The art of forest therapy (based on shinrin-yoku)

Due to the long pause in my blog writing, there is much to catch up on! I hope to do so in the coming posts.

For now, I’ll focus on a recent adventure Scott and I embarked on: we traveled to Costa Rica for a week-long intensive training in forest therapy with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides & Programs. Since our return to the Midwestern US, we have begun our 6-month long practicum in order to become certified forest therapy guides (also known as forest bathing, based on the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku).

ANFT picWhat is forest therapy, forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku?

In a word? Beautiful.

It is also difficult to describe in words. Essentially, it is an immersive, guided practice in which we enhance our relationship with nature. The practice involves slowing down and listening to ourselves as we relate to and with nature, bringing gentle awareness to our relationship(s) with any or all aspects of the environment surrounding us. The physical and mental health impacts from this gentle practice are astounding… I hope to soon dedicate a future blog post to those impacts alone. Sunset at ANFT .jpegFor now, perhaps I can simply invite you… where ever you are as you read this… to notice the air around you as it touches your body with your inhale and departs, warmed, with your exhale… and to imagine that the air you meet longs for you just as your body longs for the air… and both you and the air are influenced by one another.

(pictured below is a forest therapy/forest bathing tea ceremony from our training in Costa Rica)

Tea ceremony ANFT.jpeg

While I love the rigor of backpacking and other higher-intensity adventures in the outdoors, I also deeply appreciate the gentle simplicity of cultivating conscious being. Though the forest therapy training was intensive, each day we practiced simply engaging in the practice of forest therapy ourselves for several hours. It was those moments, beyond any didactic content I learned, that held the most transformative impact.

While we were away in Costa Rica, we also learned of the passing of Mary Oliver, a beloved poet and native Ohioan. So, I will end with pictures taken during adventures in our Midwestern landscape and the words of Mary Oliver, whose poetry has been such an exquisite gift in my life and in the lives of so many others…

(most of the pics below were taken at Hoosier National Forest and Lake Monroe in Indiana in early November of 2018. The last 2 pics in this cluster were taken this February at Dawes Arboretum in Ohio, one of the places we will begin to offer forest therapy in our community).

“Everything That Was Broken”

Everything that was broken has

forgotten its brokenness. I live 

now in a sky-house, through every

window the sun. Also your presence. 

Our touching, our stories. Earthy

and holy both. How can this be, but

it is. Every day has something in

it whose name is Forever.

(from Mary Oliver’s book Felicity, (2015), p. 61). Indiana national forest monroe lake

(picture above was taken one early November morning in 2018 at Lake Monroe, Hoosier National Forest).

Namaste.

Exploring the wild spring in Indiana, Ohio, & West Virginia

In late May through mid-June, we journeyed quite a bit… relishing weekends camping, hiking, and white water rafting in three strikingly different Midwestern landscapes. I notice how my experience of my interior world is intimately and deeply impacted by my environment:

Within the lush green and gentle falls in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I find myself feeling protected by the cover of forest canopy above, and lulled by the sound of trickle and light fall of water.

YSYS kids crossing waterYS waterfallIn the sandy expanse of the Indiana Dunes disappearing into the waves of Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I am aware of my freedom, as well as the illusions of constancy I often cling to in life. I feel my surrender to the sand moving underneath my toes; the sound of the water rhythmically arriving and departing against the shore; the feeling of the breeze swirling around me… to the arrival and departure of my breath, of my thoughts, of each moment… to my ever changing and moving life.

IN dunes lake michiganUprooted rooted treeThe walk-in campsites at the National Lakeshore campground were lovely.  And during one of our hikes at the dunes, we had privilege of watching a bald eagle perched and gracefully take flight.

Rafting through the powerful rapids in New River Gorge, West Virginia, I was aware of my tiny size and the intensity of the forces around me. Those crashing waters! Those jutting rocks! That bright hot sun shining down on my skin! I was so small in the raft, using my little arms to push water with all my might, hands clutched onto the oar as I worked to maintain my balance and keep from being tossed into the water and rocks around me. My heart beat fast and my breathing was quick. And then we would pass through to calmer waters… and, as my heartbeat and breathing eased, I noticed the stunning nature around me. Then, helmets on, start to brace – we’ve got another rapid coming!

West Virginia New River Gorge sunset.jpgI am so thankful to find myself in each of these landscapes. For the land to bring me back to such different elements of my own be-ing. To be reminded of all the ways in which earth and I are truly one.

Geraniums in the woods

Fog over a frozen lake

So often I hear about the gray gloom of Midwestern winter. While I certainly understand the impact clouds and cold can have on so many people for all sorts of reasons (none of which I discount), I’m going to let you in on a personal secret: I actually love wintertime.

So, from this loving place in me, I’ll offer a window into my little February jaunt to Buckeye Lake. buckeye lake elizabeth taking a picture.jpgThis was my first time exploring the area. I was lucky to be guided by a very special person who shared with me personal stories that had unfolded for him within this landscape. As we walked towards the thawing lake, I curiously listened to his rich stories of times past on this land.

I noticed how breathtaking the dense fog was over the snow and ice, how the chill in the air seemed to awaken my whole body, and how the slight movements of the thawing lake caught my eye… Such meaning those uniquely winter moments held for me.

And I’m reminded by a poem by David Whyte entitled “Enough”:

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.

Autumn Reflection

Today we had a reflective outdoor practice at Highbanks Metro Park in Columbus, Ohio on a beautiful autumn afternoon. Nobody participating in this month’s practice had met before, and each was entering the experience with a personal intention around releasing and letting go, in honor of the season. Together, we began by engaging in two guided grounding exercises to softly and fully mindfully “arrive” to greet the land, one another, and our own internal presence.

highbanks feet.jpgWe then began walking along a trail on metaphorical and meditative journey involving three chapters…

Chapter One: As we began to move along the trail, we quietly explored the earth’s supportive process of letting go in autumn and our own personal process of releasing and letting go.

Chapter Two: We slowed down our movement and noticed what happened in our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as we shifted off the trail, each of us finding an area that individually resonated and engaging in journaling, meditation, or simply resting.

Chapter Three: We returned to the trailhead and, as we did, noticed what we were leaving behind, as well as the support we have and need in order to transition and grow.

Highbanks tree oct 2017.jpg

Some of us expressed finding greatest peace when we were moving, with the rhythm and sounds of our feet as we took each step through the fallen leaves. Others expressed finding peace in the quiet, reflective resting phase of our journey.

Tar hollow pic

I loved most of all the scent of leaves, the sounds of the wind rustling the branches above us, and simply being in the company of such kind and compassionate people as we celebrated the earth’s fall season – and our own processes of letting go.