By Dr. Mattie Decker
Step outside your door and come to your senses. It’s really that simple. Go. Outside. Breathe. Pay attention using all your senses. The words, “forest bathing” definitely suggest we need a forest in order to experience the healing and restorative benefits of being in nature. During my training as a guide, I remember the surprise of hearing how Amos, the founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, once had a meaningful forest bathing experience in a mall parking lot—where he interacted with a young tree growing in the island between parking areas. This was hard to take in—after all, I was in Norway, midst the pristine wilderness of spruce and pine, snow-covered peaks, and was spending my time rambling freely among incredible moss and lichen, learning all about the science and remarkable studies of health and wellbeing. Yes, indeed, a forest is surely ideal, but I have come to know that Amos was right: “you can make do in your own neighborhood. You don’t have to be in a forest to do forest bathing.”
In ANFT, we say that the forest is the therapist and the guide opens the doors—and this is why I enjoy this work so much and why I’m so eager to find ways to inspire every person I meet to begin this practice. With every single walk I guide, no exception, I appreciate even more the essential power of the invitations themselves, and how each offer opportunities for us to return to ourselves through our senses. By the end of the walk, and sometimes in the middle of one, I listen as participants express amazement and delight, relaxation, and clarity of mind gained through insights they have, or stories these ignite. A sense of wellbeing comes. What one person describes as an “alert stillness.” A tree, a rock, a cloud, a limb, something calls to us, and we drop into awareness of being alive right here, right now.
I was stricken with concern as my scheduled walks had to be cancelled—with increasing numbers of Covid cases on the rise. As a guide, I especially felt this challenge personally, because I know the science of forest bathing, and how this is exactly what is needed by us all right now more than ever! I also see a resurgence of interest as the popular press fills daily with studies with hard data on how time in nature can lower stress, balance heartrate, blood pressure, clarify thinking, and in general provide a greater sense of overall wellbeing.
So, please, please give yourself the gift of time to break away from the computer, look out the window, or better yet—go outside. Sit. Breathe. See what the more-than-human world has to say to you. If you have a pet, you already know the good medicine this can be.
“You can forest bathe anywhere in the world – wherever there are trees [or plants].” – Dr. Quing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How trees can help you find health and happiness (2018)
“Spending time with plants really can improve your health and well-being.” – Yoshifumi Miyazaki, author of Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing
Mattie Decker, Ed.D is an educator and writer. She lives in western North Carolina and is a nature forest therapy guide, writer, and working with Conserving Carolina and the Teaching and ‘research Reserve (TARR).