FOREST BATHING FOR ORGANISATIONS
HOW CAN FOREST BATHING BENEFIT YOUR TEAMS?
Stress & Anxiety Relief
The nervous system is made up of the sympathetic nervous system (also known as the 'fight or flight' part) and the parasympathetic system (or the 'rest and recover' part).
When we are stressed either on our way to work navigating traffic, dealing with crowded trains or waiting for the bus or train in the rain, or at work with urgent emails to deal with, a backlog of calls to return or with deadlines looming, our fight or flight response will start up.
Our heart beats faster, our blood pressure increases, our digestion slows down and the stress hormone cortisol is released.
The good news....
Studies have found that forest bathing:
Lowers the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline
Suppresses the sympathetic nervous system (the 'fight or flight' mode)
Enhances the parasympathetic or rest and recover system
Lowers blood pressure
How does forest bathing reduce stress?
On a forest bathing walk, Liz offers a series of invitations that are designed to support sensory connection to the natural environment. An example invitation is:
To listen to the sounds of the forest for about 10 or 15 minutes
The sounds of nature are a link to the environment and to ourselves and in the forest, we can learn once again to listen to the landscape we were built to hear. Immersed in nature, we are in a restorative sonic landscape.
Being still and quiet, we begin to relax.
Many studies have shown that the sounds of nature relieve stress as they decrease the functioning of the body's sympathetic nervous system ('fight or flight') and increase the parasympathetic nervous system ('rest and recover').
In addition, studies have shown that when we listen to natural sounds, we turn our attention outwards as opposed to an inward focus which happens when we listen to artificial sounds (inward-focus attention is associated with worry and brooding).
The sounds of nature we most like are : water, wind, bird chatter and birdsong and we are most sensitive to sounds between the frequencies of 2,500 and 3,500 hertz...the range between which birds sing.
Why are sensory connection invitations offered on a forest bathing walk to relieve stress and anxiety?
When we are experiencing through our senses, we are fully present. We can sense something only now. Of course, we can imagine what something sounds or feels like in the future or in the past, but in those scenarios, we are not directly sensing; only imagining sensing which we do through our minds.
Another word for experiencing through our senses is embodiment and it's when we are in a state of embodiment that we begin the drop the masks we wear, the roles we play; we experience just being, here and now. We are not getting stressed about the the things we need to do, or worrying about things that have happened in the past. Self-judgement and critical analysis fall away and we begin to be ourselves naturally; we begin to experience peace of mind.
Attention Restoration Theory
There are many studies that suggest time spent in nature has positive effects on attention, cognitive performance, emotions, mood and behaviour.
One of these studies is Attention Restoration Theory as proposed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan.
The Kaplans suggested that there are four cognitive states towards cognitive restoration:
Clearer head, or concentration
Mental fatigue recovery
Soft fascination, or interest
Reflection and restoration
During the first part of a forest bathing walk, Liz offers invitations that help participants shift their attention away from cognitive processes that require 'voluntary' or 'directed' attention, the type of attention we use at work, or driving or navigating along a busy street. Thoughts, worries and concerns of everyday life are slowly relinquished as participants begin to slow down and experience the natural environment through their senses.
During the next stage of a forest bathing walk, participants engage with low stimulation invitations. Awareness has now shifted from voluntary or directed attention to 'involuntary' attention which is sometimes called soft fascination. Involuntary attention requires no mental effort, it just comes naturally. This is the kind of attention we use when we are in nature, when we effortlessly notice the movement of leaves in the breeze, the sound of the birds or the water gently flowing in a brook.
These soothing sights and sounds give our mental resources a break. They allow our minds to wander and to reflect, and so restore our capacity to think more clearly.
The final stage of Kaplan's theory is reached once participants have spent a prolonged amount of time in a natural, restorative environment. There is time for relaxation, restoration of attention and some life reflection. This tends to be during the final part of the forest bathing walk..during and after the tea ceremony.