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  • Sharon Lomas

Biophilia: The Healing Forest

woodlands valley ladybower peak district sun shining through the trees derbyshire
Woodlands Valley, Ladybower by Garry Lomas Photography

If you've ever enjoyed a good long walk in the woods or a forest you will know just how great it feels to be amongst the trees. There is something quite magical about being dwarfed by these leafy giants, being comforted by their strong, solid and protective presence as you enjoy a walk through the habitat they support.

For me its always been a destination that draws me close, whatever the season. The forest is a feast for the senses - bird song, soft dappled spring light catching the ferns as they wake up and unfurl, the cool stillness of the shady canopy on a hot summers day. As the seasons change the firework colours of autumn appear with vivid yet fleeting forest fungi, then moody misty atmospheres which then make way for the crispy crunch under foot as the winter frosts set in.

staghorn fungus mushroom woodland forest floor windermere lake district cumbria fruits of the forest
"staghorn" fungus, Windermere

Woodlands and forests are a very spiritual environment to me, giving me a feeling of complete calm and tranquility. Being surrounded by trees is top of my list of natural happy places. Turns out that it is medically proven to be very good for your health to experience and connect to nature in this way.

When I moved to Cumbria I discovered Delyth Johnson of The Healing Forest Space on Instagram and like a couple of magnets we just clicked, becoming firm friends in real life. Delyth is a Forest Therapy Practitioner who works with the forest and nature to bring her clients a greater sense of wellbeing and connection. I am so intrigued by the principles and benefits of connecting to nature through the forest and how our mental health can be significantly improve with just a couple of hours a week spent amongst the trees. I am going to hand over to Delyth to explain her journey and how her practice works.

The Healing Forest, Delyth Johnson

“And into the forest I go to lose my mind & find my soul”, John Muir

That is what happened.

Nature, in particular trees, played a vital role in bringing me home… home within, to my Soul, soothing and supporting me on my own healing journey to wholeness.

This was unknowingly and guided, guided in the sense that Nature called me close.

I was led to water, I was led to the River Thames when I lived in London and was in the throes of what some might say was a breakdown, or a breakthrough depending on how you look at it. I chose breakthrough.

This was a time of facing myself in all my own mess, my shadow and the uncomfortable truth. As my own root issues arose and I would experience debilitating anxiety and panic, I found myself marching out of my flat and walking, walking, walking by the Waters.

The lapping water would calm me down, would help me release tears, would help me self sooth. I would do this morning and night, in the day if needed.

When I would visit Cumbria, where I live now, the trees, the local woodland that is a short walk away, would call me.

The trees, the woodland, would hold me, allow me to surrender to myself, feeling like a parent holding a child while she expresses herself.

Walking in the trees, I would receive my own guidance as I opened up beyond the mind, the psyche, to something much more… the birds soothing; the Oak tree proving a strong masculine presence: strength, honour, solidity, observing; flowers dancing with their lightness; butterflies delighting the senses; the earthen floor solid and trustworthy.

The more I looked, the more I could see, feel, sense, I also gained fresh perspective about myself and what was happening for and within me.

I always had a connection with Nature, with trees, but this was forgotten from childhood, like much is. In my 30’s, I found myself returning to one huge Beech tree, this was intuitive, I was drawn. Nature does this, Earth will call you in via her many forms: water, fire, earth, air, the elements.

My own healing experiences called me to study Shinrin Yoku and Forest Therapy, part of my work now is as a Forest Therapy Practitioner. My own healing experiences led me to want to share this with others.

Shinrin Yoku translates to Forest Bathing – bathing your senses in the atmosphere of the Forest – and has spread globally from Japan. For me, this is an innate and ancient practice, it is more a way of Being, the way humans would have been times past and are meant to be, that is in connection with Nature. Being a part of nature, working with, collaborating with and in alignment, in relationship with Nature.

The disconnection from Nature echoes the disconnection from Self and contributes greatly to a dystopian world and world view, however I do feel we are in a time of great resurgence to be with Nature. And therefore ourselves. Nature’s healing essence is part of this transformational time we are in, she is a therapist and a Mother/Father.

Shinrin Yoku – Forest Bathing – is now receiving a lot of interest and is featured in the media while fast becoming a popular wellbeing tool, but this is much more than a wellbeing tool. This is a beautiful practice of reconnection with oneself and Nature, and is immensely healing to mind, body, soul and spirit, the benefits are many and include:

• improvements in short term memory

• restored mental energy

• stress relief

• reducing inflammation

• increase in concentration

• sharper thinking

• creativity

• immunity (the emission of phytoncides found in leaves, branches and bark can increase white blood cells: Natural Killer cells)

• lowers blood pressure

Research states that we need only 2 hours in the forest per week to lower the stress hormone cortisol and to support immunity by breathing in phytoncides. Aside from phytoncides, reducing stress supports the endocrine system therefore the immune system, digestive system, cardiovascular system, the physical, emotional and mental body. Therefore, the whole person benefits.

The practice of Shinrin-yoku can be effective in reducing poor mental health symptoms (i.e., depression, anxiety, anger) in the short-term. The practice offers a simple and effective solution to mental health issues, that are commonplace today.

Forest Therapy builds on the Shinrin Yoku practice by creating 6-12 week courses working with the framework as a therapeutic solution for mental or physical health issues. Research states the efficacy of nature connection within this area, forming part of green prescription development.

Personally, I have an interest in developing Forest Therapy courses for emotional health and addiction recovery, this is an area I am exploring with potential partner organisations.

Forest Being, Nature Being

Being in the forest, the woodland, by the ocean, the lake, the mountains and in connection, not so focused on contact (walking, biking, talking!), is a practice we can all engage with. The focus is on NOT doing, the focus is on BEING. Learning to Be is a practice in and of itself: the ability to put the phone down for 30 minutes, sitting under a tree and just Being with no distractions, can at first be a challenge.

To create your own Shinrin Yoku practice, commit to spending some time alone in nature every week especially in local forests, woodlands or your own back garden. You might dedicate two to three hours all at once, or alternatively, divide the sessions into half-hour slots throughout the week in order to receive the full two hour benefits of cortisol reduction. You can plan this time and put into your diary like you would another wellbeing activity.

Time is spent just being, opening your senses, slowing down, phone on silent or switched off. Take your journal, or just lie down, and learn to be still again with nature. You could give yourself prompts: What do I notice today? What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel? Taking notice and journal at the end, if you would like too.

Nature has much for you, you also have much for Nature.

Part of this reconnection is the reciprocation, the sense of gratitude and appreciation, the rekindling of an old love restored, the opening of parts of yourself that were hidden, that Nature gently brings out of you.

Nature welcoming you Home, in many senses.

Author: Delyth Johnson, Founder, The Healing Forest Space and Forest Therapy Practitioner

To receive your free Forest Bathing Guide, sign up to my newsletter for announcements later in 2021. Research and resources are on my website.

Thank you Delyth for sharing your story with us. What a fascinating subject and one that, with practice, we can all achieve the benefits of. As lockdown life has shown many of us over the last year, being able to slow down and see the seasons change has become a positive of our current situation. Now is a great time to further this reconnection to nature and get out into the forest - especially as Spring is on the way. Spring is a magical time to be connecting to nature, as new life begins around us and seeing it happen creates such positivity for our mental wellbeing. Enjoy!

Follow Delyth and her daily inspirations over on her Instagram The Healing Forest Space


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