You don’t get naked, you don’t get wet, and you don’t even have to be in a forest. Yet forest bathing is one of the easiest ways for anyone to release tension, get focused, and connect with nature. It’s a practice that is accessible to all, is free, and is inclusive as well as awe-inspiring. It enhances one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
“Our ancestors have always been in concert with nature and that’s what forest bathing is,” explained Sage Raindancer, a certified forest bathing guide in the Washington metropolitan area. “It gives us a moment to slow down and think about our inner self. When we forest bathe we use nature as an educator and an inspiration.”
“Shinrin Yoku,” the Japanese term for forest bathing, began 40 years ago when the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture noticed a spike in stress-related illnesses. The Ministry encouraged people to improve physical and mental health by walking in soothing, natural settings—no fancy clothing or hiking gear required and no extensive training necessary. All that’s needed is an open mind and open, natural space. You can forest bathe alone, in a group, or with a guide.
“It’s about slowing down. We are sauntering, meandering—not hiking,” said Raindancer. “A naturalist (on a hike) will talk about fauna and flora, but a forest bathing guide talks about how to communicate with the tree, connect with it, see it as more than a piece of wood. To see it as a being just as humans are. The walk might take two-to-three hours, but we may not go farther than a quarter- or half-mile.”
The Journal of Psychology Science states that taking a one-hour walk in nature can improve attention span and memory by 20 percent. “When we turn off electronic devices and enter a natural setting with the intention of being fully present to the experience, nature meets us in unexpected and pleasant ways,” said Raindancer. Forest bathing may also inspire a sense of awe and wonder, which psychologists calls a ‘flow’ state—we become so engrossed in an activity that we lose a sense of time.
It also decreases stress hormones and stimulates positive emotions. With each step, we can enhance our mood while minimizing negative or depressing thoughts. Trees help boost our positive response by emitting organic compounds called phytoncides which can boost the human immune system.
“There is no one correct way to forest bathe,” said Raindancer. “You may get inspired to hug a tree and contemplate what communing with a tree means. You use the three I’s: inspiration, imagination, and intuition.”
Within minutes of beginning a forest bathing walk, you can experience a positive, subtle shift in the way you feel. If variety is something you crave, forest bathing is never the same experience twice because nature is constantly evolving. Forest bathing can be both energizing and relaxing, often in the same walk.
Forest bathing can stimulate a deeper intimacy with natural places, including our natural selves. Raindancer has observed that unlike early settlers who could read the wind, water, sky, and stars, modern humans are unaware of their surroundings. Forest bathing can help get us back in touch with our connection to nature.
“You can do it on the beach, in a desert, or even in any tiny bit of green space in the middle of the city,” said Raindancer. “You can even forest bathe in a back yard.” Living at the beach affords a multitude of venues where we can forest bathe. Trapp Pond State Park and Cape Henlopen State Park are two of my favorites.
I never realized I was forest bathing when I take my pups to Broadkill Beach. Usually when I walk, I notice the creatures in the sand, and the different kinds of shells along the beach. I feel the sand under my feet. I hear the water lapping on the shore. As I breathe in deeply, I take in the scent of the ocean. I taste the salty flavor of the air. When I gaze over the shoreline I may notice a buoy, a piece of wood, or seaweed floating aimlessly in the water. I take delight in how joyous my boys are, running free along the shore.
If you enjoy being outdoors you most likely have experienced forest bathing and like me, never realized you had. “It’s like falling into that Zen moment of getting into the zone,” said Raindancer. “It’s free health care for the mind, body, and spirit which can be a very spiritual experience.”
Want to know more? On Amazon: Your Guide to Forest Bathing by M. Amos Clifford, or The Joy of Forest Bathing by Melanie Choukas-Bradley. You may also contact Sage Raindancer at: raindancerhealingarts.com. ▼
Pattie Cinelli is a journalist and fitness professional who focuses on leading-edge-of-thought ways to stay healthy and get well. Contact her at: email@example.com.
Photo: Ed van Duijn on unsplash