There is so much happening in the world right now that it’s not unusual to feel a bit off. Perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, or depressed. If life has got you a bit off-kilter, it’s easy to find your way back to center — and everything you need to get there is right outside your door.
Forest bathing is a way to not only connect with nature but also help yourself become more grounded and find a sense of equilibrium. It’s really quite simple and is all about getting back to the root of calmness.
“In forest bathing, we want to use all of the senses,” explained Tanya Fuller, shaman, reiki master, and owner of Three Feathers Holistic: Energy Healing & Wellness. Fuller said hands-on engagement can be an important part of the technique: “So, touch — even create touching, like picking up the soil or the dirt, feeling the pine needles in the hands — any way that you can connect.”
Getting started in forest bathing is as easy as stepping outside, especially if you have the good fortune of living in an area as beautiful as the Lake Tahoe region.
“Hug a tree,” Fuller says with a laugh but only half-joking. “It feels really good. And the trees respond.”
While it may sound hokey or cliché, there’s science to back Fuller’s practice. Trees, plants, shrubs, and flowers all possess chemicals called terpenes. Just breathing in these naturally occurring chemicals can have a soothing effect on the body.
Coniferous forests and pinecones — which abound in the Sierra Nevada — contain high levels of the terpene alpha-pinene. In fact, a-pinene is the most abundant terpene in the world and contains anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator, and memory-boosting properties. Highly aromatic — it’s also found in potent plants like rosemary, juniper, and eucalyptus — a-pinene is commonly used in pine-scented products like candles and essential oils.
Taken from the Japanese term shinrin yoku, shinrin meaning forest and yoku meaning bath, forest therapy is all about immersing yourself in nature through the various senses. Try sitting down, closing your eyes, and just listening. Be intentional. Listen to the sounds nature has to offer in that particular moment: the crunch of a squirrel scurrying about, the thunk of a pinecone hitting the forest floor, the whisper of the breeze sifting through the treetops.
These days, our minds are so overstimulated that turning off the noise in our head so we can relax can be a challenge. Really, it’s as easy as putting one foot in front of the other. Literally. If you do get out in the woods but have difficulty getting in the moment, just walking through the forest, being mindful of your steps, is a great starting point.
“If [your] mind is going all crazy and you’re looking around but [are] not able to focus, the first thing you can do is say, ‘I’m taking one step and I’m taking another step; I’m taking one step, I’m taking another step,’” Fuller said. “You’re just tuning into that energy … it slows everything down.”
Next, sit down and focus, taking your gaze a bit deeper, one step at a time. Find a sit spot; sit and observe. Look at a tree, then focus more closely on the bark. Look closer and notice lines in the bark, observe the colors. In the colors, you might pick up on finer details, such as an egg or insect resting upon it. This process, says Fuller, creates neuropathways, attuning us to the natural vibration of the earth and nature.
“If you tune into the energy … just tune into the rhythm, the breath of the forest, when you’re doing that, there is a peace that comes with it,” she said.
Breathing is another way to help get yourself more centered in nature. Fuller typically has clients start their sessions with simple deep breathing; in for five seconds, out for five seconds. And simplicity, she adds, is key. Some breathing techniques, such as those with widely varying breath counts, can be distracting because focus can fall more on getting the count right than the breathing itself. Fuller prefers the widely known “box breath” style, although in her world of flow and energy she prefers to call it “circle breath.” Practitioners breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds, repeating the cycle again and again.
Fuller often has out-of-town visitors come to her Truckee office seeking to re-center themselves through nature. She often sends them to the Martis Creek Wildlife Area along Highway 267 where they can soak in the sounds of the birds and reconnect with nature, and in the process, reconnect with themselves.
The beauty of forest therapy is that it is unique to the individual. As long as you are out in nature, tuning out the noise in your head and using your senses to reset your energetic flow and become more grounded, you are doing it right. That could mean anything from sitting out in your backyard as the birds start to sing their morning song to claiming a spot on a Donner Lake dock and listening to the quiet splash of fish jumping as the sun warms your face, or even sitting along the banks of the Truckee River and listening to the rush of the water flowing over rocks.
“We want to get out of the head and into the heart,” Fuller explained. “Nature does not think about what it’s going to do next. It just does it. It follows this other flow. There’s a belief. It knows the sun will come up another day.”