Opening the Senses with Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing)

Opening the Senses with Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing)

By Gayle Picken

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was surrounded by trees. Cedars, Western Hemlocks and Douglas Firs towered over our house and swayed dramatically during the windstorms. Friends and relatives visiting from the mid-west would marvel at how tall and green they were, but I mostly took the trees for granted and didn’t fully appreciate their beauty until I was older.

Now with mindfulness and meditation becoming mainstream, I’m seeing lots of stories, classes and workshops in “Forest Bathing” or “Shinrin-yoku” – a practice developed in Japan of opening all of your senses while being in the forest to soak in all of the healing properties of the trees. It’s said to have profound health benefits, including lowering stress and blood pressure and boosting our immune system.

Could it be that trees can have that much of influence on our health?

Curious to learn more, I called on some of our NW Mind Body Spirit Connection experts to give us some insights.

Forest Bathing in a Group

Maureen Rivelle of Open Hands Reiki in Edmonds, led Forest Bathing groups every month during the Spring and Summer of 2017 into Southwest County Park or another park in Lynnwood.

“It is a very relaxing and rejuvenating “activity” that gets us back in touch with nature. Especially in the winter, many of us are far removed from the outdoors and nature and its positive effects on our bodies, minds and spirits. So my idea was to bring the balance of nature back into our lives by offering a way for people to go into the woods without having to travel far, and by removing the fear factor of being alone in the woods.”

Maureen took her group into the park and found a place that was relatively quiet and out of the path of people, yet where the group could remain within eyesight of each other.

She started off with a group meditation and grounding and then each person found a tree, got out their blankets and pillows and leaned against their tree or laid down next to it.

“We then communed with nature in our own way. Some people took much-needed naps,” she recalled.

After about an hour, Maureen would go around to each person to tell them it was time to walk out. “We shared our experiences as a group, afterwards,” she added, “In every case, people felt refreshed.”

Maureen’s tip: Look for a quiet spot without any mosquitoes!

Take the time to disconnect so that you can make time to reconnect

Marc Lainhart, The Intuitive Prospector, has been leading “Forest Friday” Hikes in the summer for the past 4 or 5 years. They include an easy to moderate hike along with Qigong and meditation.

I like to think of it as “connecting back to our original home,” said Marc.

“I used to do a lot of hiking by myself,” he added, “and then friends started asking to come along. As I built my spiritual practice, I incorporated meditation and Qigong into a forest bathing practice.”

“There is an exchange of elements that take place between us and trees/nature. Sometimes we forget this.”

Part of the experience is walking in silence with no words, no technology. “We take in the power and the essence with where we’re at,” he explained.

Marc doesn’t charge for the hikes, but accepts donations to help with gas and the trail head parking pass. For details, check his facebook page.

“The Forest Friday Hikes offer an opportunity to power off, reset and connect with higher self. Nature is our greatest teacher”

Interested in Learning More about Forest Bathing?

M. Amos Clifford has written a book called “Your Guide to Forest Bathing” where he invites you to bring this powerful self-care practice into your life. He shares the healing power of forest bathing, discusses the elements of practice, and gives you a step-by-step for optimal flow.

Clifford founded the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy and offers a Free Starter Kit if you sign up for the email list.

You can find his book online or at a local bookstore near you.

I’d love to hear about your experience forest bathing! Share your photos & stories in our group: NW Mind Body Spirit Lounge. See you in the forest!

Gayle Picken is an event producer, healthy living advocate, travel blogger and director of the NW Mind Body Spirit Connection. She loves yoga, hiking, kayaking, connecting with people and exploring the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.