When in crisis, go to the trees
Updated: Jul 9, 2019
There actually is magic in the woods!
While in Life Coaching training we were asked to write a paper on our own personal go-to healing practices. For me, this was easy. Nature. The woods. The mountains. Wildlife. I wrote a paper about how after my father’s untimely death I turned to nature, and what, exactly, was healing about it. At the time I had no idea I was healing myself; I just thought I was “clearing my mind” of all the grief, sadness, and hopeless abandonment I was feeling. I described how, even during the absolute worst days, all I needed to do to get out of my head was to escape into the woods, and as if by magic; my entire body, mind and perspective would shift- leaving me feeling whole again. I went on to describe how, while walking amongst the plants, trees and wildlife I would stop and observe the birds and hawks taking flight- sometimes for 30 minutes or so. Other times I would touch leaves, flower petals and trees; sometimes even embracing them as if they were an ancient relative, or a wise elder of sorts. I wrote about how I would commune with the squirrels, chipmunks, and even the occasional turkey, deer and yes; even snakes. It seemed that by observing, appreciating and experiencing the natural state of the world (or should I say the natural state of nature?), I felt healed.
After proof-reading what I had written I was mortified! My instructor would surely think I was a few fries short of a happy meal, or that my tie-dyed headband was tied too tight… But I submitted it anyway, and this was her response; “Did you know this is actually a thing? It’s called Shinrin Yoku.” Elated that I didn’t completely blow the assignment, I made my next move; google.com.
Shinrin Yoku, (“Forest Bathing” in English) is the practice of using nature as a source of healing and preservation by becoming one with the forest. The practice of Shinrin Yoku was coined in Japan, however; the art of using nature to heal is not new, in fact it has been practiced by ancient cultures all over the world and is now experiencing a come-back. In ancient times it had no name and was just understood to be universal truth that we are “one” with nature, and that nature heals. Nearly all indigenous peoples had ceremonies and rituals to honor nature. There was no separation, and there was a deep reverence and respect for every living thing on the planet; whether plant, animal, ground or sky. It was all “alive” and all part of the great cycle of life; that for which we owed homage. We needed it as much as it needed us. This concept has ancient roots, but it wasn’t until 1982 that it was actually named. The Director of the Japanese Forest Agency, Tomohide Akiyama coined the term Shinrin Yoku in an effort to form an identity between forest visits and well-being, and to try to help people help themselves. I was thirsty for more. Next move- Amazon.com.
The first Forest Bathing book I purchased was “your guide to Forest Bathing, Experience the Healing Power of Nature” by M. Amos Clifford, and the first two lines of this book state “You carry a forest inside you. It is a mirror within of the great forests of the world.” So profound!
Whenever I mention Forest Bathing to someone it seems to conjure up images of bathing in some obscure forest pond or stream communally (and perhaps naked) to which they understandably express an immediate look of horror. That said, I have come to learn that the term alone will always require a definition- or at least some reassurance that I am not going to break out my flute and lead them (along with an entire community of mice) far into the middle of the foreboding, forbidden, deep, dark woods. I understand the concept of Forest Bathing may seem a little weird to some; (okay, maybe most), but I also know IT WORKS. But what, exactly, is it?
In simple terms, Forest Bathing is the act of walking slowly in nature, and literally soaking in the surroundings by paying attention; using each of your senses to truly experience and appreciate the magical power surrounding you. Use your eyes to notice things you wouldn’t normally notice, like a hawk’s nest adorning the top of a pine tree or an odd-shaped cloud. Use your nose to smell each variety of flower or shrub, or the smell the fresh scent of dew on the leaves. Use your ears to hear the songbirds, a flowing stream, and the wind whistling through the trees. Use your hands to touch the silky petals of a flower, or the rough surface of the trunk of a tree. Pluck a wild raspberry and use your taste buds to experience nature’s sweetness. Take in a deep breath through your mouth and taste the culmination of forest life; Mother Nature’s smorgasbord prepared just for you. Time becomes unimportant. Your troubles become unimportant. You feel at peace, loved, supported. A little high, even. Sounds euphoric, doesn’t it? Not only is it pleasing to the senses; but it actually promotes good health in general. Read on!
Certain trees (pines, birch and oak in the US) give off phytoncides, which are airborne chemicals that, when inhaled, cause our bodies to increase a type of white blood cells called “natural killer cells” (NKC’s) that kill tumor and virus-infected cells. There are current studies in Japan exploring whether exposure to forests can actually even prevent the onset of disease. Studies have also shown that exposure to trees and forests reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and enhances moods. This slows or eliminates the release of the dangerous stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline that are now known to be a major factor in the onset of disease.
Other benefits of hanging out with trees are:
· Increased ability to focus (showing a marked difference in ADD/ADHD sufferers)
· Speeds up recovery from illness or surgery (ever wonder why hospital walls are green?)
· Increased energy
· Enhanced ability to sleep soundly
· Improves cognitive brain function
All of this information leads to one profound principal: Our bodies and minds are built to heal themselves naturally, and we are 100% supported by nature, the universe and all that it encompasses. Engulfed with my own despair, I was led to seek solace and comfort in the warm embrace of Mother Nature. This experience healed my heart, closed open wounds, and led me to forgive myself and others. But more-so than that; it taught me a great lesson. It taught me to see the forest through the trees; to see the “big picture,” appreciate it, and not get caught up in the minutia of everyday life. We have but one shot at this amazing thing we call life, and unless we pay close attention, we will miss the point. Life is a series of peaks and valleys- some more challenging than others, and I can tell you this with great certainty; the resolution to all of life’s unending challenges can be found in the trees.