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Bathing in Forests

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term and translates as "forest bathing", or taking in the forest through your senses. (Here's a 3-minute video explaining.) The positive effects of even 15 minutes in a woods or a park are numerous - uplifted mood, reduced blood pressure, lowered anxiety, increased focus, and more.

And that's why I headed to the woods this weekend.

Depression has been visiting me this past week, just like the rolling in of the new slower and more solitary season. Don't get me wrong, I love fall. But, depression feels like it wants to settle in with it. It is a familiar feeling and I'm lucky that it's generally mild. That doesn't, however, take away from the heaviness of it.

For me, depression is often paired with a highlighted sense of loneliness. It's an old and familiar cycle. And I know the things that help - exercise, healthy diet, and community. Unfortunately, I'm not always consistent with them.

Being around others this past week helped, especially when I was leading a class or serving as someone's coach. The depression practically disappears when I am connected and in service; when I feel like I am living my purpose.

The other practice that offers healing for me is to simply be in the woods. And that is where I have retreated for solace the past two days. I feel like I am no longer alone in the woods. Stepping onto the trail, I feel embraced by the trees. I feel part of something much bigger than myself. That perspective brings awe and gratitude.

Today I found myself smiling as blue jays became walking companions, a squirrel chattered away after scampering across branches above, and leaves fluttered down like light rain across the trails.

During our mindful outdoor guide training, Micah Mortali shared that "everything you see in the woods is also seeing you". In our training, we referred to the more-than-human world with phrases like "the tree people" or "the winged ones". It is a community that you enter respectfully and with humility. It is a community that has held us, sheltered us, and provided for us throughout humanity. It's not wonder that I feel like I'm home when I come back to the woods. There is a deep ancestral pull.

I invite you to try forest bathing this week. Choose a local park, or nature preserve, or your own backyard and immerse yourself. Breathe in the air, listen to the animals scamper through the ground cover, glance up at the birds, feel the texture of bark and different types of pine needles. Sit or stand for a bit. Be. Simple be in nature.


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