“Leave everything that’s weighing you down here. Leave your worries, your to-do lists, all of it.”
We are at the gate at the handicapped entrance to the Noland Trail where Daina Henry is ready to lead me on a forest immersion walk.
Forest immersion, or forest bathing, involves going into the forest and using all the senses—sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste–to put aside, at least temporarily, all the cares of everyday life and totally immerse yourself in everything that is going on around you.
Shirin-yoku translated as forest bathing or forest immersion has a long history. In the sixth century BCE, Cyrus the Great planted a garden in the middle of the capital city in Persia to improve human health. In 1982, the head of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shirin-yoku. The practice has since spread to many countries including the U.S.
Once we pass the gate, leaving our baggage behind (I imagine packing mine in a very large suitcase), we begin to walk slowly and quietly for about the next hour.
Along the way, Henry read a narrative encouraging us to “look beyond what is right in front of us. Look 10 feet, now 20 feet, now 30 feet, now as far as you can.” I quickly notice the shapes and textures of the trees that are bare of leaves. There are hollowed–out spaces under and inside trees where some critter has taken up residence. There are nests clearly visible high up in the trees.
The most notable sounds are the bird calls. But there are also the sounds of the runners and walkers, and the panting of dogs that we hear long before we see them. Overall, the day is very still, but we can still hear and feel slight breezes. There is even a different sound depending on the surface where we are walking, the tread on the hard trail or the crunch of fallen leaves.
We touch the trees, feeling the smoothness or roughness of the bark, and the marks of fallen branches, places where bugs have eaten or lightning has struck. We make a note of the ground underneath our feet–the hard trail, the crunchy leaves or the soft dirt. When our walk is over we give our senses an extra treat, a hot cup of apple-cinnamon tea.
Henry leads a forest immersion session the third Saturday of each month at 9:30 a.m. at the handicapped entrance to the Noland Trail, near Bailey Field. No pets please.
“I do this for me,” she says. Sometimes she has a large group, sometimes a small one, sometimes just herself, but anyone is welcome to join.
There are many books available on the subject. “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness” is by Dr. Qing Li, one of the foremost experts on forest immersion. There are also a number of websites and YouTube videos.
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