More than an immersive walk in the woods, it's a time-honoured healing tradition
Moisture from the forest floor rushes up through spongy moss to my bare feet. The sweet, earthy decay mingles with heady pine and a salty breeze.
I'm in the heart of British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest, a 400-kilometre expanse of coastal wilderness, being led through a forest bathing experience at Nimmo Bay Resort.
Forest bathing became popular when an eco-therapy called shinrin-yoku — literally meaning “forest bath” — emerged in Japan in the 1980s as an antidote to widespread tech boom burnout. But the practice can be traced back much farther than that. “The Celts used forest bathing 2,000 years ago,” says Diana Beresford-Kroeger, renowned biochemist and co-author of the first International Handbook of Forest Therapy.
Forest bathing can be as simple as walking through the woods and engaging the senses in a deliberate way, immersing — or bathing — yourself in nature. This could include bringing awareness to what you hear and smell or watching the almost imperceptible shifting of light and air through the trees.
“We're so accustomed to living in this modern world that we don't realize how stressed our bodies really are,” says Kim Verigin, a certified forest therapy guide and founder of Ya Doma Nature and Forest Therapy in Harrison Hot Springs. “Being in nature helps us activate our parasympathetic nervous system, releasing stress and restoring calm,” Verigin explains. Additionally, research shows that exposure to phytoncides — airborne chemical compounds such as pinene that trees release and we in turn breathe in — may boost immunity.
While Beresford-Kroeger points to the medicinal benefits of forest bathing during a pandemic, she also stresses its importance in rethinking our relationship with nature. Connecting with the forest on a deeper level and rediscovering the role trees play in mitigating the effects of global warming might help us care more about their future, and our own.
Forest bathing is easy enough to practise by yourself, but being guided by an expert is worthwhile.
Here's where to bathe yourself in nature's healing halo this fall in B.C.
NIMMO BAY RESORT, THE GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST
Forest bathing is an integral part of the secluded resort's wellness experience — which also includes a floating sauna and outdoor yoga — and takes place in a mossy emerald grove next to the soothing rush of a waterfall. Led by an on-staff wellness expert, the hour-long experience begins by bringing awareness to the five senses through meditative prompts. Guests then are guided barefoot through the surrounding trees and encouraged to stop and smell, taste and touch the old-growth cedars and other (edible) plants.
YA DOMA NATURE AND FOREST THERAPY, HARRISON HOT SPRINGS
The bucolic community of Harrison Hot Springs is a two-hour drive outside of Vancouver. Verigin founded Ya Doma Nature and Forest Therapy after the positive effects it had on her own mental and physical health. She guides guests through trails flanked by red cedar and western hemlock, prompting them with five invitations aimed at deepening their connection to the forest, including “meeting” a tree. The experience is punctuated by a hemlock tea ceremony.
FOREST AND FLOW, WHISTLER
Forest and Flow founder and guide Sabrina Hinitz tailors the forest bathing experience for every guest. The two-hour session is broken up into five or 10 exercises that encourage people to engage with the forest. “Whistler is a very special place to go forest bathing because it's in a transition zone between a wet, coastal climate and a drier continental climate, so there's a huge variety of species here, some unique to the area, like the Whistler spruce,” Hinitz says.
RAINFOREST NATURE HIKES, PARKSVILLE
On Vancouver Island, Rainforest Nature Hikes guide Ronda Murdock leads walks through an old-growth cedar forest near Qualicum Beach. Murdock begins each walk by “shaking off the road dust,” an invitation to help people release any stress or preoccupation they may be carrying. After acknowledging the forest and Qualicum First Nation territory, she invites guests to set an intention for their experience, before heading deeper into the woods, where they're led through contemplative exercises.
NATURE WITH HAIDA, SUNSHINE COAST
In the shadowy forests of the Sunshine Coast, giant cedars reach for the sky, boughs blanketed in moss. Guide Haida Bolton, founder of Nature with Haida, leads guests along a lush trail, inviting them to choose a tree and connect with it using the five senses, among other meditative exercises. Following a forest bathing experience, it's worth lingering on this coastal nature haven, steeping in the silence and serenity that the Sunshine Coast's inlets and forests offer.
Guests at Ya Doma Nature and Forest Therapy in Harrison Hot Springs are guided through trails flanked by red cedar and western hemlock.
Forest bathing at the Great Bear Rainforest is an integral part of the resort's wellness experience at Nimmo Bay.