The Forest Has your Back

In June 2022 I spent five glorious days in Bergün, Switzerland with a group of ANFT guides and mentors. The focus of this immersion was an anchoring of our training as Forest Therapy Guides.


The benefits of spending an extended period of time connected to Nature is in fact a much bigger story.


A BIT OF HISTORY

In the 1980s my family lived in KwaZulu Natal, and my father (pictured here in the early seventies with my Oupa in the Transkei) worked for Toyota. He’d often come home smelling of engine grease, and today that smell still reminds me of him. Every now and then he would travel to the Toyota HQ in Japan. He wasn’t big on souvenirs or gifts, but he did bring back stories. Being a driven and committed employee at that point of his life, what struck him most was the Japanese work ethic. It turns out that very work ethic was pretty detrimental to the health and wellbeing of many Japanese people, and incidences of cancer and autoimmune disease soared at around that time. The government conducted a whole lot of research to establish how to deal with this fast-growing epidemic.


One research avenue was to examine how forest environments affected human beings.


When trees in forest environments perceive themselves to be under threat (think fungi or other organisms) they release chemicals called phytoncides into the air to target the attacker, with the intent to neutralise it. When we come into contact with these phytoncides - whether through inhaling them or because they are in contact with our skin - our bodies produce “natural killer” or NK-cells. When I first heard the term I thought of the controversial 90s Oliver Stone film - Natural Born Killers. A little like the protagonist-vigilantes Mickey and Mallory Knox these NK-cells travel through our bodies looking for cells that are out of whack and could turn cancerous, and they destroy them as a precaution.


This discovery lead to the founding of Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing.


After conducting further research, and looking at other nature-connecting techniques the founders of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy in the United States designed a 3-hour Forest Therapy experience inspired by the practice Shinrin-yoku. This practice allows us to connect and build relationship with the More Than Human World, as well as with ourselves, and each other.


more than JUST science

There are now numerous studies and articles focused on both the scientific and holistic benefits of spending time in Nature. I've linked to some in the text above, but my other favorites include:

What strikes me whenever getting feedback or reading papers, articles and books is that in addition to boosting immunity, lowering stress, and helping our brains to function better, spending time outdoors generally makes people feel good. Knowing that there's science behind this is great, but I also know HOW I FEEL when I've spent time outside. I feel better. I feel alive. I feel aligned. I feel reconnected.


How do YOU feel when you've given yourself the gift of spending time in Nature? Let me know in the comments...


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