One of the programs we offer at Earth Connect are nature walks teaching shinrin-yoku, aka “forest bathing.” Generally, these are done in the warmer months when people are more likely to enjoy the forest setting. We teach forest bathing to help people relieve their stress and anxiety which, ironically, becomes more prevalent in the autumn and winter seasons, when back-to-school and work happens and the holidays are in full swing.
The cold weather gives us all a tendency to hunker down and cocoon ourselves in the warmth of our homes. Though cozy, this can contribute to seasonal affective disorder, also known as S.A.D. Continuing our forest bathing practice is needed even more! So, here are some ways you can modify your practice to enjoy the colder weather and continue to take in the healing benefits of forest bathing.
(1) Bundle up! And enjoy the cold!
Enjoy the feeling of the crisp air. Notice how it feels on your skin. Are your nose and cheeks cold? How is that different from what you normally feel on your face? And, how does that make you feel internally? Do you want to scrunch yourself into a ball and go somewhere warm, or are you able to enjoy the different feeling of the briskness of the air?
(2) Enjoy the sounds of . . . silence?
When engaging your auditory sense, listen to the sound of the leaves or the snow crunch under your feet. Take the time to notice the stillness of the forest. Are the only sounds you hear that of the steps you take? And, how are those sounds different from your normal steps (or even in comparison to what your footsteps sound like at home)? Absent the leaves on the trees, what does the wind sound like as it works its way through the forest? Or, does the air seem “quieter” during these cold months?
(3) Notice the new patterns.
During our regular forest bathing walks, we make a point of noticing the patterns of the tree bark, the pebbles on the ground, or the leaves against the sky. During these seasons, you can, instead, look at the patterns made by the snow, of the fallen leaves, or bare branches against the sky. How does that compare to what you’ve noticed in the past when you’ve walked this forest? Do you notice if the changes of the leaf color is echoed anywhere else in the forest? You might notice that the fractal patterns are still present but slightly altered during each season.
(4) Take a deep, deep breath.
Move your “noticing” from the external to the internal. What is the quality of the air like? As you breath in, how does the cold air feel in your nose, your lungs? Are the scents you’re taking in different from what it normally smells like in this natural space? Just as the smells of the forest change after a nice, summer rain, they also change from season to season, especially as plants die off. Compared to your forest bathing practice in the warmer months, what scent changes do you notice in this nature setting?
(5) Change your “taste.”
When we lead forest bathing walks, we engage all our senses and for the sense of “taste,” we’ll usually end with a sampling of an herbal tea of some sort. I normally end with either chamomile or roasted dandelion root tea, as both of these things can be found underfoot, in the wild. For the fall, switch it up to something like chrysanthemum tea. An autumn plant, the tea can be found in Asian or International food stores. It’s been a Chinese drink for hundreds of years and is known to treat respiratory problems and high blood pressure and to have calming effects. A nice tea to mark the winter season may be something like cinnamon, which is reminiscent of holiday. Cinnamon is a natural tree bark and is loaded with antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.
The research-backed healing properties of forest bathing are generally attributed to the essential oils the forest emits. But it’s important to note that, in essence, forest bathing is also a mindfulness practice. Both generalized anxiety disorders and stress have been shown to be alleviated by mindfulness practices. And, this is one that you can, in the spirit of the holiday season, share with family and friends. So, … go out for that healing nature walk and enjoy and embody the wonders of the seasons!
For more information about Earth Connect and to see what forest bathing walks we have planned, visit our website at www.earth-connect.org.