I grew up in Sri Lanka with all the freedom for daily play and discovery outdoors – as I said in a recent interview, there was no such thing as ‘nature deficit disorder’ in my formative years. The ocean was just down the street, where Sunday family picnics were the norm. That love of the ocean, grandparents who loved gardening, and no lack of adventure just outside my door, sealed my connection to nature.
So when I got a chance in 1993 to go on a safari in Rwanda and sit next to a Silver-backed gorilla, I was on top of the world – my ‘Dian Fossey moment!’
I started hiking in Australia when I migrated in 2010. I had just qualified as a personal trainer, but, I yearned for the freedom of being in nature, away from the confines of a florescent-lit gym. It’s a call we all get at some point in our life, and I was enjoying every minute of raw energy getting to the top of the next hill, pounding my way over kilometers of rugged Australian bush tracks. I even started a hiking meetup group in Melbourne “Happy When I’m Hiking.” That sums it up, doesn’t it? ☺
In 2017, an experience in nature changed the way I related to the healing power of nature. I was in Virginia, celebrating my Mother’s 70th birthday in a lovely house overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her fondest childhood memories were those spent in nature, so her birthday wish was to do exactly that. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at many of the lookouts, marveling at the views, and walking along gentle paths. I was no longer rushing. I was present, looking, touching, tasting and breathing in the forests around me. It made me curious; surely, there must be others that are connecting to nature this way?
And so my inquiry into ‘Shinrin-yoku’ began, finally finding my way to Japan and the Saneum Recreation Forest in South Korea to meet with the pioneers of Forest Therapy and get certified in “Forest Medicine.”
As the President of the International Nature and Forest Therapy Alliance (INFTA), it is my lifelong mission to lead, mentor and coach as many people to become certified Forest Therapy Guides.
The idea of spending quality time in nature may seem simple, but it is actually quite profound and often life-changing. The Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or “Forest Therapy” embodies the concept that healing, relaxation and rejuvenation that occurs by immersing oneself in nature. The scientifically-proven benefits of forest therapy include:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells
- Regulated blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep
- Improved clarity
If you have any questions about the practice of Forest Therapy or becoming a Forest Therapy Guide, please do get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org