Thor and Bear dog and I just discovered that we haven’t been hiking in our nearby wooded trails—we’ve been “forest bathing.” At least we think so.
Reading an article from The Washington Post by Meeri Kim, “Forest Bathing,” we learned that the practice of Shinrin-yoku was formalized by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982. It refers to a conscious practice of “taking in the forest atmosphere” to promote physiological, psychological, and spiritual health. Apparently studies have shown that spending relaxed time among trees and plants in a natural setting provides measurable benefits in immune boosting and mental health.
Thor: “Uh, yeah!”
Sara: “This is news?”
I know that I have been incredibly blessed to have grown up, although without much money, with an abundance of natural beauty surrounding me in the Pacific Northwest. My earliest memories involve nature walks, when Mom would tell us girls, “Breathe deep of the fresh air. Isn’t it beautiful?” Especially in the spring, I still lean in to brush my face in the soft new leaves of wild huckleberry and lacy greenery of my Grandma Sara’s (and my) favorite forest bloom, Bleeding-heart.
So I tend to take for granted the well-being the forest offers. I need to remember all the people living in crowded cities and confined in office jobs (which I managed to avoid most of my life in favor of low wages and more freedom to get outside). As mentioned in Kim’s article, a 2001 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that, on average, Americans spend 87% of their time indoors and 6% in enclosed vehicles. Ouch!
So anything that encourages people to make their ways to natural settings, and value them enough to protect our fragile wild places, is good news. And if they need more than intuition to demonstrate the benefits, then maybe they will look at the studies and join the movement.
I must confess to a bit of snark, however, at the news that the movement has become trendy in California, with the licensing of “Certified Forest Therapy Guides” who charge clients to guide them along nature trails and provide enlightenment on the proper way to appreciate nature. Ooops, it seems that in our hikes, if we have a destination on the trail, we aren’t doing it right! One must simply “be” and soak it in. Ah, “Breathe deeply, little Grasshopper.” (And watch out for Bigfoot.)
Bear is probably closest to “getting it” – unless he gets distracted by the goal-oriented behavior of chasing squirrels — as he happily sniffs and meanders and wades for a literal “bath.”
In our next outing, we will emulate the lilies of the field who “toil not, neither do they spin.” Come join us in celebrating the gifts of Nature!
Sara’s newest from Book View Cafe was recently released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction.