The country that brought the world giant robots, giant moths, and little slices of raw fish on rice is now exporting another brilliant aspect of Japanese culture, Forest Bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku.
There is no need to get bare or worry about public indecency charges. Forest Bathing is just the practice of being in nature, with as much clothing as appropriate for the weather, and studies are showing that being in nature improves our cognition, attention, and empathy, reduces anxiety and depression, and even helps manage symptoms of ADHD.
We probably don't need a small cluster of islands in the Pacific to explain that spending time in nature is good for our health. It is not a new concept. But the Japanese are leading the research, including an experiment in 24 forests across Japan measuring stress hormones in saliva, heart rate, blood pressure, pulse and psychological mood states. They found that walking in nature for just 15-20 minutes shows lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, and higher rates of stress relief than walking the same amount of time in the city. Walking in a forest also reduced feelings of tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion, and significantly elevated feelings of vigor. The same study found that even viewing a forest setting had similar physiological and psychological health benefits.
Based on evidence from this and other studies, the Japanese Forest Ministry has designated 48 Official Forest Therapy trails throughout the country and some Japanese companies are even including Forest Therapy in their healthcare benefits.
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku is reaching a wider audience around the world. South Korea has spent $140 million dollars to develop a National Forest Therapy Center. Finland's Finnish Forest Research Institute is studying how diseases and mental disorders associated with our modern stressful lifestyle can be alleviated or managed via Forest Therapy, including Urban Forests.
Even without these studies most of us intuitively know that children benefit from time spent in nature, just as we probably realize that children are spending less and less time outdoors. In fact, they are spending half as much time outside as the did only 20 years ago, averaging 30 minutes a day outside compared with 7 hours a day in front of an electronic screen, according to our National Wildlife Federation.
We know that the future of education is here. Homeschoolers can take algebra on their iPad, learn Chinese over Skype, take first year biology on a mooc (massively open online course), watch a Civil War documentary streaming on Netflix, and read the classics or the latest "if you loved Harry Potter you might like" novel on a smart phone. That is all great news for individualizing education. But time spent in nature also confers very real physical, mental, and social health benefits, from lowered stress, soothing of ADHD symptoms, to greater capacity for creativity, problem solving, ability to assess risk, and more confidence.
Sweden, Denmark and Germany have offered Forest Kindergartens to their children for decades. The benefits have been recognized in the UK, and there are now more than 140 Forest Schools in Britain.
Talking Stick Learning Center is part of a small but growing number of schools in the U.S. utilizing the natural environment in educational programming. Our location at Awbury Arboretum provides immediate access to 55 acres of wooded trails, wetlands, meadows, ponds, gardens, fields, and the sounds and sights of birds, foxes, bullfrogs and other fauna. Our Day Program in the Garden Classroom emphasizes experiential learning across a varied landscape throughout the seasons.
The 10-15 year olds at The Cope House have many opportunities to learn, as well as spend unstructured time, in a natural environment, including a Naturalist class and numerous trails right outside their door.
Talking Stick Learning Center offers a natural environment for children and teens. Spending time in nature is a priority, not just because science tells us so, but because we intuitively recognize the importance of that connection. We see the benefits first hand in the attitudes and energy of our young people.
Learn more about shinrin-yoku and the benefits of being outdoors: