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The Art of Forest Bathing

Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, is the Japanese art of immersing oneself in a forest or natural area for healing and wellness.  The practice is supported by years of research, which demonstrate forest bathing’s benefits to mood and the cardiovascular and immune systems.  Forest bathing guides can introduce us to this practice and maximizing our experience and benefit of the forest.

My introduction to forest bathing came by way of a referral from a colleague to a certified guide named Tina.  Though I did not do a forest bathing walk with her, I visited her on her gorgeous property and learned about the practice as being one of reciprocity and respect.  Though humans experience wellness and healing from forest bathing, Tina told me that Earth also benefits when we engage in this practice that builds connection to nature.

The next experience came through my son Simon who initially ventured out on our behalf to an experience in Charlottesville, followed by a joint forest bathing walk together in Richmond with a guide named Traci.  Through these experiences,  we learned that forest bathing involves being present while with nature, and noticing without naming or judging what you sense, see, hear, smell, taste, or touch.

My first forest bathing experience occurred in the park near my house, just two weeks after moving back to Richmond.  Traci helped me to experience differently the park I frequented so many times.  What’s moving?  What are different shades of green?  What do you taste if you open your mouth?  What do you feel on your skin?  What’s noticeable if you’re still?  What do you notice in your body as a result?

Though Simon was quite skeptical about the possible benefits, after his first experience, he left as a believer in the benefits of the practice.  He experienced a sense of connection to what he previously thought of as inanimate objects.  He noticed the uniqueness and personality of the plants that he had previously taken for granted.  He noticed the complexity of the sound of the stream comprised of the individual notes integrated with the water’s bubbling melody.   He noticed the hundreds of small white and yellow flowers that were initially invisible to him, only springing forth to his attention while being present with the meadow.

Most importantly, he noticed the consciousness and spirit of Earth.

He now tends to be more present when outdoors.  After all, when you’re around a conscious being, it’s harder to ignore going forward.

And if you resonate with the ailing Aunt Ginny analogy in my last blog, it’s your favorite relative who’s ailing that you’re potentially ignoring when you go outdoors.

Luckily, Aunt Ginny is everywhere so you don’t have to travel to visit her unless you want to.  You don’t even have to take any extra time, just do so in the course of your activities throughout the day.

I started my practice of intentional visiting when out in nature probably 10 years ago, by resolving to be totally present with the trees (I have a love affair with trees) whenever I step outdoors.  After a time, I was able to be more present with nature in general.  After another period of time, I decided to turn my radio off while in the car and be present with the scenery while driving.  In other words, I’ve been doing my own brand of forest bathing for years and have the health benefits to boot.

You don’t have to start such a practice with a forest bather, but if you want to, you can find one from the National Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs.

You have no idea what you’ve been missing. Your scenic vacation awaits you, wherever you go, starting with your front doorstep. When will you start?  Who will you invite?  How will you begin?