By Otterbein Granville resident Kathie H.
Keep your shirt on! This is not what you are thinking. Shinrin Yoku is an ancient Japanese practice, and the current national pastime in Japan believed to reduce stress and promote well-being.
Full-body immersion, yes, but by walking into the woods, into nature, soaking in the sunlight, moisture, visual impressions, sounds, and movement. Awareness is awakened by simply showing up, slowing down, and noticing.
Winter woods welcomes with generous gifts to offer.
Understanding Forest Bathing
Also called forest therapy, forest bathing is a slow and mindful way of ambling into the woods to engage the senses and allow for reflection. We cannot overdose on forest therapy, and it's an easy and low-cost way to train ourselves to be more fully present and in the moment.
Subtle colors (may excite your inner artist)
As a group or alone, forest bathing is a gift to give yourself. At Otterbein Granville, our rural setting offers many options for short or long-sensory rambles.
Recently, my solo experience took me up the hill behind Friends Lane, where well-marked trails led to the Indian Mound. Then, I walked along High Road, where a bench welcomed restorative reflection.
Surrounded by colors, textures, and sculptural forms, I found myself in nature’s art gallery. As I continued on along the forest trail, I was even more alert to the beauty of fungi, tree stumps, and mosses, or simply the subtle colors of woods and sky.
Excellent signage and well-placed resting spots.
Yes! Even an Indian Mound at the beginning/end of the High Road.
NATURE AS ART, notice colors and textures, a tree stump as a sculptural art form, and turkey tail fungus is a thing of beauty!
Discovering the Benefits of Forest Bathing
A slow stroll around the pond offered more benches for a pause to just BE. Nothing is required, just inner peace and gratitude for all of life’s beauty.
A recent article explores the science behind the practice of forest bathing. "Spending time immersed in nature does wonder to our brains. It encourages mindfulness which helps heighten our senses, and stimulates the brain, thereby improving our cognitive functions and combatting anxiety and depression," says Christine Kingsley, health and wellness director at the Lung Institute in Manchester, Connecticut.
"Forest bathing helps boost immunity as it exposes one to a phytoncide-rich atmosphere, a compound released by trees, that triggers the increase of natural killer (NK) cells in the blood."
Kingsley continues, "Stronger immunity means that the body's protective responses against harmful viruses, bacteria and other foreign bodies are hypercharged, helping keep infections and diseases at bay, specifically alleviating hypertension and reducing the risk of chronic heart failure."
Guidelines for Practicing Forest Bathing
Here are a few guidelines, if you want to “bathe” in a park or woodland:
- Take time to notice all that surrounds you. Breathe in deeply and exhale slowly. Repeat. What do your olfactory senses pick up? The scent of pine? The fresh or moist air from a recent rain or snowfall? In season, the musky odor of mud or decaying leaves or even an early spring skunk cabbage?
- Does a wild rose or invasive honeysuckle invite closer inspection? What visual clues cause memories to arise? Is there a flow of recollection from past adventures into nature’s bounty? How did it feel then? How does it feel now?
- Know your plants before you reach out to touch, but textures of bark and leaf offer interesting sensations to fingertips or palm of the hand. Some wild encounters even excite taste buds when teaberries or huckleberries, wild blackberries, or honeysuckle nectar are in season. An herbal treat might include a wild mint leaf and wild thyme, but unless you are sure, smelling is safer than tasting.
- Take a deep breath! The best part of forest bathing is welcoming the gifts of nature to permeate your entire being. Activate all your senses. Improve your overall health. Enjoy your natural surroundings in any season.
This healthful practice of spending time with trees, away from modern distractions like electronics, can be a walk or simply being present in the forest ambiance while slowing yourself intentionally.
When mobility issues preclude a forest stroll, make time to sit under a tree. Follow the guidelines and leave distractions behind. Think about the sensations provided by noticing smells and colors, feeling the air, listening for sounds, or whatever heightens your senses.
Spending 15 minutes weekly in nature will deliver mental health benefits beyond measure. And even when going outdoors is not possible, an open window can offer natural air, birdsong, scents of seasonal plants or weather, and visual scenery. All contribute to an immune system boost and an emotional and mental pick-up.
Interested in Learning More About Our Arboretum?
Otterbein Granville is devoted to planting trees and the continued commitment to our forests, landscaping, and love of nature. The Otterbein Granville Arboretum has 95 species of trees and includes a two-acre pond and five miles of walking trails. Our community is the perfect place for nature lovers to hike, relax, and unwind.