All photos: Vee Chin, Art direction: Shan
Yap You Min first experienced forest therapy during a five-day hiking trip in Kenya. “We were taken through the forest at a really slow pace. I found it difficult to settle into it at first, but by the end of it, I realised I had gained a lot of mental and emotional clarity from taking my time and observing how things in nature unfold,” she says. It was the most tranquil she had felt in a long time.
On returning home, You Min found it hard to recapture what she had experienced. That is, until she chanced on a video about forest bathing on Facebook. It’s a Japanese practice where people focus on being present in nature, with the belief that it helps them discover new perspectives and insights.
Intrigued, she signed up for a training course at the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs in Melbourne, where she underwent eight days of intensive training, followed by six months of walks, reports and assignments. After the course, she left her job in public service, and in January this year, she founded Xiu Nature Connections.
Among other things, she leads fortnightly forest-therapy walks in parks such as the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Fort Canning Park, and the Japanese Garden. Each session – which costs $35 and allows a maximum of 12 participants – is two and a half hours long.
Think of forest bathing as a type of ecotherapy – a term coined by author Howard Clinebell in 1996. Practitioners of ecotherapy believe that spending time in nature has psychological benefits. The research backs it up. A 2013 University of Essex study found that taking a walk in nature reduced depression scores in more than 70 per cent of its participants.