Forest Bathing - nature connection for wellbeing
Bronwyn Paynter, Alex Gaut
Session duration: 120 minutes
Key words: Forest bathing, Shinrin-yoku, nature connection, sensory, mental health, wellbeing, evidence-based
Simple, sensory and open – ‘the forest is the therapist’. These are the essential elements of forest bathing. Biophilia theory informs us that connecting with nature is an essential part of the human experience. All people in all cultures have developed ways of connecting with nature. The current popularist version of Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, was intentionally crafted in Japan in the early 1980’s as a public health intervention to address rising stress levels associated with urbanisation (and capitalism). The empirical evidence demonstrates the practice is effective in lowering sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze, fawn) activation and increasing parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest) activation. These changes are measured by changes in blood pressure, heart rate variability and salivary cortisol. Other physiological outcomes include increased immune system activation, improved blood glucose regulation and respiratory function. Forest bathing is associated with reduced anxiety and depression and with increased sense of wellbeing and cognitive function (memory, concentration, problem solving) as well as creativity and sense of vitality. Other key outcomes of forest bathing are increased social connection including sharing and normalising the emotional experience of nature connection. Active cultivation of reciprocity with nature, of noticing, supporting and ‘giving back’ to nature is inherent in the practice. Participation in structured, guided forest bathing in a group includes the self-regulated opportunity to reflect on and share the individual’s experience in a non-judgemental, non-directive setting. Forest bathing is well suited to adaptation to the needs of the individual or group, specifically when the ability to participate is impacted by injury, illness, disability or disadvantage. The forest bathing experience provided today will be a ‘taster’ session following a standard evidence-based protocol. The language, sequence and timing are intentionally crafted to optimise outcomes. With the increasing incidence of mental health diagnoses and low level of mental wellbeing in Australia (and many Western cultures), forest bathing provides an engaging, evidence based, non-clinical wellbeing intervention.
About the presenter/s
Bronwyn Paynter is an occupational therapist (OT) who helps OTs internationally create nature-based programs and businesses, using her proprietary NatureOT Method. Bronwyn is obsessed with the evidence about the health and wellbeing benefits of nature and skilled in coaching OTs to develop, evaluate and market evidence-based programs. Bronwyn’s training in Forest & Nature Therapy guiding in 2017 was personally transformational and led to her purchase of an 83 acre private National Park Sanctuary on the Fleurieu Peninsula to share with others and indulge in her own nature connection for wellbeing. Bronwyn holds qualifications in occupational therapy, permaculture design, WHS management and auditing, and project management. But mostly, she loves nature and people.
Alex Gaut was the first Certified Forest Therapy Guide in South Australia, is a co-founder of Nature & Wellbeing Australia, and is a Fellow of the Governor’s Leadership Foundation. She brings a collaborative, compassionate, evidence-based approach to nature connection for the wellbeing of both planet and people. She has worked in environmental conservation and advocacy, ecotourism, citizen science, research, science communication, community development and teaching, and has qualifications in marine science, education, mindfulness and has a Masters in nature and wellbeing.
Dr Jana Norman is a researcher at the University of Adelaide working in law and the humanities, with a focus on rethinking the role of human beings in the human-earth relationship: as part of nature, not apart from nature. Jana is a certified Forest and Nature Therapy Guide and a co-founding member of the Nature & Wellbeing Australia nature connection collective. She is certified in permaculture design, mindfulness training and non-violent communication, and has an extensive background in community development.