I had previously heard of “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for taking in the atmosphere of the forest. I first learned of this unique practice when I was contemplating and building a case for the idea that a connection to nature is more than just “tree-hugging,” it’s beneficial to childrens’ health and well-being. But I had never officially – intentionally – partaken in forest bathing.
It was amid a casual conversation. A friend who was over for dinner – and who happens to be a physician and who also happens to know of my affinity for the natural world – mentioned that she knew someone locally who takes people on guided forest bathing experiences. My friend explained that Kate Bast, who is a certified guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, offers “Group Wellness in the Woods” on Wednesdays at the Madison School Forest (a Nature Net member site). I knew I had to sign up.
A group of six assembled in the School Forest day lot on a beautiful fall day and circled around Kate as she detailed the many known benefits of forest bathing. It lowers your blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels (cortisol being our body’s main stress hormone). It boosts immunity, mental performance, and creativity. It promotes overall well-being.
We started slowly down the path (this is not where you get your daily cardio) with a prompt from our guide to attend to our feet on the trail, the breeze in the trees overhead, and the squirrels clamoring in the dry leaves around us. Further prompts along the way included, seeking out and feeling different textures, listening and breathing with closed eyes, and picking up, while seated, the smallest object you could find.
I picked up a thimbleful of pine needles that had been broken down on the well-worn trail, each piece the size of two underscores on the page ( __ ). Then, something caught my eye in the small divot where I had taken my pinch of needles. The smallest worm I’ve ever seen waved its body in protest of being disturbed. It writhed, and it dazzled me. A tiny creature I would have never otherwise considered, had I not taken the time and attention.
It conjured in me a childhood memory. Not a specific memory per se, but more of a general recollection of time spent laying in a field – just a plain lawn – and watching a microscopic world conduct itself among the blades of green and dandelion stems. It’s a sweet and sentimental memory – maybe because I had the idle time to simply lay in the cool grass with nothing else to do, or because I had not previously considered the wonders of the vast living world that exists underfoot, and all around us.
And maybe that’s what we all need – why forest bathing is impactful. It’s about allowing ourselves a bit of idle time in nature – where we’re physiologically meant to be – with nothing to do but see, notice, appreciate, soak in the world – the atmosphere – around us. Like we did when we were kids.
Want to have your own forest bathing experience? While there are many talented and thoughtful guides like Kate who will gladly show you the way, you can also do it on your own. Here are some tips from the Ice Age Trail Alliance:
- Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees.
- Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches.
- Smell the fragrance of the woods; breathe in their natural, immune boosting aromatherapy.
- Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths.
- Feel the texture of bark as you place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream.
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News from Nature Net Members
|Sign ups to become a member of Troy Farms for 2022 are now available! Be a part of Madison’s oldest urban farm and learn about organic farming.||Cave of the Mounds is focusing on Celebrating the Earth: Crystal Cornucopia all November long! Make your way down and learn about Crystals throughout the Caves.||The International Crane Foundation released an article on hunting in Wisconsin regarding Sandhill Cranes. Read more about this and how you can make a difference!|
More from Nature Net…
|For Families:||For Educators:||Upcoming Events:|
|Nature Net Sites are offering more seasonal events! Check out our list of member sites to see nature sites that are active and focused on youth education.||Looking to incorporate nature into your curriculum? Check out our page on curriculum based resources for new ideas and inspiration!||Check out all of Nature Net Sites’ seasonal activities coming up, including volunteer work days and holiday hayrides!|
Funding for Nature Net and the Nature Net News blog is provided by American Girl Fund for Children.
Betsy Parker, Nature Net Director
Karissa Niederkorn, Nature Net Intern