Need a nudge to get back into nature? Take the upcoming course, Shrinrin-yoku to help tune out the daily stressors and re-connect with nature at Mt. Cuba Center. This class goes beyond just a walk in the woods and into a discovery of wellness with the help of a certified guide. Shrinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “forest bathing.” What started as a movement in Japan to alleviate burnout and inspire a connection to forests in the 1980’s, shinrin-yoku advocates for something we’ve known all along – time spent in nature makes us feel better.
We talked with Anisa George, certified guide, about the class and what students can expect when forest bathing. Read more below to discover the history of shinrin-yoku and what awaits those who decide to take the journey. Then join us for a walk through the woods on July 17, and discover a unique experience of presence, calm and joy that awaits in shinrin-yoku.
Anisa George is a permaculture designer and certified guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides. Her approach to forest therapy grows organically out of her experience with collaborative theater: marrying playful elements of ensemble-created performance with the mindful presence and gentle pace of the forest therapy tradition.
Mt. Cuba Center: Let’s start with perhaps the simplest and most important question: What is forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) and where does it come from?
Anisa George: Shinrin-yoku started in Japan in the early 1980s, though I think it’s safe to say that we’ve been reaping the therapeutic benefits of forest environments since our inception as a species. The Japanese simply used the scientific process to prove what many of us know instinctually—a walk in the woods makes us feel better. The term was invented by Tomohide Akiyama, former director general of the agency of forestry,—who linked a campaign to save Japan’s forest with a public health campaign to boost the health of the Japanese people. The Japanese scientists specifically honed in on the beneficial effects of phytoncides. These are volatile organic compounds emitted by trees that increase our white blood cells and boost our immune system.
Mt. Cuba Center: Tell us about your journey from planting trees to becoming a certified guide for forest bathing.
Anisa George: I grew up on an ex-horse farm in rural Pennsylvania called Little Pond. For the most part my parents were not interested in keeping animals or cultivating a yield. They planted about one hundred native trees, and let the rest of the property rewild—before it was a land management technique everyone was talking about. Subsequently, we have a lot of poison ivy and milkweed. About five years ago, I became interested in growing food and perennial polycultures I could reasonably manage, commuting back and forth from Philly where I live. We’ve now planted about seven hundred trees and shrubs there (not all of which survived!) most of which are fruit or nut producing. But in a way it’s not planting trees that led me to forest therapy, but theater. My parents are theater artists, I grew up performing and for a long time ran my own company, but I was getting frustrated with building plays that inevitably wound up on the rubbish heap or crammed in my basement. Since I was often making work about the ecological crisis we’re in, at some point I thought, why not bring the people to the trees, rather than the trees to the theater? There’s so much drama out there in the woods worth seeing.
Mt. Cuba Center: What are the benefits of Forest Bathing?
Anisa George: Forest bathing can boost your immune system, increase your energy, decrease anxiety and depression, reduce stress, help you sleep, lower blood pressure, increase heart-rate variability, suppress the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight), and increase the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
Mt. Cuba Center: What was your first or most memorable Forest Bathing experience?
Anisa George: My first walk was actually at my training in New Hampshire. I had been trying to track down a guide around Philadelphia where I live, but couldn’t manage to book a walk with anyone, which is part of what lead me to become certified myself. I remember there were gorgeous old hemlock stands on that first walk, it rained a lot, and the orange salamanders seemed very content. I think the thing that surprised me the most is how connected I became to the other people on the walk. I thought it was going to be just about me and the trees, but it was so healing to be walking with other people and listening to their insights as well. This was a big discovery.
Mt. Cuba Center: What is involved in a forest bathing experience or what can students expect when they register for this experience?
Anisa George: Well, every walk is different. Anything can happen out there, and much of the experience is about how the student chooses to navigate their time. We alternate between what are called “invitations” which help us to engage with the environment with one or more of our senses and circling up with the rest of the group to reflect and share what we’re noticing. A lot of the work is about slowing down so we can turn our attention outward and tune into the larger ecological community of which we are an integral part.
Join us for Shinrin-Yoku: Forest Bathing Section C on July 17 from 9 am-noon.