OAKHURST — Susan Madden, proprietor of the Mindful Café blog and longtime mindfulness and meditation teacher, has practiced Forest Bathing all her life, she says. She just didn’t call it that. She has always felt connected to the outdoors, and mindfulness has been a lifestyle for many years. A certified mindfulness and meditation teacher, she also facilitates (and even constructs) labyrinths as part of her practice. Forest bathing is the latest of those pursuits.
Forest bathing, a name adapted from the Japanese phrase shinrin yoku, was developed in the early 1980’s in Japan as a response to the stresses of the technology boom and extra-long hours on Japanese workers.
Contrary to what its name might imply, forest bathing doesn’t involve water (although it might). It can and has been called by other titles such as forest therapy or forest immersion. The idea is to get into nature and use all six of your senses (the sixth being the self) to fully engage in the sights, sounds, smells and feel of fresh air in your nostrils and dirt under your feet. As Susan says, “Think of the forest as your bath.” Further, “Up here in the Sierra, we are blessed with some of the most beautiful places on earth, so I am partial to a few secret spots I know of. But you can enjoy forest bathing anywhere really. A city park, your backyard, any place outside can potentially be a setting. For my groups, the ideal setting is a gentle path leading to a place with water, and I’ve even taken a group out in kayaks on Bass Lake. So, just use your imagination.”
Susan suggests that your first experience with forest bathing be under the guidance of a teacher who can demonstrate the process. After that the practice can be performed solo or as part of a like-minded group.
Although forest bathing shouldn’t be relegated to the “do it when I’m feeling stressed” pile of activities, after the kind of years 2020 and thus far 2021 have turned out to be, a regular diet of nature bathing could be just the ticket to set our souls right again.
Susan started studying the practice in earnest after some major losses in her life during 2020. She’s since amplified her knowledge with online classes and continual learning through books and experience. Nature is where she’s always headed when in need of healing, and that segued into leading forest-bathing sessions, which she’s done for about a year now.
For those of us who live in the Yosemite/Sierra Nevada environs, our forests and parks are nearby and accessible, many even for those with limited mobility. What about those folks who live in cities? Are they left out of the ability to destress and refresh? Not at all. Forest bathing can be performed in a backyard, in a park, in a garden—anywhere you can access a bit of nature.
Another benefit of forest bathing is that little to no equipment is needed. “This is not a hike, so you don’t need any fancy or expensive hiking gear. Just wear comfortable clothes and shoes, bring some water, and prepare for weather. That’s it!”
Because physical agility is not a requirement, a potential goal for Susan is to take forest bathing into retirement communities and senior centers. “With senior centers/retirement communities/nursing homes, the practice would be focused on connecting with all your senses. There could be a short journey around their grounds, or, if that’s not possible, that’s ok too,” Susan offers. “The bottom line is that being in nature is good for your emotional and physical health and forest bathing helps you to connect better and more deeply with nature.”
Forest bathing can be family time, as well. “Families love it, and I love to see how families interact during a forest bathing experience,” Susan says. “One of the things I enjoy most about taking groups out is watching the transformation of all the participants and sometimes it’s the teens or young adult children that surprise me the most.”
Susan allows about two and a half hours for a forest immersion session, which she leads with a minimum group of four persons, at $45 per person. To obtain more information or to schedule a session, contact Susan via email or call her at 559-760-0732. Her Mindful Café blog offers a wealth of resources to guide readers on their path to mindfulness.
Other information on forest bathing can be found here:
All photographs courtesy of Susan Madden and Mindful Cafe.