Forest bathing is the latest health trend – but what exactly is it, anyways?
Translated from the Japanese term shinrin-yoku, forest bathing is also known as forest therapy. It’s kind of like hiking through the forest. It’s kind of like meditating amongst the trees. Yet it’s not exactly either.
“I’ve been doing forest therapy all my life, and I didn’t know there was a term for it,” says Haida Bolton. Based in Pender Harbour, Bolton was certified by the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy as BC’s first Forest Therapy Guide. The organization promotes the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, or taking a slow walk in the woods and absorbing the surroundings with all your senses.
Here’s how Bolton explains it.
Forest bathing isn’t about following a defined route. Bolton’s forest therapy walks, which last about 2- 1/2 hours, may span only about one kilometre. Rather than the destination, the point is to focus on the details of the journey.
The guide invites participants to pay attention to what’s in motion, or focus on sound or touch. They even focus on the taste of the forest with a tea ceremony that highlights the edible plants such as lemon balm, licorice root, or a hemlock tree’s citrusy new spring growth.
While some people liken forest bathing to meditation, it’s not necessarily a solitary experience. It is, however, a mindful one, with a similar experience of slowing down and really being in the moment.
But sharing is also part of the experience. Bolton guides people both one-on- one and in groups of up to 12. “You’re hearing and seeing things through what they share that you didn’t notice yourself,” Bolton says.
You don’t need a guide to practise forest therapy. But a guide can help to slow down the pace and help you to experience the forest in new ways.
Bolton emphasizes that a forest therapy guide is not a therapist. “The forest itself is the therapist,” she says. “The forest does all the work. The guide simply opens the door to the forest to help connect the forest with the person.”
One of the benefits of paying close attention to your surroundings is you see new things that can inspire other areas of your life. “Whether you’re an architect or a painter or a writer, so much creative inspiration comes from slowing down in the forest and noticing the details with all our senses,” she says.
For example, noticing an insect you’ve never seen before could inspire a new idea: “There’s this awe effect, this great joy and wonder and curiosity and excitement.”
The calming benefits of spending time in nature are well documented. A blog by Vancouver’s David Suzuki Foundation sums them up, including decreased anxiety and a strengthened immune system. Japanese studies have shown that people who spend time in the forest inhale beneficial bacteria, plant-based essential oils, and negatively charged ions.
The Association of Nature & Forest Therapy lists benefits including reduced blood pressure, increased energy, and increased ability to focus.
For those interested in training as a forest therapy guide, the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy is holding a guide training session from June 25 to July 2, 2017, in the Rocky Mountains of BC’s Kootenay region.
Haida Bolton offers guided forest therapy walks on the Sunshine Coast. In May and September, Ruby Lake Resort is offering two forest therapy retreats facilitated by Bolton. She also travels to cities like Vancouver and Victoria to lead walks there; see Nature With Haida.
From their base in Parksville on Vancouver Island, Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours take guests on a gentle walk through an off-the- beaten-track forest with old-growth trees and native plants. In conjunction with Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours, Tigh-Na- Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre offers a Reconnect Package that includes accommodation and a two or three-hour forest bathing tour, plus mineral pool access at the resort’s Grotto Spa.
With close to 25% of the world’s temperate rainforest in British Columbia, there are plenty of places to be one with the trees. For more ideas on where to go, see Top 5 Places to Experience the Rainforest in BC.