Since I first heard of forest bathing (during my 2021 Day of Reflection, actually), I’ve been searching for an opportunity to participate locally. Over the past year, I’ve experimented with a few, for me, non-traditional group exercises and events involving mindfulness, ceremony, and vulnerability (not the least of which was fire walking!). I’ve used these experiences to work toward the goal of emotional growth and stretching beyond the comfort zone I grew up with. Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a form of ecotherapy. Participants are fully clothed (this was the #1 question other attendees and I received) and take a very conscious approach to being in nature and engaging as many senses as possible. For my Day of Reflection in 2022, I found a guide certified through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy.

Collage of images from forest bathing: Top left: Sign of New England Botanic Garden. Bottom left: reflection pool with water spitting turtles. Right: Inside conservatory - plant arrangements.

Nadine (who has a very eclectic biography, including authoring Forest Bathing with Your Dog and competing as a world professional pool player!) led our forest bathing experience at the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill in Boylston, Massachusetts. In October, I drove about two and a half hours to Boylston, stopping at the best grocery store in the world on the way (Wegmans, obviously). We had a small group of nine people registered for our walk. Nadine began by sharing various information about the history of forest bathing, its integration into the United States, and the benefits of physical and mental health practice. A couple of attendees had previously participated in forest bathing, but most were new and, like me, not sure what to expect.

Throughout the three-hour walk (which probably covered only a mile or so of actual distance), we engaged in multiple sensory “invitations.” Each one provided the opportunity to slow down, activate our senses, and be fully present in nature and our relationship with the land and other beings. One invitation was a VERY slow walk through the woods as a group, and another was finding a spot to sit alone for about 20 minutes—mine was beneath a half-buried mossy fallen log. After each invitation, we returned to the group, and each had an opportunity to share thoughts and observations. Themes of deep relaxation, humor, heightened physical sensation, and wonder were commonly expressed, and I certainly felt all of those.

Collage of forest bathing. Left: A mossy tree branch Ashley meditated under. Right: entrance to the botanic gardens

Nadine concluded the experience by offering freshly steeped white pine tea and reading a poem by Mary Oliver (below). While forest bathing can also be a solo practice, I took a lot away from participating with a group. You can search for other trained guides through the National Association of Nature and Forest Therapy website.

Collage of forest bathing. Left: Cups of pine tea set out for participants. Right top: Garden gnome painted with colors of LGBT+ flat. Bottom right: Water fountain sculpture of a person's face

“Don’t Hesitate,” By Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.