Years ago I was leading a workshop in Maine and offered an exercise in forest bathing. The immediate group response was, “Yes, I like to walk in the woods.” The idea was familiar, but not necessarily as a mindfulness practice. Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is a Japanese form of nature therapy that originated in the early 1980s. The word, “bathing,” refers to the idea of absorbing the experience using all the senses. Forest bathing aims to bring healing through connection to nature and trees. It is not the same as going for a hike, listening to a podcast, and getting in your steps for the day.
Forest bathing is a mindfulness practice for any level of physical fitness and in any location where there are trees. Scientific studies have shown it can be quite powerful, enhance well-being, and reduce stress.
If you would like to try this practice, find a peaceful place to walk outside with trees. Pause, and bring awareness to all your senses. Set an intention to listen, feel, see, taste, touch, sense, and allow. Walk slowly. Pause from time to time to sit, be still, or connect with a tree. The practice of forest bathing is more about being/allowing than doing/directing. When your mindfulness walk is complete, take a few moments to reflect on your experience. Trees have much to teach and share, if we are paying attention.
In Utah there is a forest of forty-eight thousand aspen trees. The oldest aspen is fourteen thousand years old. How have trees like these aspens survived cold winters, drought, and insect attacks for so many years? Originally, it was thought to be survival of the fittest in outcompeting other trees for sunlight, water, and nutrients. New research shows that trees have learned how to cooperate and communicate through an underground fungal network or through scent signals the air. They ask for help, respond to distress signals, and share nutrients with other trees because this is how they survive—together. These aspens have survived because they recognize they belong to one another. This is not simply a collection of trees—it’s a community. Every tree belongs to the forest/community by having a place to stand within it.
Just like a tree is part of a forest, we are part of different communities—an intricate network of people who rely on one another to survive and flourish. And as one global human family on this Earth journey, our collective survival—much like a tree depends on its forest—is determined by our ability to connect and cooperate, share and care.