this together by creating a beautiful piece of eco art; have a tea ceremony with locally wildcrafted plants; or by sharing nature-inspired poetry to celebrate our exchange with nature.
My aim is to help people cope with the stress of everyday life by building on the resilience and balance found in nature. By forging these new connections and social awareness people may find themselves eager to work with nature as a partner in a reciprocal way such as planting trees, consuming less, creating less waste, recycling more waste and avoiding single use plastics etc...
My wider vision is to form partnerships with local environmental organisations such as UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man, Manx Wildlife Trust and private landowners willing to share their land for private walks.
I would love to introduce local healthcare providers and charities with the idea of practicing forest bathing and forest therapy to augment conventional healthcare practices, like 'Green Prescriptions' in New Zealand, the Natural Health Service in Merseyside and GPs' prescribing 'Time in Nature” in Scotland.
I offer forest bathing walks and nature-based therapies throughout the Isle of Man and can be contacted via the Facebook group Forest Therapy Isle of Man or @foresttherapies on Instagram.
Andrene Alejandro is a forest therapy practitioner, Natural Mindfulness guide, registered nurse, lactation consultant, biodynamic craniosacral therapist and Weleda wellbeing advisor.