Five Creative Ways to Practise Forest Bathing at BESIDE Habitat

Photos—Charlotte Ghomeshi

If you’ve heard of forest bathing but couldn’t say exactly what it is, there’s a reason: the concept is often explained in vague, aspirational terms and then recommended in strictly scientific ones. In the interest of making the practice seem more accessible, allow me to hazard a straightforward definition.

Forest bathing is cultivating relaxed awareness in the forest.

Beyond that, you can talk about all the incredible ways that the forest is a healer, and there are many. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated meaningful improvement across many indicators of health, both physiological and psychological.

In other words, it makes you healthier in your mind and body.

Originally developed in Japan, forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, has deep roots in Shinto traditions. The practice was introduced in the 1970s as a medical intervention to address rising rates of loneliness and suicide. The success of this approach has helped spread forest bathing to the world.

If you’re interested to try but don’t know what to do, we recommend you check out our practical guide to forest bathing, where we share some techniques for engaging your five senses to have an immersive experience in the forest.

But there are plenty of ways to do it, and there’s certainly no rule that forest bathing can’t be more exploratory… and fun. Here are five creative exercises to try out with a friend or a family member.

Photo: Eliane Cadieux
Photos: Eliane Cadieux

1. Find your tree

This activity is performed in pairs, with a guide and a participant. The person acting as guide blindfolds the participant and then spins them gently until they lose their sense of orientation. (Note: The guide has to move around the participant while they are spinning or it won’t work.) Now lead the blindfolded person through the forest to a tree. Let them use their sense of touch to learn the shape and texture of the tree. Now guide them to a new location, spin them again, and remove the blindfold. The participant has to find their tree again. Is it hard? How does your perception of trees change through the course of this activity?

2. Create a scene

Take yourself on a slow-moving walk through the forest, keeping your eyes peeled and carefully studying your immediate surroundings. Think of yourself as foraging for quiet fascination. What catches your eye? When something reaches subtly for your attention, accept the invitation. Maybe it’s a scrap of moss, a bundle of berries, an interesting leaf, a charming mushroom, or a beautiful rock. Bring your face close and let your fingers explore the texture. If the object is small and generally abundant, start a little collection. Once you have five or six items, find a stump or stone to assemble your treasures and make a display. How does it feel when you look at your creation?

Extra credit: If there’s a picnic table handy, make your diorama there and use coloured pencils to draw the scene.

Photo: Eve Laliberté

3. Find a gesture

For this activity, you’ll need a sketchbook and a pen or pencil. Find a comfortable place to sit in the forest, on a rock or log or with your back to a tree. Once you’re settled, look around and pick a tree that appeals to you. Your task is to express the essence of the tree — its shape, expression, movement, energy, attitude — in a few quick lines. Don’t overthink and don’t take more than 30 to 60 seconds. These are gesture drawings, and their power lies in their intuitiveness. If you struggle with perfectionism, tell yourself you’re just scribbling. Your goal is to get a feeling for the overall effect and presence of individual trees, and to gain an appreciation for their wonderful sculptural qualities. What do you notice?

4. Spark a connection

Some forest-bathing guides recommend bowing to trees as a way to express respect and gratitude for their beauty, their healing properties, and the vital work they do oxygenating the atmosphere. Underlying this practice is a consciousness that trees are relational and responsive, to each other and to the world around them. You may want to address these entities with a simple nod, or by placing the palm of your hand directly on their bark. You might even try speaking aloud, perhaps something friendly or affectionate. Try talking to the trees. What do you find yourself wanting to say?

5. Make a journey

Think of the feeling when you travel a long distance to visit a parent or grandparent. Put yourself in that mindset and take a walk to the old-growth pine forest near the Lac Charlevoix lookout. White pine is a traditional medicine tree — it emits organic compounds called pinenes that are proven to provide many direct benefits. When you find one — they are the conifers with the long needles — stay still and visualize the aerosols from the tree entering your body through your skin and lungs.

Forest bathing isn’t some mild addition to a wellness regime. It’s a powerful tool for healing, preventative medicine, and personal growth.

Discover our No-Nonsense Guide to Forest Bathing on beside.media.

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