Today’s blog comes from Dr. Romola Porchuk of the Global Institute for Forest Therapy and Nature Connection, and Cortney LeGros, Healthy Parks Healthy People Coordinator at Ontario Parks.
Forest therapy is much more than just a walk in the woods.
It’s about the journey, not the destination or the number of steps you take.
As you move along a forest therapy path, you can begin by breathing deeply, closing your eyes for a moment, and allowing your senses to guide you.
Forest therapy in Ontario parks
Ontario Parks recognizes the profound health benefits of being outdoors in nature.
In fact, the cornerstone of our Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative is sharing these benefits with all Ontarians.
One of the ways we encourage you to use the parks to regain your health is through the new self-guided forest therapy trail.
MacGregor Point Provincial Park is home to the first designated forest therapy trail in Ontario parks.
Along the Tower Trail, you’ll soon find a series of mindfulness prompts that invite you to explore a deeper connection with nature and yourself.
The Forest Therapy Trail is not only a self-guided walk, but also includes a research survey that will help us learn more about the benefits of Forest Therapy.
The project is a collaboration between Ontario Parks, the Global Institute for Forest Therapy and Nature Connection (GIFT), and donors whose generous donations made this project possible.
If you are interested in donating to projects like this now or in the future, please visit the Ontario Parks donation page.
What is forest therapy?
We all know that taking a walk in the woods feels good.
Forest therapy is different from a walk in the forest.
By slowing down to awaken our senses, we bring our bodies into a deeper awareness of the forest (a place we evolved) and our parasympathetic nervous system.
It is a gentle practice without physical demand that is carried out in a forest area or along a forest track.
Forest therapy uses a series of specially designed invitations along a path to help us come to the present moment.
When we consciously engage on the path, these benefits have a deeper effect and invite natural healing of the body and mind.
The forest is full of things that help our systems rest and repair. For example, birdsong is a pleasant sound and makes our systems feel safe.
The patterns of the leaves and light calm our minds, helping us focus and let go of anxious thoughts.
Phytoncides, the essential medicine of trees, help our body reduce blood pressure, increase our immunity and strengthen our heart.
Research strongly supports that forest therapy walks can:
- Boost our immune system
- Low blood pressure
- Improve heart rate variability.
- Stabilize moods
- Reduces stress
- improve sleep
Japan has led the way in understanding the effects of forest therapy on well-being in dementia, ADHD, depression, anxiety, stress reduction, blood pressure benefits and immunity.
The UK has carried out research into wellbeing in forest therapy walks and has provided the basis for wellbeing prescriptions covered by UK healthcare.
Ontario Parks has partnered with GIFT to create the first forest therapy trail at MacGregor Point!
In addition to establishing this trail, we are also conducting research to help understand the health benefits of forest therapy.
Who is GIFT?
The Global Institute for Forest Therapy and Nature Connection (GIFT) has begun collecting and contributing to a body of data and research.
In addition to training forest therapy guides, GIFT designs and designates forest therapy trails in parks and municipalities across Canada.
This collaboration with Ontario Parks includes both the installation of a forest therapy trail at McGregor Point and a survey of participants to assess the influence on our mental and emotional state of spending time in nature in this way.
That being said, beyond the science, there is the magic. The benefits of a deep connection with nature often go beyond physical health benefits.
The connection that nature offers often brings about surprising moments of a palpable balm that soothes the mind, the heart, and the weariness of life.
Something larger emerges: the felt sense of the present moment, embodied connection, and perhaps even a deep sense of support or insight that comes from nature’s slowing down.
What often emerges is seeing nature and ourselves with new eyes and a sense of restoration.
Feel the benefits for yourself
Be sure to follow updates on the Forest Therapy Trail in MacGregor Point Provincial Park.
Ontario Parks thanks its corporate partners like GIFT for your support.