I am not sure what you might envision when you hear the words “forest bathing.” It’s probably not what you think, unless you are familiar with its Japanese origins. I recently had the opportunity to go forest bathing with four others and our certified forest guide, Suzanne Weirich, who leads forest bathing tours along with Helene Gibbens. You might know Helene from Adirondack Riverwalking.
All of us met on one of the hottest mornings in July at the Flume trailhead in Wilmington. The heat was still pretty mild because it was early morning, and the forest was undoubtedly the best place to be on that July morning. (Side note: Forest bathing is a year-round practice that happens at different locations, this just happens to be the first time I tried it.)
Forest bathing is premised on the foundational principles that the forest is full of wonder and healing powers. It is an immersive way to fully experience these gifts of the forest. On a typical hike it’s easy to walk by and not truly notice what’s around you. Forest bathing presents a great opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, smell the different mingling smells, hear the cacophony of birds, and still not miss the forest for the trees. I can now attest that forest bathing provided ample opportunity for me to experience the forest in a new and positively therapeutic light.
After we all introduced ourselves, our forest guide, Suzanne, explained the roots of forest bathing and its principles based on wellness and full sensory immersion. Suzanne was a thoughtful and knowledgeable guide. During our time together, she encouraged our enjoyment and connection to the forest. I felt as if I was on a guided meditation. Forest bathing was about mindfulness in that we were more aware and sensitive to the abundance and diversity of life around us. And nothing was mandatory on this walk through the forest, and it’s certainly not a rugged hike. Each of us got to choose our own pace and our own level of participation.
Our morning was divided into different “invitations” and “counsels.” An invitation was a way for our guide to invite us into a specific sensory practice. For example, one of our invitations was to pay attention to the different motion in the forest. We each wandered off to closely observe the movement around us. After some time, we participated in a “counsel” which meant we each had an opportunity to share our experience. Each participant was deeply moved and willing to share. Most of us noticed the gentle morning breeze washing over our skin. We also noted that the sunlight danced through the trees with awe-inspiring motion. Another person noticed a type of spider she had never seen before. The forest really is a space of constant motion and perpetual change.
What followed from this exercise was a series of other invitations and counsels. We experienced touching the different textures of the forest and creating forest art together. We also got to know each other along the way, swapping stories about our lives and what brought us here. One of the guests was from western Massachusetts, visiting the Adirondacks for a family reunion. Another guest was a forest therapy guide in western New York. Most of us had a special connection to the Adirondacks, whether it was from childhood trips to the woods with our family or a weekend getaway from the busy city.
The picture below shows us participating in the invitation to touch the forest by collecting items that we will use for our forest art.
Our final invitation was a tea ceremony. Our guide picked the herbs for our tea earlier that morning. She picked only what we needed, making sure to be conscientious about not taking too much. Part of forest bathing’s philosophy is showing gratitude to the forest. So, we ended our gentle walk and rich sensory experience with a cup of warm tea and one final counsel. We shared strawberries and each of us talked about what we will remember from our journey together.
Forest bathing is great for those of you looking for a wellness experience similar to meditation, or if you just want to connect with others and the environment. Expect to be pleasantly surprised along the way.