Updated: Jul 23, 2020
"we're all in this together, and we love to take a bath"
Name that song! Go!
The bath I am alluding to is not the bubblebath instagram photo sesh with cute red toenails (which, btw, is a GREAT kind of bath). Today I am referring to a forest bath. If you didn't think I was a complete hippie before, I have probably etched that in stone now.
Self-care is important, right? If I could get you to add ONE thing to your self-care tool box, it would be forest bathing. Walking in the woods alone has changed my life. I used to be terrified of walking alone in the woods. I am unsure exactly what I thought could happen, but due to previous trauma in my life, I used to be fearful of seeing unknown people on the trail. I was also afraid of being completely alone - could I trust myself if I stumbled upon a snake? Or a larger, more predatory animal? But, the woods have spoken to me, since I was a little girl. Looking up through the trees to see the sun filter in through the canopy, washes away my worries. Stepping barefoot in a creek feels like a cleanse for my spirit. Smelling rich Alabama soil after the rain... Listening for the crunch of fall leaves under my shoes. It all is just so magical.
Forest bathing provides an opportunity for mindfulness and physical activity with mega mental health benefits. Japan introduced this amazing practice in the 1980's as technology really started booming. The idea behind shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) is to prevent burnout, increase mindfulness, and reduce anxiety and depression. We can certainly expect to have a boost in our mood, and a shift in our energy.
So, how does this work? Ideally, this practice takes place solo in the woods, although any natural environment could work. Silence your phone, no device needed (we don’t document forest bathing). The idea is for you to commune with nature in peace. Not running. Not listening to your favorite podcast. Not talking to friends. Just you and the woods, the trees, the birds, the squirrels, the creek. And believe me, it did indeed happen even if you didn’t post it on Instagram.
Now that we have addressed the what, let’s talk about the how aspect of shinrin-yoku:
Choose your trail and get your backpack ready. Find a trail that seems accessible, easy, and not too heavily trafficked. I use the AllTrails app! Make sure you pack plenty of water, a snack, and honestly y’all, I carry a safety whistle. I also bring a small backpacking chair so I can just sit down and hang out solo style.
Slow down. We aren’t here to get credit on our smartwatches (I mean, that’s just a bonus). Slowing down is HARD, but try to slow your pace. As you walk, start noticing details all around you.
Pause. When your mind starts to wonder, or big feelings arise, just pause. Notice what is going on. Allow being outside, soaking in all that fresh air to clear out some of that yuck you’ve been carrying around.
Breathe. Inhale the clean air. Become aware of your breath on your walk. Notice when you are challenged and become short of breath as you walk up a hill. Notice the longer inhales when you see something beautiful. We are here to notice.
Engage the senses. A truly incredible method of slowing down and practicing mindfulness is simply to engage the senses. What do you smell? Taste? Hear? Feel? See? Notice.
But for how long? It doesn’t matter. Some people spend days doing this… I don’t know who they are, but good for them. I typically just spend a portion of my hike engaging in forest bathing. Somedays, perhaps 10 minutes, other days 2 hours. If you paused in nature for 30 seconds, it was 30 seconds more than you had before.
A walk in the woods gets to be self-care. As always, I hope you find whatever works for you, because you are wonderful.
Let me know if you give it a try!