It’s time to take tree-hugging seriously. This is according to nature therapy guides like Michael Stein-Ross, founder of Cascadia Forest Therapy. One type of nature therapy? Forest bathing.
In spite of its name, and the rainy weather we’ve been having, forest bathing has nothing to do with getting wet. It’s actually a form of meditation that encourages participants to reconnect with nature in order to heal the earth, and in order to heal themselves.
“What it isn’t is sometimes a good place to start,” Stein-Ross explained. “It’s not a long hike in the woods, it’s not a fast hike in the woods. We’re not trying to get our steps in, or get to the top of the mountain or find that waterfall — sometimes we find a waterfall! But the whole idea is not to have a destination and to just be in the forest.”
The practice of forest bathing originated in Japan, known as shinrin-yoku. Through a series of simple, sensory invitations, forest bathing takes participants on a journey of increased awareness and connection. One way to do this is to get to know some trees.
During an open group session Stein-Ross led in November as part of Seattle’s first annual Forest Week, he invited the group to quite literally befriend the surrounding trees. By using touch as a means of connection, participants were encouraged to experience how the trees feel and what the trees themselves might be feeling.
“This was the first time I experienced someone making space and then me being like, ‘Oh, there it is. Now I’m comfortable here.’ Instead of being distracted or consumed in some way by the thoughts of my discomfort,” first-time participant Rob Bent said.
Each invitation is followed by a group reflection, where space is made for anyone to share what they experienced. During this session, everyone shared in almost every reflection.
Forest bathing is not just a chance to escape the city. It is also a chance to leave behind the stress of everyday life.
“The science points to the physiological benefits. So, reduced cortisol, reduced stress, improved immune system,” said Stein-Ross. “But also, what most fascinates me is when people get out there and then the relational work happens. So, they start to rediscover their relationship with nature, with the forest and all the beings that are out there.”
Stein-Ross explained that this rediscovery can lead to a variety of emotions in forest bathers.
“Who knows, sometimes that shows up as grief, sometimes that shows up as joy. Sometimes people laugh, sometimes people cry,” he continued. “Sometimes people don’t know quite what to make of it, but a month later they email me and they’re like, ‘Oh, I figured out what that meant!’ and it’s really cool to see that.”
Cascadia Forest Therapy is based out of Burien and you can sign up for private or public sessions on their website.