Naturalist and author John Muir wrote, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” That may partly be because walking in nature provides benefits we’ve only recently begun to name and measure.
In the 1980s, Japanese researchers discovered that phytoncides—chemical messengers released by plants and trees to protect them from predators—have notable benefits for human health, including boosting the immune system and reducing stress. Spending time in forests, the findings say, leads to increased energy and improvements in both mood and sleep.
This discovery led the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries to encourage the practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”—spending time taking in a forest with all of one’s senses. The practice has since expanded all over the world, including right here in Minnesota.
Leigha Horton is one of a handful of Twin Cities forest bathing guides certified by the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs. She and husband Travis Norman co-founded Silvae Spiritus, which leads immersive, meditative, two- to three-hour strolls around the Twin Cities metro area. The natural settings they utilize include William O’Brien State Park, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Dodge Nature Center, Crosby Farm Park, and Como Park.
“Our walks are not naturalist-led walks or fitness hikes,” Horton explains. “They’re slow, mindful strolls crafted to awaken your senses, encourage you to take in nature at a much slower pace than you’re probably accustomed to, and enliven a conscious connection with the inherent healing properties of nature.”
Forest bathing’s meditative component makes it different from simply relaxing or exercising outdoors. It offers a unique chance to experience stillness and focused attention in the presence of chemical compounds and sensory stimuli proven to promote feelings of wellbeing. Participants in Horton’s walks report feeling calm, peaceful, energized, and connected to the natural world as well as their fellow forest-bathing participants.
While it’s possible to enjoy forest bathing on your own, working with a guide can help you slow down, notice more, and relax into the moment. “Like having a yoga instructor instead of trying to do it on your own, you’re more likely to have an in-depth experience when guided by someone who knows what they’re doing,” Horton notes.
Find a certified forest bathing guide near you at natureandforesttherapy.org