The indescribable beauty of nature has always had a soothing, almost narcotic, effect on us human beings. And nature can take your breath away at the best of times.

The inexplicable joy nature's beauty kindles in us has given rise to a movement called "forest therapy,” which is a subset of a broader movement called nature therapy that also includes garden therapy, horticultural therapy, Kneipp therapy (a form of hydrotherapy) and ocean therapy, among others.

All of these mini-movements are linked to one another by a return to nature.

Its practitioners describe forest therapy as a broad group of techniques or treatments aimed at improving an individual's mental or physical health, specifically with an individual's presence within nature or outdoor surroundings.

One example of forest therapy is “forest bathing,” which translates into Japanese as “shinrin-yoku.” Originating in Japan, shinrin-yoku is a practice that combines a range of exercises and tasks conducted outdoors.

Developed in Japan in the 1980s, the practice of shinrin-yoku has since become a central part of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine, according to its proponents. Today’s modern forest therapy movement is rooted in the shinrin-yoku.

Forest therapy, however, focuses on immersing oneself in nature to help soothe battered nerves and restore a sense of mental well-being. Its champions claim forest therapy can boost our immune system and promote faster recovery from physical ailments.

“There are an infinite number of healing activities that can be incorporated into a walk in a forest or any other natural area,” according to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs (ANFT), which trains students to become certified forest therapists.

“An activity is likely to be healing when it makes room for listening, for quiet and accepting presence, and for inquiry through all eight of the sensory modes we possess.”

Practitioners insist forest therapy has roots in science. They refer to dozens of research papers documenting the healing powers of an activity as simple as strolling in the woods. Forest bathing also seems to significantly mitigate stress, which is the root cause of a host of ailments.

By relieving stress, forest therapy might become an important part of staying or getting healthy.

“Levels of the stress hormone cortisol decreased in test subjects after a walk in the forest, when compared with a control group of subjects who engaged in walks within a laboratory setting,” said ANFT. “Forest bathing catalyzes increased parasympathetic nervous system activity which prompts rest, conserves energy, and slows down the heart rate while increasing intestinal and gland activity.”

The same type of forest is good for both birds and people
The same type of forest is good for both birds and people

And, no one will doubt leisurely forest walks are far, far better than urban walks at reducing cortisol levels while decreasing blood pressure and heart rate. Other research also shows forest bathing allows person to bet better at creative problem-solving after time spent in the wilderness.