Walk in the woods is good for your health

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It’s a free and powerful drug – nature can help heal, de-stress and improve our mental health. It sounds simple, but there’s science to back up the claim. For some, all it takes is a walk in the woods.

It may look like a leisurely stroll … but there’s greater purpose for this group gathered among the 1700 acres of trees at the Morton Arboretum.

Amos Clifford, Founder, Association of Nature and Forest Therapy: “The question we often get is, ‘Why do I need a guide? Why can’t I just go out and walk?’”

Led by Amos Clifford, a master of an ancient practice deeply rooted in Japanese culture – they’re here to learn the principles of forest therapy.

Amos Clifford: “Forest therapy is a very simple practice of spending time in the forest, moving through slowly, connecting with our senses.”

The walks are slow, deliberate. Along the way there are activities -- or invitations as they are called – to help foster a deeper connection with the natural environment. This one is known as ‘camera.’

Amos Clifford: “One person closes their eyes and the other person puts their hands on their shoulder and gently guides them and positions them as if they are a camera looking at something of interest. It could be a flower or a dragonfly balanced on a tip of grass.”

The idea is to focus on something we often see … but often don’t take the time to fully experience.

Amos Clifford: “We live in a culture where we’re under chronic stress. When we spend time in a forest environment and in other natural environments, moving slowly and mindfully and really being in a state of relaxation, what happens? The findings of that research are not surprising. It’s good for us. So many good things happen.”

Among them … a drop in the stress hormone cortisol.

Amos Clifford: “Even a two-hour walk has measurable effects that persist for a week or so.”

Joan Robinson, mental health worker: “I work with people who have anxiety, depression, Schizophrenia, bi-polar.”

Joan Robinson travelled from Canada to participate in the training.

Joan Robinson: “I know the benefits, and I just want to bring that back to the community.”

Cindy Crosby is on staff at the Arboretum – where forest therapy may one day be a regular offering.

Cindy Crosby, Morton Arboretum: “To take time in the middle of a stressful busy week and just slow down and sit with a tree, which we do every day for 15 minutes, you can just feel the stress drain off.”

Amos Clifford: “This is a low cost, science-based way to support wellness, and it can definitely assist in healing particularly in mental health conditions, emotional health and so on.”

Forest therapy may soon have an official role in the healthcare systems in Japan and South Korea. Amos hopes the same will happen here in the U.S.

You can learn more about forest therapy and Amos Clifford at www.natureandforesttherapy.org

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