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.

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.

Wonderland

I find snow dazzling… the way it seemingly mutes the landscape, appearing to sparkle as it reflects light, is just magical. This past Friday, my friend and I braved the treacherous roads to travel down to Hocking Hills in Ohio and immerse ourselves in the quiet, glistening landscape for the weekend. Wider landscape picture of HH.jpgI was coming off of a particularly stressful couple of weeks and weariness felt heavy in my body.  As we climbed out of the car and started our hike among the trails of Hocking Hills, it seemed as though I was gradually awakening; my fatigue lifted and my senses shifted into clearer focus. As Steven Harper eloquently states:

“Upon entering wilderness one of the first things that almost everyone experiences is an enlivening of the five basic senses. Suddenly, we are bathed with and sometimes overloaded with new sounds, awesome sights, interesting textures, different smells and tastes. People frequently comment about the surprise and excitement they have in rediscovering their sensory experience. This rediscovery and awakening of our senses, or perhaps better stated, ‘coming to our senses,’ is a subtly powerful and underrated experience. People learn how greatly some of our basic modes of perception have been dulled in order to survive in the urban world” (http://www.stevenkharper.com/wayofwilderness.html).Cold riverBreathing the frigid air into my lungs, my feet crunching over the snow, I couldn’t help but be called back to right now. My awareness of the vulnerability of my body deepened as I navigated the slick, icy ground. I felt the power of that slippery frozen earth calling my perspective back into check, reminding me of my exquisite smallness on this planet. Nothing that had felt so pressing before seemed urgent… or even relevant… now. Frozen waterfall.jpgAfter just 3 days immersed in the snow covered hills, I reconnected with a deeply felt sense of serenity and ease.

I traveled back home to begin the week renewed.