FOR­EST BATHING

More than an im­mer­sive walk in the woods, it's a time-hon­oured heal­ing tra­di­tion

Vancouver Sun - - TRAVEL - CHLOE BERGE

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.

STEPHANIE GALLAMORE

Guests at Ya Doma Na­ture and For­est Ther­apy in Har­ri­son Hot Springs are guided through trails flanked by red cedar and west­ern hem­lock.

JEREMY KORESKI

For­est bathing at the Great Bear Rain­for­est is an in­te­gral part of the re­sort's well­ness ex­pe­ri­ence at Nimmo Bay.

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