Why Forest Bathing

On a starry Saturday evening in August, sitting on the backyard deck with a close friend and my husband, as we enjoyed a hope-it-never-ends summer evening in Maine, we discussed new ideas and new learning that fascinate and awaken our curiosity and wonder. From archetypal astrology, interdependence and family relationships to permaculture and native species landscaping, we shared our thoughts and ideas, and asked for feedback on them as well. And on this evening, an idea crystallized with a feeling of great resonance for me. It was one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments.

I was sharing my plan to lead Sierra Club outings, to encourage people to join in on guided hikes I would lead in various beautiful places in our MidCoast to Down East regions of Maine. I’m not a botanist or naturalist, a birder or other scientifically oriented nature expert. However, I am skilled and extremely experienced in my love of and time spent “being” in nature. I don’t feel the need all the time to name things, to identify specific species or understand how it all works (though that knowledge can be fascinating too). I know deeply and cherish how clearly I feel a sense of connectedness to everything just from taking time to notice what’s around me. I am so grateful for and never tire of taking time to notice all the living beings around, from a blade of grass, an ant, chipmunk, or porcupine to noisy screeching seagulls, buzzing hummingbirds, stately white pine and hemlock trees.

It’s all about letting go for a time, the busyness of life, and noticing. Taking time to explore mindfulness. I wanted to lead hikes sharing this approach to nature and the outdoors but I didn’t know how to title it or describe it concisely. This is when I learned about “Shinrin-yoku.”

In Japanese “Shinrin-yoku,” the practice of forest bathing, is making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest. Contemplative walks and reconnecting with nature in forests has medically researched health benefits and is a simple remedy for stress, too much screen time, and even can strengthen the immune system.

Walks and hikes with Shinrin-yoku exploration are a new calling for me. A whole series of hikes are beginning this fall and continue into December. This is how I am sharing with others my inquiry into our relationship with nature and the planet on which we live.

I’m so grateful for resonant listening, learning from others, and daring to share what sometimes seems like a crazy idea. For these are the times when we wake up from ordinary modes of living, when a spark of inspiration enters into our being. During these moments, we face an opportunity to follow through on creative ideas and to go for it. The possibilities to embark on something new are what makes us alive and creative beings.

Get outdoors and exercise. Enjoy Maine’s forests. Explore Shinrin-yoku. Recalibrate the senses and refresh from the effects of our digital era, and an overabundance of screen time. Hybrid walks and hikes include taking some time to listen, breathe, be quiet and still, as well as enjoy the benefits of a group hike together. I invite you to join me!