The Recorder – Speaking of nature: time to try a forest bath

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I can’t remember the exact day I first heard the term “forest bathing”. What I remember is the feeling of confusion I felt when I learned that some of my fellow teachers had signed up for this activity as part of a professional development workshop. Forest bath? Were towels going to be provided?

When I saw my colleagues the next day, I was full of questions. What did you do? How was it ? The answers to these questions did not help dispel the confusion. “We went into the woods for a few hours and it was really cool.” It’s a thing ? So I decided to wrap my confusion and toss it into the pile of weird questions at the back of my mind. In about two seconds, I had forgotten everything.

Over time, the term “forest bathing” has appeared with a little more frequency each year. Always on the sidelines, he was easily overlooked, but I finally had to figure out what it all meant. I guess the real momentum for my decision came when I heard the term used in an advertisement on a local public radio station. So what is the forest bath anyway?

Well the answer is quite simple. Just as you could immerse yourself in a warm water swimming pool to experience a feeling of relaxation and calm, you can also take a walk in the woods and immerse yourself in the peace and quiet of nature. I guess my confusion about this process came from the fact that I have been doing this all my life not realizing that it had an official name.

Official credit for the term is given to the Japanese. In the 1980s, the term “shinrin-yoku” was first coined to identify the process of “soaking up the atmosphere of the forest”. The literal translation of this term comes from the direct meaning of the Japanese words “shinrin”, which means “forest” and “yoku”, which means “bath”. I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge that this is the first time that Japanese has been featured as the original language for everything discussed in my columns over the past 24 years.

The basic idea is probably aimed more directly at people who live in an urban environment and who spend so little time in the natural environment. Studies of this practice suggest that there are real health benefits to spending time in the woods, especially if the person in question intentionally allows the mind to distract from worry and focus. on the peace and quiet of the moment. It brings to mind another term that has popped up over the past decade, “mindfulness.”

I have been doing this all my life and when I decided to write this column I knew the exact example I would use from my own experience. In the 1980s, maybe even when the Japanese gave it an official name, I was a student at UMass Amherst. I was enrolled in the Wildlife Biology program and spent most of my study time thinking about nature and trying to understand it. I was immersed in nature, but, apparently, I always wanted more.

During my fall semesters, it was common practice for me to wander the woods in the Orchard Hill section of campus. There were beautiful trees in this fragment of forest and although I could still hear the road noise in the distance and the hum that occurs when you are near 20,000 people, it was truly peaceful. I found myself a comfortable place under the trees, stretched out on the ground, and took an afternoon nap. My dorm was within walking distance, but I found the idea of ​​sleeping among the trees extremely calming. And this is the very essence of forest baths.

The Japanese didn’t find anything new in the 1980s, they just found a term for something that people have been doing for as long as they have access to the woods. The idea of ​​camping is basically a ‘swim’ exercise, if you think about it and the forest isn’t the only place you can ‘swim’. Pick any ecosystem and you can find restorative peace and calm there. Walk in a desert and let your mind wander. Take a walk in the meadow and let the calm soak up your bones. Sometimes simple images of these places can trigger good feelings. Imagine what it would be like to go there.

So now you can really appreciate the brilliance of my closing remarks every week. Turn off the TV, leave your cell phone and go outside. The weather forecast suggests that the weather for today’s vacation would be calm, cloudy, and quite warm. We’re also about to hit peak fall foliage color. Now is the time to try a forest bath for yourself. Find a quiet country road or an even quieter forest path and take a walk through the woods. Then stop, close your eyes, smell the forest and smell the trees around you. There is a good chance that you will feel better after a good long soak in nature.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 24 years and a lifelong forest bath practitioner. He has worked for the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Nature Conservancy, and Massachusetts State Parks and currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more information, visit their website at www. Speakingofnature.com, or visit Speaking of Nature on Facebook.


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