Besides the characters Hansel & Gretel who had a bad experience in the forest with their wicked stepmother, I think most of us conclude that walking in forests, woods, and nature with its dancing colors, scents, dazzling light, and fresh clean air brings comfort, healing, and a sense of well-being. Communing in nature awakens our five senses of taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight which not only connects us better to the healing aspects of nature but our very selves on a deeper intimate level.
Forest Bathing is shown to reduce stress, rejuvenate, lift mood, improve energy levels, and boost our immune systems. Referred to as shinrin-yoku in Japan where it originated,
Forest Bathing has spread the globe in its growing popularity for a culture that has long become an indoor species. By bathing our five senses in the outdoor world, we open and connect to the natural world with wonder and awe and to the beauty and mystery of this vast universe we live in.
I recently participated in a forest bathing session at the Ramapo Reserve to experience a healing modality for one of my Integrative Health classes. As my guide led our group into the forest, she asked us to breathe in the aroma of the forest. She called this aroma phytoncides, and it emanates from the life of all plants and trees. Phytoncides are produced by plants and trees to protect them from some insects, bacteria, and fungi. Walking in the forest gives us the opportunity to inhale these phytoncides, which are believed to help strengthen and heal our own immune systems. This really gives a new meaning to natural healing!
While forest bathing, I learned there is no goal or desire to reach a certain location, but to purposefully take a slow leisurely walk with all your senses awakened to receive healing of body, mind, and spirit. My group and I enjoyed five invitations to nature, including sensory meditation, nature in motion, nature close up, crossing a bridge, and sitting and stopping. I never smelled so much muddy wet earth and yet invigorating clean air cleansing my lungs at the same time as I did during the sensory meditation. I was then asked to stick out my tongue to taste. I was so surprised that I could taste the muddy wet earth even more than through my sense of smell! It was surprising to realize that nature is on the move like the rest of us with big and little wildlife foraging around and the ceaseless movement of even a gentle wind swaying the leaves back and forth and vines of prickers hitting me of course as I strolled by. Then, there was the water sounds from the soft gentle rivulets in the vast pond to the gushing water of the river under the bridge crashing on the rocks below. One of my favorite invitations was watching Nature Up Close with a magnifying class viewing fallen branches and logs as new-found masterpieces of art. Crossing the Bridge to the other side of the forest, I felt I was going through a portal of some sort anticipating what I would find on the other side only to find a huge tree down blocking my path symbolizing to me the roadblocks in life. During my Sitting and Stopping invitation, I hunkered down into a wooden shelter made of twigs for reflection where I felt at one with nature and reconnected to life and all that is.
Forest Bathing takes us home to ourselves while opening our senses to make a deeper connection with nature to activate our own healing processes with a sense of peace and well-being. Don’t stay inside, go out and notice the earth waking up around you! You’ll feel better too!