My friends looked at me funny when I asked them to go forest bathing with me last October.
After some convincing, we hopped on a train from Manhattan to upstate New York to practice the Japanese art of "Shinrin-yoku," which translates to "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing."
I was originally introduced to this form of forest therapy by a colleague. Upon researching its stress-relieving benefits, my friends and I went hiking to meditatively connect with nature through our touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.
After strapping on our boots, unplugging, feeling the gravel, welcoming the warmth of the sun, smelling the pines, and listening to the birds, we truly felt the healing powers of nature as our shoulders relaxed and chests lightened.
"Forest therapy offers us the opportunity to connect in an intentional way that highlights the power of these sensory experiences. These types of sensory experiences are also within the range of techniques that are known as 'grounding,'" Ben Page, the director of training at the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, explains.
Now, six weeks into social distancing, I wish I could go back to that hiking trail to rejuvenate my body and mind once again.
The good news is that I can still practice forest therapy from home — and so can you, even with limited-to-no access to the outdoors.
"Without a phone or journal or any distractions of the kind, people can quite simply begin by noticing what things really look like," Page says.
If you are safely able, head to your backyard, balcony, or window to gaze at flowers, listen to the breeze move your surroundings, or watch raindrops linger on a surface. For those with access, optimise your experience by laying against a tree or sitting in the grass.
"Even for people who cannot go outside, grounding techniques such as running your hands under water, touching surfaces and noticing textures, focussed breathing, mindful eating, or mindful inhaling of a scent can be grounding and help people relax," Page elaborates.
When you're inside, Page suggests bringing sights and sounds of nature into your home through soundscapes and visuals on Spotify or YouTube. Upgrade the video experience by wafting your favourite perfume or eating a fruit you enjoy — just do so thoughtfully and purposefully.
You can also attend a Forest Therapy virtual walk hosted by the Associate of Nature and Forest Therapy and the nonprofit Forest Bathing International.
"The association has guides all around the world who are pioneering such a practice, taking people into the forests and gardens of their homes through virtual Zoom meetups and facilitating forest therapy experiences," Page says.
"When we slow down and arrive fully in [a] moment, there is an incredible amount of beauty all around us; noticing that can be hard when we are scared, tense, and isolated. But it's always right there, waiting for us." That's why I've scheduled some backyard time after logging off tonight. I may not have a forest, but I am lucky enough to have a tree I can unwind under.
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