Forest bathing saved my mental health. Whenever I mention this to people, I typically get a strange look accompanied by a question like, “you take a bath in the forest?” No, not in the literal sense I promise. So, what is forest bathing? It is a meditative practice that originated in Japan called Shinrin-Yoku. The goal is simple: become immersed and call on your senses as you surround yourself with trees and nature in order to meditate and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit. Ideally, you should leave your phone and other distractions behind.
This may be the first time I’ve openly admitted this to anyone other than my husband, but I have experienced episodes of depression. I’ve had trouble finding the energy to do things I enjoy. Sometimes finding the strength to get out of bed is harder than I know it should be. The guilt I’d feel when my kids wanted more attention from me would rip my heart out. I do have physical health issues as well that without a doubt impact my mental health. When I finally felt I was able to talk to my doctor, they did prescribe medication to help manage both my mental and physical health.
Fast forward to spring of 2020. The pandemic hit the world and (almost) everything shut down. We started taking family walks in wooded areas with easy trails. Unless it was raining, we went on walks in the woods just about every day. Strangely enough something finally clicked for me. I started to notice a natural lift in my mental state every time I was around trees. It brightened my mind, body, and soul so much it’s hard for me to describe how alive I felt.
Then, I took notice of a book that was in stock at work. It was called Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li. I had no idea forest bathing was a real thing. I immediately checked it out and bought myself a copy. I started looking for more books and was surprised by how many I found!
Once I realized that forest bathing was working for me, it’s something I try to do on a regular basis throughout the year. It’s a little harder to do in below freezing temps so I bought myself a copy of The Life & Love of the Forest by Lewis Blackwell. It’s a beautiful coffee table book about forests and could serve as a substitute for the real thing if necessary.
When I take my youngest daughter on walks with me, we’ll take in nature’s beauty together. I’ll point out details on and around the trees and stop and look at plants, bugs, and anything else we find along the path. It’s been a joy for us both. I can honestly say whether I forest bathe alone or with company, being surrounded by trees fills me with a sense of peace.
There’s no special place you need to go to do this. Find a local, state, or national park nearby that has a walking path and a lot of trees, and you are set. If you can, take your time. Really look at the trees like you never have before. Activate your senses and take deep breaths. Allow yourself you let go of everything at that moment.
If you’re feeling in a funk or going through a dark time, I think that perhaps you too could find peace among the trees.