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How To Experience The Natural Luxury Of Forest Bathing

What is forest bathing? How to experience the natural luxury of forest bathing, which means gaining wellness by spending time in the woods

What is forest bathing?  It’s said to be “the medicine of simply being in the forest. ” Developed in Japan during the 1980’s, the practice has become an important element of preventive health care and healing far beyond the nation’s borders. We decided to try it recently, and we’re all in. Here’s how to experience the natural luxury of forest bathing and its benefits.

what is forest bathing?

Forest bathing. What an odd phrase. No need to shield your eyes (or lean in closer) — it doesn’t involve nude nymphs frolicking among the trees.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” First developed in Japan, the practice has become an important element of preventive health care and healing far beyond the nation’s borders.

We admit, we were initially highly skeptical of this concept. We are urban creatures, city-born and bred and not really the outdoorsy type. Despite several years of summer Girl Scout camp as a kid, we are definitely more about high heels than hiking boots.

The luxury of forest bathing

The Natural Luxury of Forest-Bathing. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

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How to experience the luxury of forest bathing and its benefits

Despite our initial reservations, though, we decided to give it go. On a hot July day, we set out alone to walk in the woods at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires.

We decided to forgo the breadcrumbs and the red riding hood, as the property has a 2-mile trail that rings its otherwise perfectly-manicured property. You’d have to work really hard to get lost, making it the perfect place to understand the appeal of forest-bathing as a healing process.

No equipment necessary

The good news is that forest bathing requires absolutely no gear, and very little exertion. It’s not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It only requires being in nature, connecting with it through sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Meaning that almost any of us can do it.

And several studies indicate that spending a couple of hours in the forest, even if you’re just sitting there, provides real health benefits: reduced stress and improved mood among them. Some doctors even prescribe two hours per week of time in nature to their patients.

How to experience forest bathing

How to experience forest bathing and its benefits. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

a potential spur to creativity

We also wondered if a walk in the woods might spark new avenues of creativity for us. After all, generations of poets, dreamers, adventurers and romantics have taken to the woods in search of truth and beauty. Some have returned to pen epic poems, love stories and scientific treatises.

In both Eastern and Western culture, the lure of the woods is primal and powerful. We wondered if it would have that effect on us, after so many years removed from our summer camp days.

How to experience forest bathing

How to experience forest bathing and its benefits. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

the simple natural luxury of forest bathing

We plunged into the trail mid-morning, and almost immediately felt that we had entered a different world: darker, cooler, more fragrant, and more mysterious.

We worried that we might encounter groups of other people, or ambient noise of other types. Instead, we found ourselves completely alone, our only companions birds, squirrels and chipmunks. And the only sounds the wind, the stream, and their murmurs and songs.

The natural luxury of forest-bathing

The Natural Luxury of Forest Bathing. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

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The canopy of trees overhead felt sheltering and protective, especially from the heat of the day.

Slowing down

The New Yorker in us wanted to stride forward purposefully. The seeker in us, though, insisted that we slow our roll. Perhaps even just stand still and soak in this new set of sensations.

We summoned to mind the expert advice we’d read in Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. Breathe in the natural aromatherapy. Taste the freshness of the air.

So we closed our eyes and breathed deeply. One of the first things we noticed when we opened them? There are so many shades of green in this world.

How to experience forest bathing

How to experience forest bathing and its benefits. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

There are magnificent trees that are like sculpture in their intricacy and majesty.

The natural luxury of forest bathing

The Luxury of Forest Bathing. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

Letting Emotions Emerge

The dappled sunlight, the soft sound of rushing water, and the wind in the leaves create an environment conducive to reflection and gratitude. We found that our minds were quieter and clearer. Along with that came the opportunity to feel emotions that the crush of everyday life rarely permits us to fully experience, excavate and explore.

How to experience forest bathing

How to experience forest bathing and its benefits. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

The forest turns out to be a good place to grieve.

We later learned that when people go forest bathing, they sometimes let out cries of anguish, frustration or anger. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they hear distant melodies or feel the presence of a loved one or of the divine.

The forest gently grants permission for our deepest feelings to emerge, to be voiced, perhaps to be exorcised. It provides grace, and release, and maybe even a sense of acceptance and purpose.

The natural luxury of forest bathing

The Natural Luxury of Forest Bathing. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

Statues Aid the Process

To help foster deep reflection and spirituality, at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, there are several statues placed throughout the woods that together comprise a Spirit Walk. If you choose, you can visit one or all of these sites with a guided reflection on identity and meaning. Or you can just quietly observe their beauty.

The Natural Luxury of Forest Bathing. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

How to Experience Forest Bathing. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

One of the stops on the Spirit Walk is a fountain, reminding us of the soothing and healing powers of the sound of water. For some it might represent rebirth. For others, perhaps just a reminder that we’re all part of the great flow of humanity and time.

Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

Forest Discoveries

In the forest, we found places to sit and dream, and as we did we let our imaginations run free. We spotted a chair that was very likely hand-carved by a giant. A still-life with stone and wood that seemed to be a comment on the constructed versus the natural world that was surely the work of artist elves.

And always, a curving trail that beckoned us onward.

The forest path at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

Forest Bathing. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

Forest Bathing in Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier

Oh, and some days you’ll be accompanied by lots of gnats. And some mosquitoes. You’ve been warned. Bring a hat.

One lovely element of wandering in the forest is that if you like, you can feel very far away. And yet, if you look clearly, you’ll see that “home” is close by.

Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

The forest as a place of spirituality

If hiking is the new yoga, then what does time in the forest represent? Well, for some, it’s like being in a house of worship.

At the Church in the Woods – a new kind of “church” on 106 acres of wild woods and wetlands in Canterbury, New Hampshire – a communal walk in the forest substitutes for the standard weekly sermon. We can easily see why for some people, the spiritual connection could be so strong and meaningful, especially in the company of like-minded people.

We’re not going to trade the cacophony of Manhattan for the joys of the forest on a permanent basis. But we will definitely be back from time to time.

The Forest at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

are we out of the woods?

Whether you go alone or with others – with a specific purpose or with no purpose at all – try to find time on a wooded path soon, and see what the forest has to say to you.

And forget what you’ve been told about being “out of the woods” as a positive development. Actually, it might be a negative. Because sometimes being in the woods is absolutely the best place to be.

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Pamela Thomas-Graham is the Founder & CEO of Dandelion Chandelier. A Detroit native, she has 3 Harvard degrees and has written 3 mystery novels published by Simon & Schuster. After serving as a senior corporate executive, CEO of CNBC and partner at McKinsey, she now serves on the boards of several tech companies. She loves fashion, Paris, New York, books, contemporary art, running, skiing, coffee, Corgis and cats of all kinds. 

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