What ails you? What if the inner peace you seek could be found in the forest? Forest bathing invites people to find renewal in nature, as one local practitioner will tell you. Christy Thomson of Huntington has been a guide for a few months and has already reaped the benefits of this eastern practice.
Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing,” according to http://www.shinrin-yoku.org. It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and been accepted as a mainstream form of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
Researchers there have found evidence that spending time under the canopy of a living forest is helpful to the mind and body. Benefits are not only a greater sense of well-being, but a boost in immune function and a decrease in stress hormones and boosts in serotonin levels. Now research is helping to bring this eastern practice to the western world.
Thomson, who received her certification from the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy, said forest bathing is unique in that it's both an individual and shared experience. Participants come together from all walks of life and feel validated by each other's experiences. Yet, similar to yoga, ultimately it's your practice and your therapy.
No two experiences will be the same for the participant. That's because every forest is different, and there are an infinite number of healing activities that can be incorporated into a walk. The healing results from listening and fully engaging our senses. To that end, there is a specific intention, or invitation, to connect with nature. Participants are invited to notice and take in all the activity in the forest, even the movement of a single blade of grass. In Thomson's words, “the smaller it is, the more you hone in on your senses.”
Walks are typically a mile or less and range in duration from two to four hours and can occur in a forest or other backdrop in the natural world. The guide is your conduit between your senses and the natural world. “You have someone else guiding you, helping you to open up your senses,” she said. “The forest fills you back up and you feel restored.”
Speaking of restoration, the mother of four said she found the practice to address her own battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Looking to nature as a form of self-healing was “innate” to her. In her research, she came across the practice of forest bathing and the training opportunities. She described the weeklong training in Massachusetts as “experiential,” as it mainly consisted of a series of outdoor walks.
“Every day was in a different place,” she said about the walks. “You never knew what your experience would be like. I loved the surprise element of it.”
Thomson said there was some bookwork in the evening that pertained to the science and theory behind the practice. For example, she learned “how nature connects us and is important to society.” She said our modern lifestyle has made us lose touch with nature. Yet we have an innate desire to “slow down and be with the earth,” she said.
While forest bathing is one approach, she said it's not the end-all, be-all. In fact, she encourages people to incorporate the principles of forest bathing into everyday life.
It's more of a mindset than an activity. Simply sitting outside at lunch can be enough to quit the chatter in our minds for a few moments, she said.
“There are many ways to address mental health,” she said. “This is something that speaks to a lot of people,” she said about forest bathing.
Thomson hopes to make forest bathing accessible to people in northeast Indiana and beyond. She recently offered a session at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory and has plans to return there this summer.
A class in forest bathing
Christy Thomson will lead a class in forest bathing from 6-7:30 p.m. May 25 at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, 1100 S. Calhoun St.
Cost is $10 or $8 for a member or volunteer.
For more information, see www.botanicalconservatory.org.