“How did you hear about Forest Bathing?”
I ask this question to make small talk at the beginning of Rise Gatherings Forest Bathing Retreats. I ask it because I want to know and because I am prepared with small talk questions as I greet people who are arriving for an experience they may be cautiously curious about. They may not know what to expect - they just know it sounded like something meaningful.
The small talk is a hurdle we have to get through - as the pandemic has left many of us moving beyond pretending - we are less interested in small talk or even still feel awkward doing so. We are ready to get inside the forest, to experience the quiet as well as the symphony. We are ready to hear our own voice.
But for these first few minutes I stick with ”how did you hear about today’s event?”
People often say a friend told them or they found it on social media, but my ears perk up when I hear “my therapist recommended I do something like this for myself,” “my doctor suggested I learn and practice ways to calm my nerves, “ or “I knew I needed to connect more deeply to nature and other women - my health depends on it.”
We are feeling a shared trauma and resulting personalized symptoms due to the stress of the pandemic and challenges we face - individual and universal. Many are feeling new physical and mental challenges, as well as intensified existing ones. People are seeking ways to take what they learned and loved from the pandemic - the slowing down, the walks outside, dropping the load of “must do’s” and instead focusing on what really matters.
This is where forest bathing comes in.
When we introduce the Japanese practice I start with its story. I share, "in the late 80’s in Japan medical and mental health practitioners began prescribing trips to the forest to immerse in the chemical aerosols of the trees to benefit people’s immune system and to combat the diseases of modern life.” When I say that I picture a prescription pad that has written on it not just a statin, anti-depressant or testing, but an additional bullet point - forest bathing.
What is forest bathing?
It is a reconnection to nature to relearn some of what it means to be alive - how to walk, breathe, open your senses and your heart, to wonder and wander, and to feel a sense of awe and gratitude for our interdependence and connection to Mother Earth.
I started leading these experiences as a merging of my passions and pursuits - yoga, walks in the woods, and a desire for connection. I noticed how the days I practice forest bathing I feel more ease in my body, less fog in my head, my skin and eyes look brighter and I sleep more soundly at night.
The research supporting forest bathing as an antidote to modern life and a tool for healing is mounting. Before we enter the forest participants love to hear about how forest bathing lowers blood pressure, increases cancer fighting cells and boosts the “good chemicals” in your body.
Their brains hook into this science, and when we enter the forest their hearts remember this human need.
Forest bathing is our shining inheritance from centuries of cultures going into nature to honor it and learn from it. It is an intuitive response to looking at the trees and ground with new eyes. It is a practice of slowing down. It is the un-doing of our habits of looking down, moving quickly, and trying, always trying, to “get it right.”
In forest bathing a guide (or your internal guide) invites you to set an intention, to feel your feet kiss the earth, to look up and wonder at the fractal patterns created by the branches above. We wrap our arms around trees, lie on the forest floor, awaken our senses, and sit in stillness. Each of these invitations opens a door to new ways of breathing and being.
At the end of our shared time together in the woods strangers have become bonded members of a tribe where we honor each other’s intentions and move without speaking. We gather in a circle to process the experience and share insights.
If I were to write a prescription for a megadose of wellness to support someone’s immunity, state of mind, and spiritual connection it would include the following:
Unplug from all devices
Immerse in nature
Move your body intuitively
Feel an authentic sense of connection to other humans and our planet
Forest bathing is a way to do all of these at once. We leave with pockets full of acorns and pebbles as well as tools to infuse our days with this immune building practice.
To prescribe forest bathing for yourself or for someone you care about, click here.
Rise Gatherings offers private forest bathing experiences - we'd love to facilitate one for your group!
Tami Astorino, M.Ed. is the Co-CEO of Rise Gatherings, retreat experiences for women. Tami’s 30 year career in psychology and wellness has focused on the art of group facilitation - bringing people together to connect more deeply with themselves and each other. Equal parts educator, yoga teacher, non profit leader, parent and wife, Tami can be found sharing her warmth and wisdom in the forest in Pennsylvania.