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Forest Bathing in Your Own Backyard

Dr. Mattie Decker writes on how you can benefit from forest bathing in your own backyard, or even inside. 

Photo by Pat Barcas, AmeriCorps Project Conserve member.

Step outside your door and come to your senses.

It’s really that simple. Go. Outside. Breathe. Pay attention using all your senses.

The words, “forest bathing” definitely suggest we need a forest in order to experience the healing and restorative benefits of being in nature.  During my training as a guide, I remember the surprise of hearing how Amos, the founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, once had a meaningful forest bathing experience in a mall parking lot—where he interacted with a young tree growing in the island between parking areas.

This was hard to take in—after all, I was in Norway, midst the pristine wilderness of spruce and pine, snow-covered peaks, and was spending my time rambling freely among incredible moss and lichen, learning all about the science and remarkable studies of health and wellbeing. Yes, indeed, a forest is surely ideal, but I have come to know that Amos was right: “You can make do in your own neighborhood. You don’t have to be in a forest to do forest bathing.”

I was stricken with concern as the scheduled walks had to be cancelled—with increasing numbers of Covid cases on the rise. As a guide, I especially felt this challenge personally, because I know the science of forest bathing, and how this is exactly what is needed by us all right now more than ever! I also see a resurgence of interest as the popular press fills daily with studies with hard data on how time in nature can lower stress, balance heartrate, blood pressure, clarify thinking, and in general provide a greater sense of overall wellbeing.

This experience can be available, without a guide. But can you do this without a forest trail?

You can forest bathe anywhere in the world –  wherever there are trees [or plants].

– Dr. Quing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How trees can help you find health and happiness (2018)

“Spending time with plants really can improve your health and well-being.”                                                                                                         

Yoshifumi Miyazaki, author of Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing

My mentor in Nature and Forest Bathing, says this:

“Sit outside your front door, lie in the grass or visit a corner of your yard and do some forest bathing. No matter where you are or the season, slow down and begin to notice. There are things to discover. The park or your garden are places for forest bathing as well. I love to sit just outside my front door and watch the birds in the forsythia bush across my driveway. I wonder what would it be like to be a plant or animal that lives in this garden? I am tended in many ways by my garden in response for the tending I give.”

–Nadine Mazzola, author of Forest Bathing with your Dog (2019)

Backyard spiderweb. Photo by Pat Barcas, AmeriCorps Project Conserve member.

I would like to share some simple and deliberate ways this can be done right inside, where you are, or just outside your door, in your yard, or nearby.  I do this daily, sometimes multiple times. I step away from the computer or break away from other indoor work, and go outside. (In fact, lately I have begun setting a timer). When I cannot, I take a deliberate break to sit or sometimes stand, become aware of my breath, and look out my window.

Something happens. Shifts. Opens. There is always a surprise as I settle, and let my attention find some being in nature that I’m drawn to notice.

Forest Bathing Practice You Can Do Inside

Find a place to sit and look out your window at a tree or scene with living plants or animals. If you have a plant or living being in your room with you, settle in and simply be with it.

Become aware of your breath, and let your awareness move to what you find pleasing. It can be and often is, very simple. In forest bathing we drop out of “thinking mind” and into the pleasure of our senses in nature.

If you are gazing out your window, perhaps you see tree bark. Or evergreens. A bird. A cloud or water if it’s raining. You can set a timer or just “be with what you see” and linger as long as you can with no agenda, nothing to do, no place to go except here, now. What smells are there? Listen. What is the farthest sound you can hear? What is the closest? Can you hear sounds in your breath or perhaps your heart beating? In the stillness see what happens.

Stay with this until your body says it wants to move or to look and connect with something else. What textures are there? How are they unique? Can you imagine what a leaf or blade of grass or stone might feel like? or if you were to pick up a little of the earth how it might smell?

How are you part of nature, like these beings? What is their story? Perhaps you will share your stories with each other.

Indoor Plants

Forest Bathing You Can Do in Your Backyard (or Outside Near Your Home)

Step outside your door.

Draw in, and then let out, a big breath.

Feel your feet on the ground and your skin touching the air. Sniff the air. Look around and see what you are drawn to do. Perhaps it is to simply sit down right there, or you feel to move to a certain area–a park nearby or the back of your home or some special place you can take your body for a walk. During forest bathing we move out of “thinking mind” and simply become aware of our presence and the beings in nature around us.

Once you can settle where your body wants to be, spend time introducing yourself to the scene and getting to know the life forms around you. It may be a tree, or a stone or a bush or other being—perhaps even something very small, moving nearby.

Settle in, and just notice what happens. Be aware of your breath, your presence right there. What light and shadows are there? What’s in motion? Open your senses to any smells or sensation of breeze. If all is still, notice this in the more-than-human world. Listen. What is the farthest sound you can hear? What is the closest? Reach down and see if you can pick up a piece of earth or limb or stone. What textures do you notice? Are these unique? Where did they come from? How old are these?

What stories can they tell? What other beings have interacted with these? If you feel to, tell the beings your story.

When you are ready to return to your house or workspace, say thanks for giving yourself this time apart, to spend in nature and with yourself.  Slowly re-enter and notice how you walk and breathe and come back into your activity or whatever you need to do now.

Each time you allow yourself to explore the natural world around you, close at hand, you deepen your awareness. You may like to write down something you notice. Each time you dedicate a little time with yourself OUTDOORS, you will be giving yourself—your body, your mind and your emotions—a real dose of forest medicine. I have found, nature will provide exactly what you, uniquely need, at that time.

Photo by Pat Barcas, AmeriCorps Project Conserve member.

The Medicine of Forest Bathing, Wherever You Are

You may have heard from recent research, how even gazing at a photo of a tree or some image in nature can actually shift our outlook—and outlook is a major component in cultivating wellbeing. One study in Ireland included a nursing home and hospice where each room was designed so that the patients could see outside and look at the horses. We are nature, and we need nature. If you have a pet, you probably already know the benefits spending time with another being has on your own health and wellbeing. In my next article I will be sharing “Forest Bathing with your Pet”.

I also will be offering some podcasts and audio guides and for those interested, perhaps remote forest bathing. I know the value of having the guide to assist in opening the “doors” of the senses and I am eager to begin in-person walks as soon as we can.

Midst our busy days or whatever our personal circumstances, I invite us all to consider these practices. You will discover for yourselves the enhanced ease and surprise we can experience with the natural world as we fully engage with our senses. It is indeed, good medicine. And, it is free.

Dr. Mattie Decker offers forest bathing experiences at Conserving Carolina preserves. Learn more. 

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