Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Forest Bathing (Shinrin-Yoku)

Have you noticed that recently fitness and health magazines and on-line sources have finally picked up on the concept that spending time outdoors can improve your health and well-being.

They are a little late in coming to the party. Since the 1980’s, the Japanese have been at the forefront of integrating outdoor experiences, particularly those in forest areas, with other health care protocols.

Well, forest bathing has even come to my little corner of the world. I became familiar with a practice called Shinrin-Yoku (or forest bathing) during a presentation offered by our wonderful county park. The Japanese and other eastern cultures have found that integration of forest bathing into health care plans helps with a number of maladies, particularly high blood pressure and other diseases that chase us down as we age.

No! No, not that kind of forest bathing

I find it intriguing that the rest of the world has now caught up with the knowledge that being in the woods can lift your spirits. Most trail runners and hikers have been aware of this. It’s a part of what draws us to the trail.

So, to find out how this more scientific version of a walk in the woods developed I did a bit of reading and wrote an article for Sixty and Me.

Later, I saw an announcement for an opportunity to participate in Shinrin-Yoku at Detweiler Park. Detweiler Park is the perfect setting for Shinrin-Yoku , a location that is bare bones carry-in, carry-out, trails only for pedestrians and an eco-friendly environment.

The session I attended was specifically for seniors (there were other sessions open to families with children and a session for adults not yet in our golden age).

My session was led by the certified forest therapy guide, Suzanne Schiemer, who had done the earlier presentation. She explained the process we would use to experience the forest. We would be proceeding very slowly and observing the forest through all senses.

Let the Forest Saturate Into Your Being

We began by closing our eyes and exploring our location through senses other that sight. What did we hear? Could we taste the forest in the air as we cupped our tongues? What did we smell? We went through this process, rotating, making a quarter turn and repeating the process until we had experienced the differences in our forest environment through our senses by simply slightly turning our bodies. And, to our surprise, our senses did identify differences in smell, sound and taste as our bodies moved ever so slightly.

We began our forest walk after our leader first offered that there are plants in the forest that can be harmful and they generally will tell us so if we pay attention. Her example was the hairy exterior of poison ivy vines. She then issued an invitation to walk very slowly and identify a vine that we are each individually drawn to. The vine that called to me had managed to wind itself into the shape of a dancer.

We stopped along a bridge crossing the brook and took time to each find our comfortable place and quietly contemplate the forest world around us.

After our quiet meditation, we walked another short distance to a forest path. We were asked to each find a tree to become familiar with. Could we feel energy from the tree when touching it? Yes, I was surprised but I could feel it. I will keep this in mind on my next lengthy trail run, maybe take a break leaning against a tree to reinvigorate my body.

Our session ended with a tea ceremony, sharing our experience around a picnic table under a beautiful pine.

This was an intentional slow moving process. During our 2-hour session, we moved less than a half mile.

Each exercise, or invitation, we participated in, I have since emulated prior to picking up my hiking or running pace on the trail. I am finding it a worthwhile, relaxing process.

I would love to hear whether you have experienced anything in the realm of forest bathing or forest therapy? Would you be willing to give it a try?

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