National Forest Week & Forest Bathing

It’s National Forest Week! In order to celebrate, I’ll share my experience with a woodland practice called forest bathing. It’s relaxing and a great way to enjoy the trees & celebrate National Forest Week.

Forest bathing is good for you!

If you’ve heard of forest bathing, you might wonder why it is good for you. Forest bathing, the practice of “bathing” your senses in a forest, is a quiet, meditative practice of spending time amid the trees and allowing smells, sights, and sounds to connect you with nature. It is a time of immersing your being in the natural world at a slothful pace. Slow. Calm. Relaxed.

Shinrin-yoku

The practice of forest bathing is called “Shinrin-yoku,” a Japanese term that literally means ‘forest bathing.” It became popular in Japan in the 1950s. Researchers have found the practice induces stress relief. Who doesn’t need that? Nature itself creates a calmer state of being. Forest bathing increases the effect since practicing the method engages senses on a deeper level than a simple walk in the woods. The practice can be done alone, or with a certified guide, who will help you get the best relaxing results. Forest bathing is growing popular around the globe.

I decided to give it a try

I’m no stranger to walking in the woods and engaging in woodland exploration. When I heard about forest bathing, I decided to follow the suggested steps to Shinrin-yoku. My woodland walks typically include engaging all my senses, and are frequently long, but there was one rule to forest bathing I don’t typically follow: turn off the technology. I like to use my phone on for notes and pictures. Also, I guide nature hikes for others (Organized Mind) and use the phone for timekeeping (my participants go tech-free).

The thought of leaving my phone off gave me angst. Obviously, I needed to try it! The recommended time, based on my research, was at least 20 minutes with a goal of two hours.

The steps:

— turn off technology
— move through the forest slowly
— breathe deeply
— stop occasionally to take in sights, sounds, smells
— take time to sit quietly and avoid allowing your mind to contemplate your problems or to-do list and focus instead on your surroundings
— keep your eyes open, take in the sights, and pay attention to small details

I decided to follow the rules and forest bathe for 70 minutes. Of course, as soon as I made the decision, I experienced a moment of panic. I had an appointment that afternoon and did not want to be late. How would I tell time? Then, I remembered: silence my phone, turn off email and text alerts, and still set a timer to buzz. Whew! Problem solved.

Into the woods

Once in the woods, I focused on my surroundings, walking slowly. I noticed rays of light streaming through the trees. The sun. The smells of earth were strong after the prior night’s rain. Remembering the research I did about forest bathing, I focused on small details around me. Tiny flowers on the forest floor. A soft rustle from leaves high in the trees. Spider webs. It was amazing how many spider webs there were in the trees. Small and large, many very intricate in design, others just a few strands of silky fiber.

Coming upon a fallen tree, I sat and closed my eyes. Sounds came in waves. Again, I heard rustling leaves. Then, songbirds. Three distinct calls. I opened my eyes to see one of the birds, small and yellow, perching on a nearby branch. I watched the bird as it flew to another branch. Resting my gaze, I realized there were more of the yellow birds. A flock. The longer I sat in still silence, the more birds I began to see. I was part of the forest rather than a threat to the critters that lived there.

Losing track of time

Contemplating how much time had passed never occurred to me. I was immersed in the woods. Taking a bath. I felt calm. Getting up to walk, I moved slowly along a deer trail. It looked well-traveled. I followed it to an opening in the woods. A hallow. A holy place. Wholly serene.

The sound of the phone buzzing was like an intruder. An uninvited guest. I turned it off and made my way out of the woods. Mentally, I added to my to-do list: return on a day I have no obligations to meet. A day I could leave my phone behind and engage in forest bathing for an undetermined amount of time.

Forest bathing isn’t simply a practice, it is an opportunity. An embrace of the natural world and a chance to become more at ease. It is believed to help immune function, improve blood flow, ease the mind, and improve mental function. Additionally, it connects those who engage with nature and grounds them to the earth, improving sleep and reducing pain. I tried forest bathing out of curiosity. I’ve continued the practice regularly for its effects.

Naturalist and author John Muir wrote, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

I wholeheartedly agree!