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We recommend a bit of forest bathing

By Susan and Biff Andrews

Last week we wrote of rusticating — leaving the cities or suburbs to “recharge one’s batteries” in nature. People have been doing it since the Romans. Modern ecotourism and agri-tourism are rustication’s modern day descendants.

But there is an even newer concept emerging, one that incorporates modern science to prove how spending time in nature benefits participants. It comes from modern Japan — the 1980s and ‘90s, and it is called Shinrin Yoku. Loosely translated, it means “forest bathing.”

It is actually considered a form of medicine or therapy, which prevents heart problems and heals people psychologically. It has become a cornerstone of Japanese medicine.

The activity simply involves immersing oneself in the forest. Professional guides, who are certified, help the participant focus on the “here,” not the “there.” Patients must focus on four of the five senses — the sights around them, the sounds and smells of the forest and soil, and the coolness of the air, the warmth of the sun and other touch-related sensations.

By immersing oneself in the natural environment, one learns to slow down, to find stillness and calm. The process is similar to meditation. The primary goal is stress reduction, lowering the blood pressure and stress hormones.

Even the forest air helps. Tree compounds called phytoncides, from essential wood oils, affect the forest bather’s psychological well-being.

Apparently it actually works, boosting immunity to illness and improving the participant’s mood, giving a sense of serenity. We could always use these beneficial effects.

W.B. Yeats writes of retreating to nature at The Lake Isle of Innisfree…”where I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow/ Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings.” Even when back “on the pavement gray” he can feel the peace and quiet of the lake and woods “in the deep heart’s core.”

Last week on a perfect fall day, we walked our dog Poot in the Dismal Swamp. The light was golden from the yellow leaves, which showered us as we strolled leisurely along the bank. The breeze was just the right temperature — cool but not too brisk, just caressing the cheek.

The smell of the fallen leaves was earthy and fragrant. Where two side creeks joined the main ditch, they babbled cheerfully, just audible above the rustling of leaves. The entire experience cleansed the soul.

So, you can join the local gym and walk on a treadmill in a room with 20 other sweaty people — or you can go into the local parks and woods and immerse yourself in Nature.

We suggest forest bathing. If nothing else, it smells better.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.