In March of this year (2018) I went to Belize for an Herbal Intensive Course. My expectation at the end of the course was to be confident in making my own tinctures, skin salves, and oil infusions.
What I didn’t expect was that my greatest lesson and arsenal in caring for my total being mind-body-spirit, would be found while bathing.
Now this was no ordinary bath. This was a bath without water.
This life changing bath took place in the forest with fifteen other people, yet I felt as if I was the only person there. I immersed myself in forest bathing.
Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It gained popularity in Japan during the 1980s and has become a foundation of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
From 2004 to 2012, Japanese officials spent about $4 million dollars studying the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing. They have found that regular exposure to forest environments can lower blood pressure and anxiety, reduce anger, and strengthen the immune system. A study on forest bathing’s psychological effects surveyed 498 healthy volunteers, twice in a forest and twice in control environments. The subjects showed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores, in addition to increased liveliness, after spending time with the trees.
Why should you care about this practice? If you are still reading this article then it means you are more than a little interested in maintaining or achieving mental wellness. Mental wellness is the cornerstone of self care and the foundation needed to live YOUR life with authenticity.
My forest bathing experience was deeply healing and insightful.
I found a spot by a Gumbo Limbo tree, closed my eyes, and focused IN. When I got to the point where my thoughts were only of the tree and myself, I slowly opened my eyes and looked around. I mentally recorded five points:
there were different varieties of plant life inhabiting the same forest
plants of the same specie were still unique (no two plant were identical)
poisonous and healing plants were existing and thriving in close proximity to each other (the gumbo limbo and the black poison wood tree)
almost hidden on the forest floor was a flowering plant and
there were dried branches and limbs on the ground.
I instinctively related my observations to the human experience.
We are unique entities existing as a result of our interconnectedness with each other and our environment.
The black poison wood tree (when it comes in contact with the skin) causes a nasty rash for which the Gumbo Limbo tree produces an antidote. This does not happen by chance. Likewise with humans we find ourselves interacting with ones who do not appear to be aligned with us achieving our highest and greatest good, in fact their every action suggest that they exist to cause us mental anguish. It is all about perception. Mental anguish or mental strength/tenacity? Only YOU get to decide.
The flowering plant so close to the forest floor reminds me that there is beauty in unexpected places if we choose to be open to seeing it. As dark as your thoughts get, as dire as the situation seems, look just a little bit closer; there is beauty within.
Just as the dried branches are useful for firewood or compost, as a specie our usefulness is not determined by our outward appearance.
I have chosen to share my experience with YOU so that you also can benefit from this wonderful gift of bathing for wellness. A wonderful feature of this gift is that going to Belize is not a requirement. Find a quiet spot among some trees and start your journey within to mental wellness. It is an emotionally and spiritually fulfilling experience.
Experience forest bathing and discover the healing power of trees. You will lose yourself in the beauty of your surroundings, leave everyday stress behind, and reach a place of greater calm and wellness.
Your mental wellness partner,