Tap Into the Therapeutic Power of the Forest

By Mark Ellison, Ed.D.

What do you do that gives you energy, that fuels your ability to work and play? Do you have anything? Do you escape from the stress of life to allow your mind, body and spirit to heal?

There are so many benefits to our health from spending time in nature, particularly forests. Research has found that spending time in forests can increase attention capacity and creativity, lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system and improve mood.


Sunset from the Waterrock Knob Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway (NC)

Are you tapping into the power of the forest as part of your plan to improve your health? It is a key ingredient that could take your health to the next level. It is the multiplier. If you are walking, biking, relaxing in an urban environment, then  you are getting health benefits. If you do the same in a natural setting like a forest, the benefits are multiplied because of the restorative aspects of nature that impact the body and brain, that are not present in urban settings.

The power of the forest can help you at work, school or home. The more time the better, but try to squeeze in 30 minutes to an hour each week and then gradually increase.The power lies in the ability to experience solitude free (mostly) from noise created by humans. You can enjoy the sound of a waterfall, a bird chirping, or the exhilaration of watching a sunset. These benefits, called soft fascination, allow your attention capacity to rest. Much like muscles after working out, attention becomes fatigued and inhibits the the ability to focus.

My challenge to you is next week find a “sit spot” and spend 30 minutes there. Write about what you are experiencing. Draw. Allow yourself to connect with nature. Enjoy the experience and let me know how it goes!




Forest Bathing: Dr. Qing Li’ s Definitive Guide to the Healing Power of Nature

by Mark Ellison, Ed.D.

Reading Dr. Qing Li’s new book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness that is being released publicly April 17, I found myself reflecting on how time in nature has shaped my life. This excellent read will prompt many to search out ways to introduce time in nature to their lifestyle.

li book

Dr. Li is the leading world expert on forest medicine. He is an immunologist at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School and is a founding member of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, and vice president and secretary general of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine.

This book offers many things: a glimpse into the Japanese culture’s close relationship to nature; an explanation of how nature impacts our health; examples of some of the practices in Japan for using nature to improve health; and suggestions on how to practice Shinrin Yoku. If you take the time to put Dr. Li’s suggestions into practice it will have a positive impact on your life and health.

Nature: Intertwined with the Culture of Japan

Understanding the importance of nature in Japanese culture provides an important lens through which to view this topic.

Dr. Li reflects on time in his childhood growing up in the countryside, contrasting that with today, living in bustling Tokyo. He is blessed though, to work next to a beautiful park. Whether in the city or country, being near nature is important to the Japanese. It is no surprise that Shinrin Yoku is so popular there.

Shinrin Yoku is simply breathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through your senses. Shinrin in Japanese means forest, yoku means bath. Shinrin Yoku is not hiking, jogging or exercising, it is an experience. “Shinrin Yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses it bridges the gap between us and the natural world,” states Li. When this happens the body and mind can begin to heal.

Shinrin Yoku started in Japan, according to Li,  primarily because it is a forest civilization. The culture, philosophy and religion of Japan are all carved out of the forest. Japan is densely populated, but it also has over 3,000 miles of forest. Both of Japan’s official religions (Shinto and Buddhism) believe the forest is the divine. Buddhists believe the natural world is the word of God. Shinto believe the spirit and nature are one, found in rocks, trees, streams and the breeze. This spirit is called kami.

Nature is part of every aspect of life in Japan. Shizen, which means nature, is one of the seven principles of Zen aesthetics, meaning that we are all connected to nature emotionally, spiritually and physically. An example of this, is when in the fall, the Japanese have moon viewings or tsukimi. Family and friends gather together at a place they can clearly see the moon and decorate with autumn flowers and pampas grass.

In 1982 a national health program of forest bathing was introduced in Japan. The forest that was first used (Akasawa) had groves of Japanese Cypress or Hinoki trees. The wood has a scent of lemon and smoke.

Seattle_Olympic2008 072

Olympic National Park Photo by Mark Ellison

How Shinrin Yoku Improves Health

The book transitions from focusing on the origins of Shinrin Yoku to discussing the many health benefits of utilizing this practice.

The science of the connection between nature and health is revealing encouraging results. Research studies have found positive correlations between time in nature and strengthened immune system, increased energy, decreased anxiety, depression and anger, reduced stress and improved sleep.

One of the key benefits of forest bathing is “breathing in the the forest’s natural aromatherapy. Plant chemicals known as phytoncides have been found to boost the immune system. Evergreens like pine trees, cedar, spruce and conifers are the largest produces of phytoncides. Li uses essential oils to introduce the smells of the forest into his indoor environments. His favorite is not surprising, Hinoki oil. Studies have found that exposure to phytoncides increases the numbers and activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells which help fight off disease, decrease levels of stress hormones, increase hours of sleep, increase mood, lower blood pressure and bring the nervous system into balance. Plug your Hinoki infused diffuser up today! I have.


White Trillium, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina  Photo by Mark Ellison

Developing Your Shinrin Yoku Practice

One of the most important take aways from this book is how to incorporate the practice of Shinrin Yoku into your overall healthy living strategy.

Li describes the forest as being like our mother, a sacred place, a paradise of healing, which is the foundation of forest medicine. To experience nature he suggests finding a spot you enjoy going. Leave behind your phone and camera. Let your body be your guide. Be lead by your senses. Savor the sounds, smells and sights of nature. The key to unlocking the wonderful power of nature is found in the five senses. Let nature enter through your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet.

There are many activities you can do in nature to promote health. Walking (perhaps barefoot), yoga, eating, hot springs therapy,  T’ai chi, meditation, nordic walking and plant observation. A very important point is emphasized: it is critical that you take the time to get to know yourself and about what you like to do. Learn how to relax in the forest.

We can not always get outside, but we can bring the power of the forest inside through the use of essential oils. Dr. Li recommends Hinoki oil and also suggests several others.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed reading this book. I have practiced Shinrin Yoku for several years and teach classes on it as well, and learned quite a bit. It provides a solid, informative plunge into the world of Shinrin Yoku. Li offers many suggestions that you will want to refer back to as your practice of Shinrin Yoku evolves, only a few of which are described here. You will not be disappointed with your investment in this book.

Let me know if you are interested in becoming part of a larger community focused on learning about and promoting the connections between nature and health.




A Conversation with Dr. Qing Li about His New Book on Shinrin-Yoku

By Dr. Mark A Ellison

The Japanese practice of Forest Medicine,or Shinrin-Yoku, has gained quite a bit of notoriety of the past few years. Dr. Qing Li is the person who helped develop this practice and promote it first in Japan, and subsequently around the world. I first worked with Dr. Li in 2011, and had the opportunity to meet with him in 2013 where we presented at a conference about the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine.


Qing Li and Mark Ellison hosting the first North American INFOM meeting.

Dr. Li is a physician at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School, a visiting fellow at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is a founding member and chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, a member of the Task Force of Forests and Human Health, and the vice president and secretary general of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine.

He has a new book that will be released in April 2018: Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness which will provide insights to how nature impacts our health and how to experience Shinrin-Yoku. I recently had the opportunity to get feedback from Dr. Li about his new book recently.

li book

What is the focus of this book?

“Although there is not much new data in this book, it is written for general readers in an easy to understand manner. The target audience for this book is the general public, not for researchers. There are many forest bathing practices in this book.”

Is Forest Medicine becoming more widely accepted?

“We have to understand that Forest Medicine is a preventive medicine, but not a clinical medicine in the moment. I hope Forest Medicine will be developed into a clinical medicine at least partially.”

What countries are in the forefront of developing forest therapy bases and or integrating access to nature as a primary public health initiative?

Japan, Korea, Finland, China

How do you practice Shinrin-Yoku?

“I always go to forest bathing once a month and visit city park every weekend. I always take hot spring after forest bathing.”

qing li

Dr. Qing Li

Spending time in nature has many benefits for the mind, body, and spirit. Take time to learn more about Shinrin-Yoku in your efforts to maximize your health and well-being.

Prescriptions for Parks Bill Provides Free State Park Access

An obstacle to the use of nature for improved health is often healthcare providers who are unaware of where to send patients who could benefit from time in nature, and who could help the patient once they go to a park or nature area. This  is preventing many people from connecting with the natural environment and experiencing the health benefits it offers. With over 72 million people in the United States considered medically obese and over 40% considered sedentary (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) it is imperative to find innovative ways to promote health and well-being. A missing link to encourage people to utilize nature for improved health is free access to nature areas, specifically public lands.

Photo by Mark Ellison

Photo by Mark Ellison

New Jersey Assemblywoman BettyLou Decroce (R) is taking one of the first steps in this direction. She introduced a bill that would create “Prescriptions for Parks,” allowing healthcare practitioners to write a prescription for a New Jersey State park pass for individuals diagnosed with obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and heart disease, which maybe treated with exercise. New York, Chicago, Indiana, New Mexico and California have implemented similar park prescription programs.

Describing the need for Prescription for Parks program Decroce states, “Healthcare practitioners cannot emphasize enough the importance of exercise as part of a individual’s treatment program especially for those with metabolic, respiratory and cardiac conditions. This measure provides those suffering from these diseases an incentive to not only exercise, but an opportunity to do so outdoors, surrounded by the beauty of our state’s natural resources. Treadmills and exercise bikes are great for physical fitness, but there’s nothing like a hike, a jog or swim in the forests and lakes or rivers found in nature. Our State parks are an underutilized resource, by incentivizing residents to exercise and visit State parks citizens will be healthier, insurance companies will shoulder less of a burden, healthcare tax dollars will be saved and New Jersey’s beautiful parks will be highlighted and enjoyed.”

Photo by Mark Ellison

Photo by Mark Ellison

The Park Prescription pass would be valid for free entrance and parking to all 50 State park facilities for two 12-week sessions, and could be renewed. Also included in the bill is a requirement for the Division of Parks and Forestry to develop a brochure for suggested workouts within park facilities, utilizing already established activity programs and trails.

This is a model that should be considered nationally for all state and national parks where a park prescription would provide free access.  To maximize the potential of this program, classes need to be offered at parks that help people understand how exercising and spending time in nature impacts mental and physical health.Offering educational programs that include ecotherapy professionals such as horticultural therapists or the emerging field of forest therapy would raise the level of health benefits experienced by visitors to parks. Nature provides many health benefits, but utilizing the expertise of these professional therapists trained in how to tap into the restorative power of nature is essential to help participants fully benefit from their time in nature, and to continue to experience the benefits once they return home.

There are a number of programs  that are encouraging exercise and promoting the use of public lands as a health resource.

-Indianapolis based non-profit Exercise in Medicine has developed toolkits to educate healthcare care professional on effective methods for prescribing exercise.

-The Prescription Trails program in New Mexico that developed a trail rating system simplifying the process of identifying and prescribing trails.

-The Children and Nature Initiative in Brooklyn prepares “nature champions” to train other healthcare practitioners to prescribe outdoor activities for children.

-The Kids in Parks Initiative sponsored in part by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is designed to connect and promote child health, park health, and community health. One of the programs is designed to make hiking more attractive and has a website for participants to log miles hiked to receive prizes related to outdoor activity.

Green Gyms in England  are structured programs to use gardening, trail maintenance, environmental conservation, and other nature-based activities as exercise. They are promoted as a fun and free alternative to gyms.

The Institute at the Golden Gate offers a top-notch resource guide for developing Park Prescription programs.

The National Recreation and Park Association recently published a review of five Park Prescription programs.

We must develop a framework that supports patients so they can seamlessly transition from a healthcare provider to exercising in nature.This will require educating healthcare providers on the health benefits of time in nature; developing resource guides to help providers make recommendations on where patients can go, and to help patients navigate the options; and having educational programs at parks to introduce people to nature and how it positively impacts their health. To support this healthcare flexible spending accounts should cover expenses related to exercising in nature and state parks such as entry fees and program registration costs. Health insurance should cover the cost of ecotherapy preventive care programs.

This type of program requires collaboration and innovative thinking. Grant funding will be required to get it off the ground. Once implemented, this could transform the health of a community.

Using “Bioenergetic Landscapes” in Italy to Improve Human Well-Being

One of the purposes of Hiking Research is to bring to the forefront how nature is utilized to improve health and well-being. I have recently had the opportunity to learn about the work of Marco Nieri of Bologna, Italy, an ecodesigner, and researcher on the energetic influence of plants. He is the founder of  the Bioenergetic Landscapes Laboratory which studies how the energy produced by plants impacts human well-being.The use of “Bioenergetic Landscapes” is an innovative technique that utilizes plants and trees for human well-being based on the belief that the electromagnetic interaction between plants and humans impacts our well-being.

Marco Nieri Photo courtesy Marco Nieri

Marco Nieri
Photo courtesy Marco Nieri

Marco collaborated for over 15 years with Dr. Walter Kunnen of Antwerp (Belgium), who in 1960 founded “Archibo Biologica”, an important independent center of scientific research on the biosphere and the energetic influences on living organisms conveyed by natural and artificial electromagnetism, a point of reference for hundreds of doctors and naturopaths throughout Europe.

Marco and I have been communicating for several months, and I wanted to share some of what I have learned. Marco’s work with Bioenergetic Landscapes is fascinating, and as with all areas focused on how nature impacts human health, a strong base of empirical research is needed to provide a clearer understanding of the benefits that plants provide through the energy they produce.

Talk about your background and how you became interested in this.

Marco Nieri: In the 80s I worked as an interior designer and I used, for deep conviction, eco-friendly and biocompatible materials. At that time the market was not very prepared for this, but I was concerned to take this challenge very seriously to understand which were the elements that could affect our state of pleasure and well-being in the living environment. For this I attended dozens of courses in Italy and abroad on most various matters, from Feng Shui, to the influence of colors, shapes and the visible and invisible in our lives, as well as the chronobiology and geopathic fields.

In the early 90s, I met a Belgian independent researcher, Dr. Walter Kunnen, who had founded in 1960 in Antwerp “Archibo Biologica”, an independent institute of research about  the influence of Biosphere on health. His acquaintance was crucial for me and in the fifteen years that I worked with him, I understood the enormous importance of natural and artificial (unfortunately) electromagnetism over the existence of all living beings and how to measure the possible effects either on the environment or on the organism. All this through a non-conventional approach and measurement system, but a system able to provide accurate and useful biological information. With this knowledge I was able to devote myself to the study of bio-electromagnetism in vegetable field, my real passion, investigating the electromagnetic interactions between the biosphere, the trees and the human being.

Explain what a bioenergetic landscape is.  Have you studied gardens in areas outside of Italy?

Marco Nieri: Today we know that living organisms regulate all biological processes through their electromagnetic phenomena and therefore emanate measurable energy fields that constantly interact with the environment.

The deep analysis of this subject allowed me to develop an innovative discipline, called    “Bioenergetic Landscapes ” , which uses the natural electromagnetic fields to design and implement “Bioenergetic” parks and gardens with particular benefit for our body.

A group of tree huggers. Photo courtesy of Marco Nieri

A group of tree huggers.
Photo courtesy of Marco Nieri

This technique allows to check with specific measurements that each species or genus of plant emits weak electromagnetic fields of high biological affinity – with their own characteristics – which might influence differently the energetic status of our organs. Normally these electromagnetic fields can be used for our well-being just standing in contact with the plants, such as ” hugging ” a tree, as recommended by all the ancient cultures where this practice was suggested as therapeutic and revitalizing. Now we can understand which organs will benefit more and to what degree, and if necessary, we can recommend a plant rather than another.

A bioenergetic garden in Italy Photo courtesy Marco Nieri

A bioenergetic garden in Italy
Photo courtesy Marco Nieri

In order to use these energies on a larger scale we accomplish precise electromagnetic surveys on the ground where the park or the garden will be located, to detect the presence of specific points that are in correspondence of electromagnetic flows with given characteristics, in order to place the species of plants more healthy for us. This interaction between local electromagnetism and trees enables to amplify and spreading their emissions with a principle that can be defined “electromagnetic information” as the one generated by a radio program on his broadcast signal. This will favorably alter the bioenergetic quality of the biosphere around them, affecting areas extended up to a few tens of meters around.

To better illustrate the phenomenon, imagine that the natural electromagnetic field that has the characteristics we’re looking for, is a pure and clear mountain stream, and that you immerse in the middle of it a glass filled with ink of a certain color, that in our case is the tree with its particular energy: until the ink will come out from the glass, the water will flow downstream coloring itself for some distance, until returning transparent. Much like this happens in electromagnetic reality studied by the Bioenergetic Landscapes, with the only difference that the tree never wears out.

A bioenergetic park in Italy Photo courtesy Marco Nieri

A bioenergetic park in Italy
Photo courtesy Marco Nieri

Staying a few minutes in these spaces facilitates and nourish the most vital functions and well-being of our organs (immune system, circulatory, liver, thyroid, adrenal gland, etc. ..) and involves a more intense and effective recovery from stress as evidenced by the measurements performed with diagnostic tools as GDV  Bioelectrography (Gas Discharge Visualization) and with various vibration devices of electromagnetic and TRV infrasound analysis.

The study of the different energetic qualities of the plants has expanded over the years in various areal climates, from northern Europe to the forests of Costa Rica. The result has been to discover that wherever nature is extremely generous, and except for a few cases, it offers species and varieties of trees that I would call actually therapeutic  both for their phytotherapeutic and energetic components

Describe the antenna you use to measure the energy of plants and how it works.

Marco Nieri: There is actually no electronic device in the world that can perform sophisticated biological measurements in both environment and humans. This is why Dr. Walter Kunnen had to use for his investigations a biophysical tool, called “Lecher antenna”, created in the 50s by a German engineer, tool that Kunnen refined after. Up to now, it is the only one I know able to provide indications on the actual presence of the weak electromagnetic fields that have a biological influence, and that allows to measure the effects on plants and humans. It is a manual antenna, provided with a frequency selector and a sort of inner magnet. This allows us to tune on the frequencies known either in the natural electromagnetic fields or in the various organs of the body, by measuring their intensity on each of the two magnetic polarities. This detail is of utmost importance for our evaluations. The human body of the operator is then able to provide “biological energy” to the device without adding artificial components. For this reason we can consider it a tool of biological measurement.

Is the concept of bioenergetic landscapes becoming more accepted? Are healthcare facilities utilizing gardens?

Marco Nieri: The new vision offered by this technique from a decade ago has struggled to spread. Born out from a conventional scientific context, and innovative in its character, It was regarded by many as a new-age discipline or even as esoteric. Yet many people “feel” the way the things are. When I talk with people who often are in touch with nature as older farmers or forest rangers they show no surprise at all of the phenomenon that I describe. Today the application of this technique is much more recognized, and I been asked to design bioenergetic gardens in  health care settings, as in the Corte Roncati, one of the most important Italian Centres for technologic support to disability , or Bellaria Hospital, both in Bologna, or to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome, in a centre dedicated to the reception of sick children with cancer and their families. This, however, is the result of peculiar choices of  enlightened administrators. In Italy the use of green in healthcare facilities is still not developed and, even if it was customary until the ’30s, there is little awareness of the social, human and economic benefits that this can lead.

Describe several trees and plants and their impact on humans based on your studies.

Marco Nieri: The ability of plants to affect energy on the surrounding environment depends on the size of their trunk, which must have at least a couple of centimeters (a little less than half of an inch) in diameter. These properties can be found in trees and large shrubs essentially.

From these analyses emerges that some species can be defined extremely positive for health, so that they can be classified as therapeutic. Other are more or less healthy for certain organs, and others can be probably considered disturbing or harmful on some organs, such as Walnut or Cypress, inhibiting proper energetic functionality, especially on the cardiovascular, lymphatic and endocrine systems.

A scene from the "Smiling Forest" Photo courtesy of Marco Nieri

A scene from the “Smiling Forest”
Photo courtesy of Marco Nieri

Among those who have the best effects on the organism we find Oak, Beech, Maple , Oak, Holly, Magnolia, Willow, Cherry and many Mediterranean plants, such as Palm, the Pomegranate and the Olive tree. When we speak about healthy plants it means that there will be a deep supply of vital energy on all organs and functions that we can measure, (about thirty) with peaks of extreme benefit for some functionality in particular.

This depends – I think – by the particular chemical and physical constitution of the plant, as the salts and mineral substances creating its constitutional base, but also on the type of soil on which the plant grows and local environmental variables, which may determine to some extent differences from place to place .

It’s interesting to underline that over the centuries man has identified through experience and his sensitivity the positive value of many species of trees and some of them, in the course of time, have become the very symbol of vitality and object of worship. In the ancient times they ideally represented the powers and quality of the gods that were associated with them, and that in some cases elected them as their home.

In the case of  the Ash, for example, we know that in Greek mythology it was consecrated to Poseidon, God of the sea, springs and streams: the bioenergetic analysis identifies in this tree a strong therapeutic influence at the level of kidneys, bladder and lymphatic system, organs related to the correct flow of liquids in the body.

Have you researched how being near bodies of water impacts humans?

Marco Nieri: Our system of energetic measurement is applied for long since, in the analysis of the quality of the sites. Water is a fundamental element, electromagnetically able to influence the environment and therefore the life that it brings together. The essential condition is however that it is clean and in motion. With these conditions, a stream, a lake-spring, a simple activated water in a pool are able to improve the well-being of people, not just by introducing negative ions in the atmosphere or by creating a positive effect on the psyche, but also affecting on electromagnetic fields that pass through it. In Europe we have conducted studies on the Roman thermal baths left until nowadays, where the ancients used to spend a lot of time. These therapeutic waters were able to act even on the air and environments energy, producing well being in different forms.

If I wanted to create a simple bioenergetic garden in my backyard, what would you suggest I include?

Marco Nieri: To create a bioenergetic garden you need to perform several measurements, but I can tell you what is better not include in a limited space, to avoid disturbing effects in some way on some organs in the surrounding area: plants like Oleander, Lagerstroemia, Cherry Laurel, Yew, Acacia, Privet, the various species of Ficus, as well as Walnut and Cypress. On the other hand, fruit plants are excellent and there is no problem with the majority of trees: some of them as I explained above are great. Common ornamental plants of small size do not create any peculiar influence even if some, such as Rose, Rosemary and aromatic herbs are very healthy. In any case, even if some of the plants to be avoided are present, the situation can always be modified.

Do the people of Italy spend time in gardens/nature for restoration?

Marco Nieri: The habit to use nature as an approved factor of well-being is not yet common in Italy. The awareness of how much balance is possible to obtain from the green is very poor and is usually limited to the common folk knowledge, practices that relegate these moments to leisure activities and entertainment. Climate and favorable environmental conditions give Italy beautiful woods and forests, as well as beautiful gardens, but this still seems an immense heritage almost completely under-used. Our Mediterranean nature has always given us so much that we became culturally lazy on this matters, unlike for example the Northern European cultures. May be is because of the desire to fill the gap that Bioenergetic Landscapes was born in Italy.

What types of classes do you offer? Do you suggest certain techniques to help people connect with nature, and obtain the health benefits of plants?

Marco Nieri: Currently I hold in Italy two level courses to teach this technique. The courses are open to all: good will and passion are only requested. At first, I teach how to use properly the measuring instrument, the basic principles and vision of the Biosphere and living things from an energetic point of view. This requires a certain level of training. During these seminars the participants learn how to detect and distinguish between the electromagnetic properties of the trees and their effects on the organism, but also to measure the quality of the Biosphere in different places and all the principles for the application of Bioenergetic Landscapes. In particular, in the second level they deepens their knowledge going to measuring ancient sacred Etruscan or Roman sites, thermal springs and ancient trees, to better understand how the quality of life is closely connected with that of our environment.

Many information I give in my seminars can be found in my book ” Bioenergetic Landscape- How to design the Bioenergetic Therapeutic Garden ” published in Italian by Sistemi Editoriali (http://www.sistemieditoriali.it/catalogo/vse as101.htm).Marco Nieri's book cover

Now with some of my agronomists partners, we have proposed to some parks and natural reserves directors the creation of Bioenergetic therapeutic pathways in nature, where, guided experiences such as the “Forest Bathing ” can be associated to the Bioenergetic knowledge, so we could coin the term ” Bioenergetic Forest Bathing “. The interest has been very high and within a short time we should start with some interesting projects.

An example of existing Bioenergetic path is the “Smiling Forest”, a 2 miles path inside an Italian alpine forest. The work was commissioned two years ago by the Foundation of the famous Italian fashion brand “Ermenegildo Zegna”. Along the way there are 20 bioenergetic pause spots, with signs explaining the benefits produced by the plants on the organism in these areas.

In any case, walking in the woods is healthy also because where trees are plenty they create many beneficial areas, places that we cross almost continuously, remaining almost always immersed in these electromagnetic fields. And if we are not so sure that we are in a bioenergetic area, let’s embrace a beautiful tree

Introducing Silence to our Landscape, One Square Inch at a Time

It is raining this morning at my home in North Carolina. It is soothing listening to the gentle showers while watching the songbirds frolic in the water. What I l love about rain, and snow, is that the world gets a little quieter because not as may people are out, and things seem to slow down a bit.

Olympic National Park Photo by Mark Ellison

Olympic National Park
Photo by Mark Ellison

I enjoy days like this because the world is a noisy place. The majority of us live and work in cities, or developed areas, which usually means non-stop human generated noise: traffic, lawnmowers, airplanes, sirens, trains, machinery and crowded side walks. There is no way to escape. The verve of the city is stimulating, and fun. But for our health, we need an escape from it.

Noise can negatively impact health in many ways. Noise causes stress, and literally any sound can be perceived as noise under the right conditions. Over 11 million Americans are exposed to traffic noise at or above levels that risk hearing loss (Bell et al, 2001). Exposure to noise has been associated with many health problems including hypertension, ulcers, compromised immune system, digestive problems, psychological changes that lead to disease, sleep loss, and delayed development of reading and verbal skills in children (Bell et al, 2001). Noise also increases aggressiveness when people are angry (Bell et al, 2001). Studies have linked increased crime to the presence of noise in communities (Bell et al, 2001).

Spending time in natural settings provides  opportunities to experience silence. Freedom not only from ambient noise, but also the opportunity to experience “cognitive quiet” a term first used by Stephen & Rachel Kaplan, professors at the University of Michigan, to describe clearing the mind to be able to think more clearly. Silence in nature does not necessarily mean complete quiet, just freedom from human generated noise. The presence of what the Kaplans identified as “soft fascination” in nature is relaxing, not stress inducing. Soft fascination includes things such as bird songs, the water of a stream flowing over rocks, a  rain shower, or the sound of the wind rustling the leaves, which help clear the mind. Soft fascination captures our attention to a small degree, but leaves room for thought, and self reflection.

Moss and fern covered tree in Hoh Rain Forest Photo by Mark Ellison

Moss and fern covered tree in Hoh Rain Forest
Photo by Mark Ellison

One of the most beautiful and quiet places I have hiked is the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. I experienced such a profound sense of peace as I hiked deep in this forest. Hoh Rain Forest is home to the “One Square Inch” research project, designed to create a sanctuary for silence in Olympic National Park. One Square Inch of Silence was designated on Earth Day 2005 to protect and manage the natural soundscape in Olympic Park’s backcountry wilderness. The reasoning behind this is that if a loud noise, such as  an aircraft, can impact many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a 100% noise-free condition, will also impact many square miles around it. Protecting a single square inch of land from noise pollution  may be able to benefit large areas of the park. One Square Inch may be the quietest place in the United States.

Olympic National Park was chosen for One Square Inch because it has a diverse natural soundscape combined with substantial periods of natural quiet. Unlike other national parks, such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon or Hawaii Volcanoes, air tourism is undeveloped and roads do not divide park lands.You can experience the natural sounds of Hoh Rain Forest and Olympic National Park in this “Breathing Space” compilation of natural sounds. I use this in the office to block noise, and at other times to just relax.

Olympic National Park Photo by Mark Ellison

Olympic National Park
Photo by Mark Ellison

When I take a group on a hike for one of my classes I introduce experiencing silence as part of the trip. Hiking in groups offers tremendous opportunities to connect with others. More importantly though, it provides freedom from human noise (relatively speaking) and an opportunity to observe the sights and sounds that only nature provides. It also allows time to quiet the mind.

We need to be aware of the amount of noise we make and the impact it can have on others whether in our everyday settings, or in a forest. We can have a similar impact as the One Square Inch project by doing our part to reduce noise. I encourage you to take a holiday from noise, and breath in the true essence of the natural world, silence. Your health depends on it.


Bell, T., Greene, T., Fisher, J. & Baum, A. (2001) Environmental Psychology. New York: Taylor & Francis.

An Interview with Republic of Korea Secretary of Forestry Won Sop Shin

Won Sop Shin was recently appointed the Secretary of Forestry for the Republic of Korea. Dr. Shin is  professor of social forestry at Chungbuk National University, and serves as Vice President of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM).

Won Sop Shin, Secretary of Forestry for the Republic of Korea Photo courtesy Dr. Shin.

Won Sop Shin, Secretary of Forestry for the Republic of Korea
Photo courtesy Dr. Shin.

South Korea is establishing forest therapy bases similar to what is being utilized in Japan, promoting eco-tourism and providing access to the restorative health benefits of time in nature. Dr. Shin recently took time to answer questions about forests, human health and INFOM.

Describe your background, how you became interested in forests as a career and as a research interest. 

I was basically exposed to forests since the day I was born. I spent my childhood in Jincheon, Chungbuk Province, an area surrounded by rich forests. I began my studies in forestry in 1978 when I entered Chungbuk National University. After graduating from college, I continued my studies in Canada. I earned a master’s degree at the Brunswick University and did my Ph.D. in the University of Toronto, majoring in social forestry (forest recreation), In particular, my area of specialty includes forest recreation and healing. Since 1993, I have been a professor in forestry at Chungbuk National University.

What are the greatest challenges you face as Secretary of Forestry?

Dr. Shin: The Republic of Korea successfully transformed its denuded land into rich forests in less than half a century. It resulted in a dramatic increase in the volume of forest resources. However, compared to most of developed countries, industrial value of Korea’s forest resources remain relatively low and the country lacks forest-related infrastructure such as forest road. In addition, 70% of forests are privately owned, with a large number of small and fragmented forest holdings. This is making forest management difficult in Korea.

Due to high economic growth, demand for forests and forest-related products has been diversified, ranging from conventional timber use to recreation and healing. The Korea Forest Service is establishing forest policies aimed at maximizing the value of forests resources and benefits. The main objective of Korea’s forest policy is to come up with the optimal plan to meet these needs.

What are your top priorities during your time as Forest Minister?

A hiking excursion in the forests of the Republic of Korea Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

A hiking excursion in the forests of the Republic of Korea
Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

Dr. Shin: With the inauguration of Park Geun-hye Administration, we are working under the vision of “creating a green welfare nation where forests bring happiness to our people”. By establishing a virtuous cycle of various benefits from forests, our goal is to make forests lively places where people live, work and play.  With this background, we will pull efforts to come up with a prospective policy alternative which can maximize the contribution of forests to forest welfare. For example, the Korea Forest Service has been promoting the policy called “From cradle to grave: Life with forests” since 2003. This aims at providing public benefits from forests to people of all ages, encompassing all life-cycles (from prenatal to death). Open to all public, we provide forest kindergarten, camping, education, recreation as well as tree burial services.

Are you establishing forest therapy bases similar to what has been done in Japan? Describe why you are doing this. What process are you using to identify sites, and then certify them? How many would you like to establish? How will these be promoted. Will you do research in these forests?

People enjoying the forests of South Korea. Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

People enjoying the forests of South Korea.
Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

Dr. Shin: Regarding the selection procedure of forest therapy complexes, the Selection Committee composed of experts from forestry, medicine and environment will thoroughly review the candidate sites which have been previously submitted by local governments.

The construction of the National Baekdu-daegan Forest Therapy Complex, anticipated to become the landmark of forest healing in Korea, is well underway. This complex include the research center on forest healing. It is planned that at least one forest therapy complex will be established in each of the seven different regions of Korea. Further research on therapeutic effects of forest environment, development of therapeutic programs, services and forest education will be carried out in the research centers of these complexes.

Do the people of South Korea have a tradition of spending time in nature? Hiking? What type of programs are offered to encourage people to get outside and explore nature?

Enjoying a hiking excursion in the Republic of Korea Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

Enjoying a hiking excursion in the Republic of Korea
Photo courtesy Dr. Shin

Dr Shin: Since the forests make up 2/3 of our land, Korean people naturally took the mountain as a place for their livelihood. Ever since the ancient times, we sought the life within the nature and followed the laws of the nature, such as training our mind and body in the forests.

Recently, due to the continuous building of the national forest-trails (hiking/trekking trails) there are more people enjoying hiking. Also, beside the original vertical-hiking, there has been an increase in people enjoying the horizontal-hiking (around mountain, field, village, etc.) due to the opening of the Jiri Mountain walking paths and trails.

Programs that have been Developed

Forest Commentator Program: This program systematically convey’s forest’s various values and functions to the people and also guides various ways to experience forest.  Number of participants: (2006) 122  (2009) 767,000  (2012) 1,537,000

Forest Kindergarten Program: Provides various forest experiencing opportunities and education in connection with the kindergartens·nurseries. Number of participants: (2008) 81 institutions, 1,300 people  (2012) 3,910 institutions 420,000 people (32 fold increase)

Youth Forest Education Program: A program to provide correct understanding of forests and cultivate forest-loving mind to our youths, in order to manage and conserve our future forest.  Participants: total 690,000 (450,000 elementary school students, 160,000 middleschool students, and 80,000 highschool students)

Teacher’s Training Course for promoting forest education and enhancing capability: Evey year, Government institutions and civil organizations provide to teachers the training program for the forest-education.  

Forest Training Institute’s forest experiencing course for teachers/Forest-loving Boy-scout Teacher’s program: 2,556 participants since ’09.

Supports for Creative Experience Program: With the adoption of the five-day school week system, this program promotes the development of various experience-centered theme-programs, trying to provide supports for the family-centered recreational culture.

Distinctive theme-programs for each recreational forests: total 32 programs

Forest Healing Program: Creation/management of ‘Healing Forest’ to efficiently introduce and provide experiences for forest’s various healing effects. Locations of ‘Healing Forest’: San-um, Chungtae-san (Mt.), Jangsung, and Jangheung

Inclusive program for Disabled People: To provide forest experiences to the disabled, this program operates 19 rooms for reservation in 14 recreational forests.

Hiking/Trekking Experiencing Education for Youth: Via ‘Baekdu Daegan Forest-Eco Tour’, allowing youths to develop natural spirit and also to provide better understandings and patriotism.

What are the most significant threats facing the forests of South Korea? The environment in general?

Dr. Shin: Even recognized by the United Nations, Korea is known for the successful forest-rehabilitation projects. Korea’s forests make up about 64% of our land, and it is forming the basis of the ecosystem as well as providing the shelter for the various species and fauna. Due to the global problem of climate change (global warming), Korean forests’ vitality is also being threatened. Due to the climate abnormalities caused by climate change, there are enlarging trends for forest disasters (forest fire, disease, and pest, etc.), and this became a threat for the Korean forest ecosystem.

Because of the global warming, the plant and vegetation zones are predicted to move, and this will cause major changes and threats in the biodiversity.

Korean Fir tree, one of the typical indigenous Korean plants, is losing its dispersion and original habitat, and plants living in the highlands are in danger of extinction.

To protect forest from threats caused by climate change, the Korea Forest Service is trying to conserve Korea’s biodiversity and forest genetic resources via in and ex-situ conservation, and also via setting the preservation areas.

How do see as the role of INFOM internationally? How can we get researchers from other regions involved in this organization?

Dr. Shin: Lifestyle has changed drastically due to the increase in urbanization and technology development, causing many life-style-related health problems in the modern societies. These unhealthy problems are known to stem from the disconnection with the nature. Therefore, INFOM should play a role in restoring this connection with natural environments, thereby promoting human health, welfare and quality of life. I highlight the need for encouraging experts from different fields of sciences to take part in INFOM activities as well as for expanding research fields.

Concluding Thoughts

Dr.Shin: As forests holds multi-functional values ranging from forestry production, eco-environment to land resources, it is not desirable to manage forests only for improving one particular function. Today, the international society is in pursuit of sustainable forest management to optimize various forest functions for both the present and next generations. In line with this global concept, Korea also continues to manage forests sustainably so as to improve broader multiple functions and values of forest. I am determined to mange our forests in a well-balanced way between resources development and restoration, with the view of contributing to national economy and land development as well as improving the quality of life (through green welfare.).

“Hiking to Experience the Restorative Power of Nature” Class Offered this Fall

hiking class picture

Hiking on the Appalachian Trail near “Beauty Spot” in Tennessee (USA)
Photo by Mark Ellison

Emerging research is revealing that hiking in nature has a powerful restorative impact on psychological and physiological health. The benefits of time spent in nature can improve resiliency and serve as a buffer from the stress of urban environments and hectic work settings.

I will be offering a class this fall (August – October) in a hybrid format on  “Hiking to Experience the Restorative Power of Nature” that will guide participants on how to plan and prepare for a hiking trip that maximizes the health benefits of time spent in nature. We will then get out in nature to experience those benefits! The class will be offered online with two all day Saturday experiential sessions on hiking trails in North Carolina.

Topics covered in the class will include planning a hiking and backpacking trip; selecting appropriate gear and equipment; the principles of Leave No Trace and how to limit the impact on the environment; and safety in the backcountry.  We will review the many health benefits associated with spending time in nature including emerging trends in nature and forest therapy such as the practice of shinrin yoku in Japan. Class participants will learn how to connect to nature and experience the stress reduction and restoration that it offers.

Several guest presenters will share their expertise with the class, including Alan Logan, ND, co-author of the book Your Brain on Nature, and invited faculty for the Harvard School of Continuing Medical Education.

The one credit hour class (PED 171) is offered through Montgomery Community College in Troy, North Carolina. Registration information is available online at http://www.montgomery.edu/students/admissions.html. Please email me for additional information.

Four Days Exploring Cutting Edge Forest and Nature Research

Qing Li and Mark Ellison hosting the first North American INFOM meeting.

Qing Li and Mark Ellison hosting the first North American INFOM meeting.

Researchers, educators and practitioners interested in nature, forests, outdoor recreation and their link to human health converged on Traverse City, Michigan May 19-23, 2013. The joint conference of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations and the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals provided the forum for a dynamic exchange of ideas. Observing U.S. Forest Service staff engaged in lively conservation with researchers from Finland on how forests impact health was just one of many enlightening experiences from the conference.

Enjoying lunch at the Red Ginger Sushi Bar in Traverse City with International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine colleagues (Left to Right) Qing Li (Nippon Medical School, Tokyo), Liisa Tyrvainen (Finnish Forest Research Institute), Vicki Simkovic, ND (Ontario), Kurt Beil, ND (Portland, Oregon), Kalevi Korpela, University of Tampere, Finland, and Julia Africa, Harvard School of Public Health.

Enjoying lunch at the Red Ginger Sushi Bar in Traverse City with International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine colleagues (Left to Right) Qing Li (Nippon Medical School, Tokyo), Liisa Tyrvainen (Finnish Forest Research Institute), Mark Ellison, Vicki Simkovic, ND (Ontario), Kurt Beil, ND (Portland, Oregon), Kalevi Korpela, University of Tampere, Finland, and Julia Africa, Harvard School of Public Health.

Adding to the quality of the conference was the initial meeting of The North American Chapter of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM). Significant interest was expressed in the organization during the conference. Qing Li, MD, Ph.D, (Forest Medicine/Shinrin yoku researcher and vice president of INFOM from Tokyo)  presented information about the history and purpose of the organization.  I facilitated a discussion on the plans for the North American chapter and our next steps. When I first proposed the concept of a North American chapter to Qing Li, it was with the desire to bring together researchers and practitioners wanting to advance the quality of research being conducted, thus providing a more solid grounding for the use of nature as a healthcare treatment alternative.  That sentiment was echoed many times by participants during our meeting.

Several INFOM board members were in attendance at the meeting including Liisa Tyrvainen, Professor at the Finnish Forest Research Institute, and Kalevi Korpela, Professor at the University of Tampere, Finland.

Following the meeting Brian Luke Seaward hosted a screening of his award-winning documentary that recently aired on PBS, Earth Songs: Mountains, Water and the Healing Power of Nature”

Research presentations

The Sleeping Bear Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes National LakeshorePhoto by Mark Ellison

Conference attendees riding The Sleeping Bear Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Photo by Mark Ellison

One  strength of this conference was the variety of research presented. Topics of presentations included restoration of urban forests in Estonia, forest medicine as preventive medicine, nature based outdoor recreation and emotional well-being, the stress reducing effects of different urban nature areas, and addressing community health issues with parks and trails.

Next steps for INFOM

Conference attendees enjoy a short break    between sessions.

Conference attendees enjoy a short break between sessions.

The North American Chapter of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine aims to bring together researchers and practitioners  interested in strengthening the evidenced based research being conducted on forests, nature, and human health. One of our first initiatives will be to develop a list-serve to help facilitate communication. We will also develop a webpage for the North American chapter on the INFOM website. If you have an interest in becoming involved with INFOM please send your contact information. One longer term goal is to coordinate a “research round table” or conference to help facilitate the quality and quantity of research on this topic. HikingResearch.com will continue to provide updates on the evolution of INFOM in North America.

Announcing the North American Chapter of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine

The Board of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM) in Tokyo, Japan recently approved a North American chapter of the organization. The purpose of INFOM is to promote research on nature and forest medicine, including the effects of forest and nature environments. INFOM aims to provide a platform for those interested in the practice of nature and forest medicine for promoting the effective use of forest resources on stress management, health promotion, and the prevention and rehabilitation of diseases as part of an integrated approach to medical care.INFOM

The initial meeting of the North American chapter of the society will be held at the IUFRO Conference on Forests for People May 19-23, 2013 in Traverse City, Michigan. The INFOM meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 20 at 6:30 p.m. Qing Li, MD, PhD, Associate Professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and I will host the initial meeting. Dr. Li has been at the forefront of forest medicine research on the practice of shinrin yoku (forest bathing), which is walking in the forest to obtain the health benefits. Dr. Li is the Vice-President and Secretary General of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine, and I serve on the Board.

We invite you to become a charter member of this truly international organization of researchers and practitioners seeking to learn more about how nature impacts human health and effectiveness. If you would like more details about the North American chapter and how you can become involved please share your contact information.