If there can be a perfect day, today was it. We intended to go for a short hike in the woods and our planned exercise ended up being more like Forest Bathing.
The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, translated literally ‘forest-bath’. Today we are so immersed in the busyness of our lives, compounded with the use of technology which keeps our vision laser-focused to our hands or screens, that we are separated from the healing gift God gave us in nature. Shinrin-yoku helps to bridge that gap and bring our senses back to nature and it’s natural soothing abilities. One could pay a certified Forest Bathing guide to lead you through a forest bath experience for a couple hours or you could simply go for a walk in nature and allow mother nature to lead you by the hand. It’s a sort of Yin style of meditation where you allow yourself to be carried by the waves of your senses through a forest, no goal, no destination.
Today we headed out on a trail and were swiftly drawn in by the dappled light drifting through the canopy of the forest, watching the light dance it’s way along our path through the flickering leaves above. My senses were on high alert as I had read someone had recently seen a mountain lion nearby. Was that crack and thump an approaching mountain lion slinking nearby? Oh, just a pine cone knocked loose by a scampering squirrel high above and falling from a towering stately pine. Soon my caution settled down and I noticed a sound, a brook or a stream maybe, and followed it’s calling. Down an embankment we went following the hypnotic sound of the gurgling of a low stream as it passed around the water-worn rocks, drawing me further downstream as I thought back to catching crawfish with my kids in a creek behind their childhood home. We took a seat on a smooth boulder and I studied the different details of furled lichen nearby, and chuckled to myself allowing another memory to seep in of a challenging hike we were on where I distracted myself by seeing how many types of lichen and mushrooms I could photograph to escape from the heat and exhaustion! The lichen carried me away until the caw of a blue jay awakened me. As I looked up to spot the pair of birds that woke me from my trip back in time, the bright green of a delicate fern grove caught my eye and drew me in closer. We had noticed much of the other foliage being limp with dehydration from the summer’s drought, but the ferns amazingly had dug their perennial roots into the bed of the decomposed earth and reached what water was left of the formerly cascading stream between the rocks, allowing this vibrant green, fairy garden to thrive.
After bumping into another couple who pointed the way back to a trail we continued to notice the forest with all our senses bathing in a ‘hike’ to nowhere. The smell of the decomposing floor, the breeze blowing through the leaves still on their branches, the cool breathy brush of fall’s kiss on our cheeks and the symphony of the many different calls of birds. The contrast in our footing changed as we passed over wet, mossy rocks onto dry boulders. We noticed the the spring of decomposed leaves and partially rotted logs contrasted by the firmness of a pine grove as we stepped back onto the trail.
I once knew a man who would take a nature bath every morning five steps from his back door (the max he could walk at the time), which was really a form of Yin meditation simply following the loop of his senses. He would step out onto his deck and close his eyes and follow the call of a certain bird for a couple minutes. For the next few minutes he would then follow the calls of another bird species. Next, he might move onto the the chattering calls of squirrels as they jumped from branch to branch seemingly defying gravity on their springy trampolines. Then he would follow the sound of a motorboat in the harbor as it pulsed along envisioning what it would feel like to be coasting across the crests of waves one after another. Before heading in he would allow the air to awaken his skin whether it be a cool breeze or the warmth from the sun. This is a form of meditation allowing yourself to be immersed in a nature bath.
I recommend you get out and experience Shinrin-yoku on your own this week. Actually, each week if you can, and right through the seasons changes noticing the differences between the business of nature’s life in the summer versus the quiet of the cold winter! Enjoy the magical beauty of nature through your all five of your senses giving you the gift of peace and joy. If you don’t have a forest nearby to bath in, or are unable to walk into one, you could enjoy many of the healing benefits by pulling a chair out your back door or lay in your backyard (think of watching the clouds endlessly as a child). Begin by noticing what you see around you and especially above you. Then close your eyes if you are not walking and allow time to slip away as your senses wash over you.
Educator, coach, Yin Yoga instructor and advocate for healthy, toxin-free living. Organic gardener, whole-food, plant-based cook. Service-minded Rotarian. Photographer. Storyteller.