It’s no secret that being in nature puts a smile on your face. There’s something about the towering trees, crashing waves, chirping birds, fresher air, or echoing canyons that make you feel alive. Nature is calming and the stress and worry of the world is nowhere to be found. Spending time in nature aids with clearer thinking, stress reduction, and it even improves energy, rejuvenating the senses.
What Is Forest Bathing?
Is there a scientific explanation for this feeling a person gets when they put themselves in the elements? In Japan, forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is a common practice that involves bathing in the forest’s atmosphere. This term emerged in the 1980s and it became somewhat of an eco-antidote to the technology boom. In the 1990s, researchers began studying this eco-therapy for the potential benefits we now know. It doesn’t require the person to find a pond or stream and physically bathe in the water; rather, the whole purpose is to connect with the atmosphere via the senses. Opening the self to this experience allows the person to bridge the gap between the natural world and the self.
Forest bathing is an extremely unique experience, so our content writer, Vinnie, had to try it, naturally. Now, anyone can participate in forest bathing on their own, but the initial experience with a guide offers a little clarity on how to approach the therapy. It’s not simply for adventurous people who feel confident in the wilderness. Forest bathing is for anyone seeking solace or stress relief from a busy lifestyle. Let Vinnie tell you about his experience below.
Forest Bathing In LA
It’s almost a foreign concept to think that forests exist in Los Angeles, CA. A mere 30 minutes outside of the densely populated city, you can find hikes that put you in a forest. It may not be as impressive as the towering sequoias in central California, but it is relaxing nonetheless. I got in contact with Ben Page, a forest bathing guide and author of Healing Trees: A Pocket Guide To Forest Bathing. He agreed to lead a walk along the Switzer Falls Trail in the Angeles National Forest, and encouraged me to bring a few coworkers along for a more communal experience.
Two of my coworkers and I arrived at the trailhead to meet Page, where he gave us a quick explanation of how the walk would go. In a matter of minutes, we started along the trail and listened to his story on how he became a forest bathing guide. It’s quite an interesting profession, and I almost equate it to a fusion of guided meditation and sound bathing. If you recall from one of the first episodes of The Adventures of V-Man, sound bathing involved listening to various sounds that promote stress reduction and relaxation. The sounds of the forest, including the rustling leaves in the wind and the trickling stream, are not the only tranquil aspects of the therapy, as you’ll find out below.
Therapy Off The Trail
After walking down the easy trail that slithered its way through the shaded valley, Page veered off the path towards the stream. He found an open space to set up and he began by inviting us to sit down, close our eyes, and experience the space. After settling into the moment, Page sent us off on our own for a few minutes to listen to our surroundings. Could we notice anything new by simply listening? Were there more sounds than the obvious rustling leaves and water?
We returned to the circle after Page howled, coyote-calling us back. It seems silly to observe with your hearing, but it was quite a unique experience. By remaining silent and intently listening to the surrounding world, you can hear more than you would by simply being in the space. I noticed the subtle creaks of trees, while my coworkers heard some faraway birds chirping and a mysterious creature running through the fallen leaves. The beauty of forest bathing is that each person’s experience is different. I am going to hear, see, smell, or taste different things than another person. Page explained that the fragrance of the forest offers an aromatherapy of phytoncides. These are aromatic plant compounds that increase the amount of natural killer cells, which are white blood cells that support optimal immune function.
Page seemed to be on a completely different wavelength than the rest of us. I feel like, given his experience and time as a forest bathing guide, he approached the tasks on a deeper level. The things he noticed were more spiritual, profound even, than our observations. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to engage with the therapy. The most important thing is to be in the moment and give yourself a break from the outside world.
Forest Bathing Takeaway
We completed a few more tasks that lasted for a couple hours. You can learn more about them by watching the video included in this article. To conclude the therapy, Page brewed a tea from the North American bay leaf and we enjoyed some cookies and dried mango in a circle. To a random passerby, this conclusion ceremony may have given off cult vibes, but it was quite peaceful. It brought closure to the experience and I was happy to have shared it with friends. I can only hope that they also got something out of this unique therapy.
You can bathe in any forest’s atmosphere by yourself, or you can seek out guides to help you experience a more instructional therapy. If you live in the greater Los Angeles area, reach out to Ben Page. He regularly does walks around Los Angeles, and his deep knowledge on the subject sheds a unique light on the entire experience. You can find more about him below.