Forest BathingForest Bathing
Forest Bathing - February newsletter
The mountaintop has no shortage of woodlands and walking paths. In fact, more people are acknowledging the many benefits of spending time in nature, and specifically with trees. So, what is Forest Bathing?
Many people recognize me as a Wellness Rx team member and my volunteer work with the Wellness Rx Charitable Trust. I am also a certified Reiki Master practitioner, and Reiki teacher. Reiki is an ancient energy medicine practice that was almost lost. We have been able to trace its roots back 16,000 years. Even before the beginning of Buddhism. Reiki is a gentle way of connecting to and channeling universal life force energy for healing and connection. The practice changed a lot over the decades, but when it resurfaced in the early 1900s in Japan, it adapted to be a practice that we can use in this modern age. Ten years ago, I connected with the Reiki practice when my family went through a stressful time that came with a lot of change. I’m grateful that I found someone I trusted and was so kind to me. This meant I could be curious, and open to the experience of receiving a Reiki treatment session and feeling the benefits in my body, and mind.
It is said that Reiki is one of the most gentle and relaxing practices which can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and encourages healing for people, animals, and even plants. It can be helpful for anyone at any age. Because of the training we receive, we prepare to give a Reiki session by getting into a very relaxed and connected state. Reiki is intended to fix someone. We can ask the person if they have an intention or request for healing, but the overall intention is that the person receives what they need, and we do not judge how the energy will flow to them. Much like saying a prayer for someone. We put out a request and simple intentions, and we send it off through the universe to them in hopes that they get what they need, but not be angry if they do not. Sometimes, we grow and receive big blessings through challenge and adversity. Treating anyone with kindness and being present with them, can be one of the biggest gifts we can offer.
Reiki treatments also can be helpful for someone at their end-of-life. Having a Reiki practitioner help someone while connecting to universal energy is supportive and provides the person deep comfort. During 2021, both of my parents passed away within a short time of one another. It was their time to pass on, and they both accepted this. But it rocked my world to lose them both so quickly. Being able to cope and grieve was easier because I already know how to utilize the practice of Reiki.
I know that I am called to be of service to help others connect to and be with their own healing processes. I have a number of clients who book me for Reiki sessions, but I felt I could do more to help people connect with the natural world.
When a friend suggested we try forest bathing, I was curious to know more. I found that while there are physical benefits while on a forest bathing walk, it is not exercise focused. It is more about being present and opening all our senses while experiencing nature. Forests especially have two key elements in the air that help our biology: an increased amount of oxygen, as well as phytoncides (chemicals that are in the plant’s natural oils that are a plant’s defense system against bacteria, fungi, and insects).
When I take people on a guided forest walk, we sit comfortably for 10-20 minutes and just be still and breathe. Even those new to meditation and mindfulness find they enjoy the slow pace of a forest bathing experience. I invite people to have experiences that hopefully will help them engage more deeply with the trees, plants, and the natural world around them. Anyone can do this practice on their own, and even in their yard. You do not specifically need a forest of your own to receive the gifts of nature.
You can find oodles of articles with data showing why meditation is so helpful for us. But sitting still in meditation isn't easy for many of us. Meditation teachers remind us that we are not perfect, and meditation gets easier with consistent practice. But to start it, we all feel like we aren’t doing it right. Especially when so many of us are stressed. We can receive some of the same benefits by doing walking meditations, playing musical instruments, and even while exercising. Because we are more present and focused while we do these things, these activities can help reset our brain, and our neurologic system. When we are overloaded, we benefit from slowing down and having quiet, reflective time in order to help shift us to a neutral state. When we are neutral, we can take on stress and difficult situations.
Another benefit of participating in group guided forest walks is being with like-minded people. This can be a balm to our soul. Humans are communal beings. We often discount the benefits of being with a small group of people in a relaxed setting. We can lift each other, just by sharing small friendly exchanges. Opening and listening to each other while we share experiences helps lift us when we are feeling disconnected, sad and antisocial.
Health practitioners have noticed humans are feeling more fatigued, more anxious, and often have a sense of feeling disconnected or even lost. They are prescribing even more prescription medications to assist people. The data on how many teens are now taking anti-anxiety medication is sobering. Some doctors are noticing how many are presenting with the same symptoms, and rather than turn directly to pharmaceuticals, they first prescribe more time spent in nature. This has lately been referred to as green prescriptions. Dr. Qing Li began doing this in the 1980s. He conducted scientific studies, and authored a book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.
I became a Forest Bathing guide because of the large list of symptoms and stresses children and teens face on a daily basis. Technology is here to stay; however, we can show youth how to thrive in this modern age.
Nature deficit disorder is a modern diagnosis that many of us are not aware of and certainly are not well equipped to assist our kids. More children than ever are showing signs of being disconnected from the natural world. Doctors and scientists are still working to make direct correlations, but this takes time. To parents and caregivers, I suggest that we first look at ourselves. How present and connected to nature are we? Do we take steps to encourage family togetherness in nature? Or commit to walks or outdoor recreation?
Another important step is to set healthy limits on using electronic devices. Then, model how to do this to our youth. Make a habit of putting down our smart devices in designated spots (like we do with our car keys) and be diligent to not look at them, especially while we are eating together, during our sleeping hours and definitely not right after we wake up. Sleeping next to our smartphones is probably one of the worst practices we started doing in the past 20 years. There are ways to stay connected and use devices in the correct moments of our lives.
This spring I will begin organizing guided forest walks in the Tannersville and Windham areas. I’ll be posting the sign-up information on my site and posting flyers. There will be a small per person fee, but in some locations, walks will be offered for free. An introductory forest bathing walk can last 60 minutes and ends with a short tea and sharing session. The focus will be to support those new to forest bathing and get the most out of the experience.
I will also have advanced forest bathing walks (90-120 minutes) for those that are experienced and wish to have a deeper experience in nature. Private forest walks with Reiki will also be available.
Perhaps 2023 can be the year that we take more steps towards healthier habits, stronger personal boundaries, more community connection, more time being present in nature.
~ Beth Rennig lives in Acra, NY with her husband, teen daughters, and dogs. She loves reading, playing outside and is at home in the wilds of the Catskills.