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What Forest Bathing is and How to Do it


Throughout my life, the natural world has always been a healing balm for me. As a child in the New York suburbs, I found quiet sanction in my many pets and backyard trees. In my college years at Bard, I visited the campus waterfall and Blithewood Gardens while adapting to my life transition into adulthood. During my two years in Seattle, I spent time with the Salish Sea to work through my grief. Those years in Alaska, I gained inner strength during long solo x-country skis in grizzly country. As a new mom homesteading in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, my time resting in the garden along the Rio Santa Barbara allowed for the respite I needed. And through my mid-life transition, long walks along the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge showed me what was truly important and how to turn toward it. On these walks, I felt a deep connection to the more-than-human world around me in a way I hadn’t experience previously and an epiphany came to light that has led me along my current path.


I knew that nature was healing for me, and I wanted to find a way to share that with others. Life in this earthly realm is a continuous rollercoaster of ups and downs. That’s what we sign up for when we are born into our human bodies. Do you ever wake up at 4am and all the weight of the world collapses onto your heart and you wonder how you can ever exist with the pain of it all? Perhaps at first light, your worries subside, and the day is brighter. You can put away the terrible thoughts for a time and focus on all that is right and good in the world. But what remains for all of us is the creeping sensation that bad things happen. They have happened and will continue to. So, how do we develop resilience in these times? How do we trust that it is all worth the human journey we find ourselves on?


If you love nature, which I suspect you do if you are following my newsletters, then you know that it has the power to bring peace. All of us have had those moments of looking at a sunset and feeling deeply at one with the world. All of us have known the sensation of sitting by the ocean and sensing the calm of the waves washing over us and cleansing us of all our burdens, even if just for a moment. All of us have walked through a forest, inhaling the aromatherapy of pine, and felt our whole being suddenly calm and relax. The wild world around us, the feral natural world of our parks, backyards, and public lands, is medicine. Understanding and connecting with our ecosystems, how they work in a web of interbeing, and how we are an integral part of them, not a separate parasitic visitor as we might be led to believe by societal programming, connects us to our true selves. So, how do we tap into it?


These were the questions on my mind when I started researching nature therapy. I was thrilled to learn that there are a plethora of programs in existence today to help connect humans with the healing power of the natural world—ecotherapy, forest bathing, permaculture, wilderness therapy, mindful outdoor leadership and more. I have been teaching Nature Writing for a couple of years now, transitioning from academia into the parks and forests. If you’ve taken a class with me, you know why I have called it Intuitive (Eco)Writing. I combine meditations, intuitive work, mindful sensory practices, mythopoetics, and sometimes yoga into my nature writing classes. I wanted to find a program that would enhance the practices I already engaged in.


Fortunately, the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides (ANFT) provided exactly what I was looking for. ANFT teaches how to guide people in the practice of forest bathing. Forest bathing was first created in Japan in the 1980s as a prescribed antidote to the increase in physical and mental health issues occurring due to the mass exodus out of rural areas and into cities. Shinrin Yoku translates literally to forest bathing and has been expansively studied and proven by scientists to work on many levels to improve health. ANFT teaches a variation of Shinrin Yoku, but the intention is not to “heal” people (though that is a side effect), but instead to create relationships between humans and the more-than-human world. People on guided forest walks are prompted to tap into their senses and bodyfulness to enter a liminal state where they can experience their natural environment in a more open minded and lighter way of being. What happens on these walks can often be surprising, inspirational, emotional and eye opening.


Over the course of the 6-month program with ANFT, I had the opportunity to go on a few guided forest walks, as well as to lead a few, and every time I learned something new. In this time, I noticed that my connection with the natural world deepened more. I can now more easily access a transcendent state when in nature that relaxes, rejuvenates, and inspires me. I have also learned to embody “the way of the guide” and to hold space for other people to have their own unique experiences with the natural world. I look forward to taking more people forest bathing in the future because…

I am now a CERTIFIED NATURE AND FOREST THERAPY GUIDE! Yay!


Though I began this program with the intention of enhancing my nature writing classes, I ended the program with the desire to lean more deeply into the practice of nature therapy guiding, guiding people to have their own spiritual experiences with nature. Keep an eye out for more courses and programs such as my current class, Earth Sensory Perception, that are in the continued vein of nature therapy.


Though I highly recommend going forest bathing with a guide, you can simulate a similar experience on your own by following these simple steps:

· Designate an hour or two for forest bathing only, turning off your phone. You are not exercising while you do this. Plan to only walk a quarter mile to a mile in distance.

· Choose an easy trail where you can wander off. It is best if there are not a lot of people or distractions. A forest is ideal, but you can be anywhere such as a park, a beach, a desert or even your garden.

· Create an entry point and exit point that will signify the beginning and end of your forest bathing.

· At the start, take about 15 minutes to tune into all your senses one by one.

· Then take about 20 minutes to wander slowly and notice what is in motion.

· After, spend time following your senses where they lead you. Let the natural world be your guide. If you are drawn to the smell of a flower, take time to examine the flower in detail. If a bird calls overhead, look up and watch their flight and the shape of the clouds. At the end, sit for 20-30 minutes and do nothing.

· Practice curiosity and wonderment. Be intentionally unproductive.

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