What is Forest Bathing, Anyway?

by Lisa Davis on January 10, 2019 in Lifestyle, Living Texas, Austin,
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If the image of forest bathing conjures up funny pictures in your mind, you aren’t alone. Forest bathing isn’t at all what you might be picturing. Although it is a relatively new concept in the United States, the Japanese have been immersing themselves in forest bathing for years!

Living in a highly connected world and with the inundation of electronic devices in our lives, people are trying to find ways to de-stress, unwind and disconnect. Forest Bathing has become an increasingly popular way to do just that—-and a widely recognized form of mediation.  It involves becoming more connected with nature and less connected to electronics.

A forest bathing hike can be an experience shared with the whole family as everyone comes together to be closer to nature. Photo Roxanne Rathge

Forest bathing brings you into the present moment by opening all five senses – sight, taste, hearing, smell, and touch—-often by taking a taking a forest hike. The health benefits are innumerable and last long after the forest bathing hike has ended. The fresh, clean air reduces stress, clears the mind and restores your mood.

Melanie Choukas-Bradley, an award-winning author and Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, explains that there are three significant steps in a forest bathing walk. Disconnect from electronic devices and let go of the cares of the day, breathe and engage all of your senses in the natural beauty and wonder around you, and finally transition back into your daily routine with a cup of tea, a snack and perhaps a song or some poetry.

Melanie Choukas-Bradley is a Washington, DC naturalist leading field trips and tree tours for many organizations around the country. Her new book is ‘The Joy of Forest Bathing: Reconnect With Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life.” Photo Judy Licht

“Forest bathing allows you to relax into the joy of the moment and the place where you are sitting or standing,” she says.

Choukas-Bradley recently led two groups of participants through a forest bathing experience in Texas at the new YMCA Camp Moody, which is nestled along Onion Creek in Buda. Camp Moody is the latest and most accessible YMCA camp in the world, sitting on an 85-acre multi-use site. This scenic and diverse nature preserve was donated to the YMCA by George Yonge in 1999.

Each of the hikes Choukas-Bradley led at YMCA Camp Moody were unique and rewarding in their own way because they involved two different types of people.

The children on the forest bathing hike were exuberant during their exploration of Camp Moody and enjoyed finding the gray and white stones that had landed there during past floods. Photo Roxanne Rathge

The first hike was for a smaller group of adults who walked along the meadow by Onion Creek, sitting quietly by the water while enjoying the sense of peace. They ended their hike sipping maple sap tea, eating maple candies and sharing nature poems.

The second group was larger and consisted of families with young children. The children ran and laughed through the meadow where they immediately hopped into the water and were soaked. They then spent time looking for fossils and exploring the grounds and afterward, ended with maple sap tea, maple candies and pecans.

YMCA employees helped children find fossils during their forest bathing hike at Camp Moody.
Photo Roxanne Rathge

Choukas-Bradley characterizes the first walk as “quiet joy” and the second as “exuberant joy!”  She believes that the most rewarding aspect of a forest bathing hike are the small surprises you receive when you grow quiet and really tune in to your surroundings. “A butterfly flutters past, you notice a spider positioned in a web, or the leaves dancing in the slightest breeze. Each natural occurrence can feel miraculous when you are quiet and aware.”

According to Choukas-Bradley, the YMCA Camp Moody facility is one of the best places for forest bathing because of its varied terrain meadow, flowing creek and beautiful trees. “Camp Moody will bring joy to many generations of campers and forest bathers. It’s truly a special place.”

Melanie Choukas-Bradley provides further insights into forest bathing in her new book,‘The Joy of Forest Bathing: Reconnect With Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life’.

Cover photo Roxanne Rathge

Austinite Lisa Davis is the Editorial Assistant at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and a student at Concordia University-Texas.