An introduction to forest bathing for practice nurses
Heather Henry explains the concept of ‘forest bathing’ or ‘immersion in nature’ which can be incorporated into general practice nursing as a low cost social prescribing solution
Forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku is a form of ecotherapy or green therapy that may be described as an ‘immersion in nature’. It was introduced by the Japanese government in the 1980's and has undergone extensive research to understand how it supports wellbeing.
Since forest bathing is a no-cost way to help people with long term conditions, this article outlines the basic concept and how it can be incorporated into general practice nursing as a social prescribing solution. Some simple forest bathing invitations are offered, based on the author's practical experience.
Humans have a natural affinity to nature and are eased in its presence. Forest bathing uses our 5 senses to connect to, or ‘bathe’ in nature. It is a mindful practice that calms the stress response by reducing cortisone levels. Forest baths last from 20 minutes to 3 hours and are led by guides who invite us to notice and sense the forest, or indeed any sort of green space, even at home or work.
Forest bathing guides offer ‘invitations’ to participants to notice nature in different ways and the sharing of what has been noticed. General conversation is avoided so that participants stay mindful. A simple example might be to notice the changing of the seasons.
The practice may be extended with the addition of yoga, a Japanese tea ceremony, foraging and eating food and breathing exercises.
Social prescribing is now a central part of primary care. It is defined by NHS England (2020) as ‘an approach that connects people to activities, groups, and services in their community to meet the practical, social and emotional needs that affect their health and wellbeing.’ Based on what matters to the person, link workers or general practice nurses (GPNs) themselves can discuss the idea of ‘green social prescribing’ to support wellbeing. This is termed ‘ecotherapy’: there are multiple definitions, but MIND (2021) describes it as ‘a formal type of therapeutic treatment which involves doing outdoor activities in nature’ of which forest bathing is one area of practice.
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