What is forest therapy?
Unlike hiking, Forest Therapy is not a practice of exertion, but of slowing down and reconnecting. It is an intentionally structured, accessible experience that takes us out of our thinking brains, and into our senses in the present moment.
The roots of Forest Therapy as practiced by Wild Philadelphia begin with the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing.” This standard preventative health practice in Japan, refers to “bathing” in the beneficial chemicals emitted by trees, which research has shown to provide a myriad of health and wellness benefits. In 2012, M. Amos Clifford founded the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy (ANFT) here in the US. Amos combined elements of Japanese forest bathing with his four decades of experience in wilderness guiding, Zen meditation, psychotherapy, and educational consulting, to create a framework for “Forest Therapy” – the version of nature connection increasingly practiced here in the US.
Forest Therapy walks have been shown to:
lower cortisol levels
reduce blood pressure
increase the production of disease-fighting Natural Killer (NK) cells
improve sleep and mood
The ANFT style of Forest Therapy builds on those benefits and looks beyond – to what happens when people remember that we are a part of nature, not separate from it, and are related to all other beings in fundamental ways.
Nature and Forest Therapy is a powerful antidote to the stresses of an industrialized, rapidly urbanizing society, where busyness is often used as a measure of worth. It can help us to heal our imbalanced relationships with time, with each other, and with ourselves.
As Japan shifted away from agriculture and towards an industrialized, tech-focused economy in the 1980s, the government noticed a staggering rise in chronic illness, heart disease, and general mortality. It was around this time that karoshi — the phenomenon of death by overwork — really took hold. Soon enough, cash began pouring into any and all research that would help combat this massive health epidemic. Much of this research confirmed a narrative that we’ve all felt anecdotally – that time spent in nature makes us feel better. But few expected to find such a direct and measurable way that nature connection can heal the human body while increasing our overall sense of wellbeing.
Most notable amongst this research was the discovery that even small increments of time in forest environments significantly boost our body’s production of natural killer (NK) cells — a type of white blood cell that seeks out and destroys damaged and pre-cancerous cells. As it turns out, trees’ immune systems emit chemicals called phytoncides, which help protect them from fungus and dangerous invaders of all kinds. It makes perfect sense that humans, given our long evolutionary history amongst the trees, are impacted by these beneficial emissions.
In the last decade, plenty of authors have taken a deep dive into the scientific link between nature time and human health (See The Nature Fix, Last Child in the Woods, Your Brain on Nature, to start.) In the time since those first studies, Japan has integrated shinrin yoku – or forest bathing – as a national preventative health practice, with Certified Forest Bathing Trails and full service forest bathing health centers in its national parks.
ABOUT Wild Philadelphia
Jess Gregan founded Wild Philadelphia in 2019. She received her Forest Therapy training through the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy, Cohort 34.
In her prior work as a chamber of commerce director, Jess worked extensively with local entrepreneurs, Fortune 50 corporations and a variety of nonprofits. She noticed the accomplished professionals she worked with all had something in common – they couldn’t slow down. When asked how things were going, “busy” was the correct answer. The more you put on your plate, the more worthy and successful you could seem. She felt herself falling into this trap too, and decided to make a radical shift in her career trajectory.
Jess’s mission in starting an urban forest therapy practice is to help busy folks from all backgrounds to heal their relationships with time, with the environment, and with themselves. Her approach to Forest Therapy helps individuals cultivate greater self awareness, deeper listening skills, empathy, and an understanding that we are all part of the same ecosystem.
Jess views Forest Therapy as a mechanism for broad social change that will help repair the connection between human beings and the natural world they are a part of. Forest therapy helps people to fall in love with nature – and when you love something, you want to protect it. Her deep commitment to protecting our environment and planet is why Wild Philadelphia donates a portion of all profits back to environmental and conservation organizations in our region.
Proud to be a Woman & LGBTQ Owned business. Our core values are: Reciprocity, Empathy, Creativity, Flexibility, and Trust.
These values inform every area of our guiding, and our business practice. Our vision is to become Philadelphia’s number one ecotherapy firm, providing forest therapy to diverse populations across the region. We know our brand of Forest Therapy will become a vital element of corporate wellness programs and integrative medicine practices in the years to come. The forest therapy movement is just beginning. Thanks for supporting us on this journey.