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Biophilia and Art

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

Nora Lott is a certified forest bathing guide. I had the opportunity to speak with her about her practice and the benefits it offers.

Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, emerged in Japan in the 1980s. It immerses you in the forest, allowing its beauty to ignite your senses, enhancing health, well-being, and happiness.

Research around forest bathing in Japan is rigorous. They use specifically designated forests for bathing. Throughout each walk, participants have their blood pressure and cortisol levels checked. On the final check, they usually find stress levels have lowered due to natural chemicals, known as phytoncides, which are emitted by trees and plants. Although these chemicals act to ward off pests, they also enhance the activity of our killer cells and boost our immune systems. The benefits of forest bathing can last up to two weeks.

The structure of forest bathing

There is a structure to forest bathing, which makes it a specialized practice. Repetition is imperative, and it provides a predictable pattern with room for flexibility and creativity.

A visualized walk consists of closing one’s eyes and envisioning the sounds of nature, the smelling the fragrance of the forest, and feeling the soft wind passing by and the sunlight filtering through green leaves.

“In forest bathing, there are no therapists. Instead, there are guides.”

Forest bathing guides are not referred to as therapists. The forest is the therapist. Although it is a personal experience, it is helpful to have someone who is a trained professional guide you.

Trained guides organize walks where they take a group through the forest. These short walks are not meant to be rigorous; they are to help you slow down and tune in to your senses.

“You’re given invitations by the guide to do different things.”

What makes forest bathing special is that everything you’re asked to do is an invitation. This ties into the idea that forest bathing is very personal and that everyone’s relationship with nature is different. You never feel forced to do anything and are welcomed to go anywhere you need to go.

“The structure of every forest walk is usually made up of the same invitations at the beginning.”

To begin, the group is invited to connect with their senses through guided meditation. Taking a moment to control your breath helps you slow down and immerse yourself in the experience.

The “pleasures of presence” invitation encourages you to slow down and be in the present while moving slowly into the forest.

“What’s in motion” is when the guide walks ahead and invites you to notice what’s moving. Depending on the weather and time of day, this invitation can vary. But as you focus, you begin to notice things previously unseen.

Afterwards, guides share an assortment of invitations they have either read about, borrowed, or crafted themselves. Between each invitation, people are encouraged to share what they're noticing or experiencing at that moment by passing around a talking piece (leaf, stick, or stone). Group discussions are a great way to notice the similarities and differences that people share.

A warm cup of tea to finish off the day

A tea ceremony is usually held to conclude each forest bathing session. The group is welcomed to one final invitation called “sit spot.” Participants find a comfortable place to sit and have a chance at quietude and reflection.