Op-Ed: Forest Bathing Day: Leave Your Swimsuit at Home and Find Health in the Woods
— By Clare Kelley —
WASHINGTON DC – September 7, 2018 – (HISPANICIZE WIRE) – When did you last take time to stop and smell the roses? Not figuratively, but intentionally connecting to the natural world? Would you stop for a little while longer if you knew it was helping your health and well-being?
September 8th heralds the first-ever “International Forest Bathing Day”, celebrating the growing movement of people connecting to the natural world for health benefits. Shinrin yoku, the Japanese practice of taking in the forest atmosphere, has spread like kudzu around the world. There’s no hiking, no plant identification talks, and no swimsuits — one of the most common questions people ask their guides. Forest bathers quite simply come to their senses.
Forest Bathing Day celebrations will take place across the US and Canada, and as far away as Australia, Singapore, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain. “I have yet to meet anyone who needs to be convinced that forest bathing is beneficial,” remarks Amos Clifford, the founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guide and Programs, which has certified more than 550 Nature and Forest Therapy Guides in 40 countries since 2013. International Forest Bathing Day came to fruition as a final training project from two guides, Everett Marshall and Tam Willey. Prospective guides undergo an intensive six-month training program that includes an 8-day intensive, followed by a six-month practicum.
Isn’t this just the latest trend in mindfulness? Forest bathing offers a fundamentally different experience: intentional mindlessness. Rather than withdrawing from the senses and focusing, forest bathers delight in wandering through the sensory experience of the natural world. Guides are skilled at dissolving the rush of quotidian business, helping bathers reclaim wonder and curiosity.
Science describes what we know intuitively: a recent meta-analysis published in the October 2018 edition of Environmental Research concluded that persons exposed to green spaces showed statistically significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure, salivary cortisol levels, and heart rate, and decreases in the incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular mortality.
How often do we find a health intervention that offers such simplicity and joy? “When your guide suggests you lie down under a tree and you taste rainwater falling into your mouth, you’ll sense this is not only making you feel good but is probably having a rather positive effect on your health as well,” writes Melanie Choukas-Bradley, a Forest Therapy Guide in Washington, DC, and author of The Joy of Forest Bathing: Reconnect with Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life.
Physicians agree. Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, an OB-GYN and integrative physician in Cedar Falls, Iowa remarks, “Nature is big medicine. Patients report lasting and marked improvements in their physical and psychological health after joining me for a couple of hours of forest therapy.” The nature prescription isn’t just for the rolling fields of Iowa. Doctors in urban settings send their patients to local parks, making nature as accessible as possible. Dr. Robert Zarr, a physician with Unity Health Care in Washington, DC, treats low-income and immigrant families. “As a pediatrician and a father, prescribing parks to spend time in and around trees not only makes sense, but turns out to be one of the most fulfilling part of my day.” He helped found Parks Rx America, a non-profit helping healthcare providers across the United States make it easy to prescribe nature, while helping to connect patients to local parks.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of forest bathing lies in something intangible. A feeling one gets realizing every breath they’re taking in has been a gift from a tree — all one needs to do to reciprocate is breathe out. A feeling that they’re belonging to something universal, human and more-than-human. “As I deepen into my nature connection I wonder if there is an archetypal experience. Something that is beyond appropriating indigenous ways, something that is simply the journey of connection,” remarks Ronna Schneberger, a guide in Canmore, Alberta.
Join the community of guides, physicians, community organizations, and people who have found the pleasures of presence in the natural world this September 8th. Find a guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides. Or take your own forest bath. Find anywhere with a little nature in it, your backyard or even a city park. Take time to let nature offer you its gifts.
Clare Kelley is a certified Forest Therapy Guide in biophilic Washington, DC, where she lives with more than 90 houseplants