Stressed? Forest bathing may be able to help

Health

As much as baths may be seen as an integral part of a self-care routine, forest bathing does not mean taking a bath outside. But it can contribute to one’s wellbeing.

Forest bathing is a practice that stems from the Japanese tradition of “shinrin-yoku,” often translated as “forest bathing,” and it involves intentional sensory engagement with the natural world. Brooke Sycamore, a naturalist and a deep listening and forest bathing guide, describes it as “a practice of taking in the forest atmosphere with your senses.”

Sycamore says she and her students often feel calmer and more centered after engaging in forest bathing. The practice is widely believed to reduce stress and improve other facets of mental health — something many people likely need after more than a year of COVID-19. Studies have investigated the physical benefits of forest bathing, as well, and have found that it may lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels, among other things.

“During a lot of my programs, just the expressions on people’s faces and their body language is so different from the start of our program to the end,” says Sycamore.

Sycamore says forest bathing is a flexible practice that can be adjusted for different settings or individual preferences. The “forest” can be any natural space, says Sycamore. An urban park, an office building courtyard, or a deeply wooded area could all work.

While many people plan outdoor time around specific activities, the goal of forest bathing “is to not really have a goal,” advises Sycamore, but rather “really just going to be.”

Following the “deep listening” practice developed by Pauline Oliveros, Sycamore encourages forest bathers to simply notice the sounds and sensations they experience, becoming grounded in the present.

“We’ll usually do an activity where we take turns, and we attempt to speak presently, which means that we will say, ‘I am noticing the sunshine on the tulip poplar leaves and the gentle sway of the pine boughs,'” Sycamore describes.

Forest bathing can be a form of self-care and a way to reduce stress and other negative feelings, but Sycamore says it can also be a way to connect with the natural world. “I also see it as a form of activism for those who feel called to work on healing the broken relationship between humans and Earth and other non-human beings,” she says.

For those interested in experiencing forest bathing with the help of a guide, Sycamore will be leading the following upcoming events:

Retreats
-June 11-13 at Phoenix Farm in Cassville, PA with Brooke Sycamore and Trella Dubetz (Grounded Restoration and Land Connectivity through Deep Listening)
-June 19-20  Appalachian Trail Deep Forest Bathing camping retreat with Brooke Sycamore, Erin Gattuso and Christi Albert 

For more details and registration email brookesycamore@gmail.com.

Day Programs
-May 22 Deep Forest Bathing program at Althouse Arboretum (information and registration on Althouse Arboretum website)
-June 6th Deep Forest Bathing program at Theodore Parker Natural Area (information and registration on Lancaster County Parks website)

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