Science of Weather: Forest Therapy at Michigan State University's Tollgate Farm

Science of Weather: Forest Therapy at MSU's Tollgate Farm in Novi

NOVI, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) - A healthy living is a good living. At Michigan State University's Tollgate Farms in Novi, we learned that forest therapy is a great way to have good mental health regardless of the weather.

"Forest therapy is a practice which began in Japan in the 1980s. And in Japan it's called Shinrin Yoku. It literally translates as forest bathing," said Ellen Koehler, MSU Tollgate Farm education manager.

"Forest Therapy is quite different than hiking. It's really about the here versus the there. Being present in the moment. And it's slow and meditative, but there are several elements that make up a forest therapy walk in there in a certain specific sequence."

Koehler says the weather and climate are a large component and impacts each session. 

"But the beauty is what we call phenology," she said. "The study of the cycle of the seasons and how they relate to the climate and the lot, the animals and the plants in the forest. And so we come back to this forest throughout all the seasons, even week to week or day to day. The forest is changing. It's different."

Seeing the beauty in nature by experiencing its changes isn't the only benefit forest therapy provides.

"The benefits of a forest therapy session or a walk have been proven to last up to seven days. And they include physical benefits such as reduced blood pressure, reduced cortisol, the stress hormone, a boost in the immune system from the chemicals that the trees are actually giving off at all times, and just a sense of calm and relaxation," Koehler said.

Forest therapy doesn't always need to take place in a large area or, surprisingly, even a forest.

Around the nation and the world, in different climates and at different times of day, Koehler explains where forest therapy can take place, "It can be a very small area. It's really a forest experience, but it's also can be nature therapy. So you could experience this at a meadow. In a meadow on a beach. It can be any type of nature, really."

Forest therapy helps all types of people from all different backgrounds and all different age groups.

"We have offered many sessions here at Tollgate for educators, first responders, those going through therapy, hospice patients. But it's for everyone all ages benefit." Koehler said. "Two sessions are never alike, and it's because of the phenology this season, the time of year, what's happening that day? Well, how much breeze is there? Is it raining? And then it's especially because of the people who attend, and they each bring their own lived experience to the group."

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