Spring is here! Who else feels like they are coming out of hibernation? Taking the first tentative steps back into a world of light and activity. Not only is the weather warming and the daylight growing, but we are getting closer to resuming some of our normal lives that have been so disrupted over the past year.
These late winter days have been, for me, a time of rest and quiet. At times I’ve felt guilty for not doing more, but quieting the worries and listening to the wisdom of nature, I recognize that rest is an essential part of the rhythm of life. We all need time to recover physically and mentally, to let go of what’s reached its end, and to allow new seeds to germinate in our hearts and minds. Having just observed the spring equinox, this is exactly where we are supposed to be at right now, so don't neglect to hold space for rest and self care when you need it.
Today I am feeling hopeful and looking forward to the coming season. This fresh start energy has me thinking up all kinds of projects and plans. This is the perfect time to utilize my Vision Journal to flesh out those ideas and to plan how and when to execute them. I am thinking about projects for my garden and home, plans for vacations and summer activities, and for personal and family goals. What plans are you dreaming up?
Much of my focus lately has been on planning Forest Therapy Walks for the upcoming months. Recently, I completed a Forest Therapy Guide Certification with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) and I am excited to be offering Forest Therapy Walks in partnership with Hikehoppers and SheAscends. The experience of completing this training has been absolutely wonderful, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn and grow in the company of my fellow guides and trainers. I have had some amazing first walks with some awesome folks during my practicum the past few months, and I can't wait to continue sharing with others the deep peace and connectedness that nature therapy practices have to offer.
Forest Therapy is inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, which translates to “Forest Bathing”. Now before you pack your swimsuit, the idea of “bathing” here is more in the spirit of a sensory immersion in the forest atmosphere, which helps us to reconnect with nature and regulate our biological systems. And though it might sound like an ancient tradition, and Japan certainly has a cultural history steeped in the idea of harmony and connectedness with the natural world, the formal practice of Shinrin-Yoku is actually a fairly recent development. It was established by the Japanese government in the 1980’s as a method to combat the chronic illness and stress brought on by the shift to a technology based economy and modern indoor lifestyle. Shinrin-Yoku continues to be widely practiced in Japan and is making its way across the globe. Much research has been done on the beneficial effects of natural environments on human health. One of the most interesting results is that the organic compounds, called phytoncides, which are emitted by plants to help protect them from disease and fungus, are also beneficial to humans. When we breathe in these compounds, our bodies produce a type of immune cell called Natural Killer Cells, or NK cells, which combat cancer and virally infected cells. Research shows many additional benefits of forest bathing such as lowered blood pressure, lowered stress hormones, and decreased depression and anxiety. Of course, we already have an innate sense of the healing power of nature, not only physiologically, but spiritually as well. Even if we are wrapped up in our busy modern lives, a part of us remembers that we are deeply interconnected with the more than human world. We just need to trust and nurture that relationship now and again.
So how do you “do” Shinrin-Yoku? In the most basic sense, forest bathing is simply spending time in a natural space being present and open to the world around you. Allow yourself to wander freely, without the pressures of time or responsibilities. It can take some time to settle into this state, so be patient and let go of expectations.
If you attend a guided forest therapy walk, your guide will lead you through a sequence of invitations to facilitate the awareness and embodiment that opens the doors to an immersive experience. A guided walk also typically provides the opportunity to share observations with the group, and to mark the conclusion of the walk with a closing circle and tea ceremony. Participants are welcome to engage in invitations and sharing circles in whatever way, and to whatever degree they are comfortable with.
There is no right or wrong way to experience forest bathing, and it is accessible to almost anyone, anywhere. This practice can be done with any bit of nature you are able to connect with, whether you are in a park, your backyard, or even indoors with your houseplants or a pet.
Try some of these invitations the next time you are outdoors, or try “catching” an invitation of your own. If you are interested in attending a guided forest bathing walk, stay tuned for upcoming events, or search for a forest therapy guide near you! In the meantime I hope you are all finding some time for rest and recovery and recreation in the natural world! Hope to see you on the trails.
Please Connect With Me True Nature
She Ascends Stearns County Chapter
I am an "unlikely hiker" writing about my adventures as I search for balance, love, and happiness.