Forest therapy is coming to Thunder Bay. The Global Institute of Forest Therapy (G.I.F.T) is an organization that promotes nature connection and forest therapy to improve physical and mental health. They have been researching the benefits of forest therapy since 1980. GIFT wants to see forest therapy expand into the college and university setting so they visited Lakehead University to share the benefits of forest therapy as well as the opportunity to become a forest therapy guide in Thunder Bay.
Forest therapy is based on a curriculum that combines indigenous knowledge with traditions that originally stemmed from Japan. There is emerging research that shows that being out in nature has many positive health impacts.
To begin the presentation, participants were handed a business card made from sustainably sourced wood which had tree essential oils embedded into the card. Participants went through a mindfulness exercise for a couple of minutes where they put the card to their nose, closed their eyes, and immersed themselves in their favorite forest setting through visualization and scents from the card.
Nature connection is found to be important for health and well-being, and more and more research is coming out that supports these claims. Forests are a unique ecosystem that mirrors a healthy functioning system. They typically contain fractals which are patterns that repeat within which when noticed can provide health benefits. The forest usually produces phytocides which are airborne essential tree oils. Phytocides can prevent the tree from bacterial, fungal, and insect infestation. These chemicals also have positive benefits for humans and have the possibility to halt the release of cortisol. When people are in an open space like a forest there is room for their entire energy which can help ground them when they are angry or upset. The forest has an abundance of trees which are intelligent organisms which the “Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wholleben describes. There is running water within a forest that can provide negative ions that are essential for health. If you’ve ever put your feet in running water you know it can be a wonderful feeling that can also be quite healing. Breathing in the fresh forest air can also be quite beneficial. Nature is an entity with the potential to connect things.
When people are hiking, running, biking, canoeing, or doing any sort of fast-paced movement in nature, their bodies activate their sympathetic nervous system. This is the nervous system that keeps people in the fight or flight response. Exercising in nature is beneficial, but forest therapy is unique because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the state of healing, where the body can perform different kinds of processes that regenerate cells, clear toxins and helps produce clear minds. The presenters suggest that this system can only be tapped into when people stop and slow down. Forest therapy offers a unique opportunity to activate this system.
There are multiple benefits that forest therapy brings to the hustle and bustle of society. Forest therapy offers the opportunity to connect with the more than human world. It can provide a driving force for mitigating climate change and earth stewardship. It brings pleasure to the present moment. There are many physical and mental health benefits that a forest therapy session can bring. A forest therapy session typically consists of a walk that covers a trail that’s 500m to 1km long and is three hours in duration. Within the three hours, there will be a series of invitations that bring you closer to nature. Each invitation ends with a sharing circle, which is one of the few times where talking is allowed. There are typically 3-5 invitations. The invitations vary in their nature but all have the goal of making you slow down, reflect, and gain clarity.
Forest therapy can be beneficial to nearly everyone. The average Canadian spends 90-95% of their lives indoors. Forest therapy provides the opportunity to escape the monotony of the indoor rat-race. Forest therapy is not unique to only forests and trees. There are invitations and opportunities to reap the same benefits with a connection to water. There is also emerging research on “blue mind” that focuses on the specific benefits that come from connecting and being around water. Being around water can bring people into a meditative state which can bring them away from the anxious state of the typical day-to-day lifestyle. Taking time to connect with nature is an important factor for well-being.
Thunder Bay is proud to be one of the hosts for GIFT training sessions in 2020. The training is an 8-day intensive from May 16-23 that develops the necessary skills to become a forest therapy guide. If you are interested in more information on how to become a forest guide visit https://www.giftoftheforest.com/. Thunder Bay is also looking to develop a self-guided forest therapy trail that has invitations posted throughout the route.
Schedule some time for nature and reap the many benefits that nature connections can offer. Take some time to benefit from the big lake at our doorsteps. Try something new and sign up for a forest therapy walk. Being out in nature and taking time to slow down can benefit you in all aspects of your life.