Recently, I participated in something called forest bathing. For those not familiar with it, the experience doesn’t require actually showering outside, but rather immersing yourself in the natural world.
The practice of forest bathing typically involves traversing a path with a forest therapy guide, who invites participants to mindfully use their senses and observe the sights, sounds, and smells of the world around them.
A few short hours prior to this excursion, the temperatures had dropped to a frigid zero degrees fahrenheit. Not being a particularly big fan of winter, I was a little apprehensive at the notion of spending two hours in such low temperatures. Acknowledging the intense cold, and very real threat it could pose to our health, the guide offered suggestions about clothing and movements that could keep us warm and help us enjoy the experience.
As we went through the invitations, we became more aware of the lives all around us, even in the seemingly barren, frozen landscape. Though it wasn’t very windy along the path, the shadows of swaying tree branches suggested that there was a slight breeze at higher altitudes and made us marvel at the complexities of trees. Scuffs and tracks in the snow reminded us that birds, squirrels, and other critters didn’t hibernate and were likely out even earlier than we were, searching for food or warmth.
After each activity, we had an opportunity to tell the others something we took away from that time; I appreciated the opportunity to share things that I noticed, but was also grateful to hear how others’ experiences differed from my own. As I sat around a small campfire sipping warm tea from locally foraged ingredients I was glad I had come. There we were, people from various backgrounds, opening our minds and hearts to what we could learn from nature, even on a cold winter’s day. It was refreshing to be surrounded by others who, though perhaps as unsure as I was about braving the weather, bundled up and went out, curious to see what this thing called “forest bathing” was all about – and, though our toes and noses were rather chilly by the end, we all felt it was worth it.
I don’t have any photographs from the actual excursion because we were asked to leave our cell phones behind (which I feel significantly added to our experience). The photo above is of a track I came across on a different day, shortly after the forest bathing session; I wondered what type of critter had left that track, and where it might be when I came upon it…