Health & Fit­ness

‘For­est bathing’ walks ben­e­fit mind and body

Orlando Sentinel - - EXTRA HEALTH & FITNESS -

Santa Rosa, Cal­i­for­nia, it fo­cuses on train­ing and cer­ti­fy­ing peo­ple to lead for­est walks. Ac­cord­ing to its web­site, more than 700 guides had been cer­ti­fied by the end of 2018.

Olate and Scott Sheets were cer­ti­fied ear­lier this year and co-lead a num­ber of out­door ex­pe­ri­ences in cen­tral Ohio, in­clud­ing hik­ing, pad­dling (kayak­ing/ ca­noe­ing), out­door med­i­ta­tive walks and shin­rinyoku.

Olate is a psy­chother­a­pist, and she said she some­times in­cor­po­rates out­door ex­pe­ri­ences into her prac­tice with some of her clients.

But she stressed that, “from a clin­i­cal per­spec­tive, for­est bathing is com­pletely not psy­chol­ogy.”

On a re­cent Sun­day, the nine par­tic­i­pants gath­ered in a park­ing lot out­side the McKnight Out­door Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter, a Colum­bus Re­cre­ation and Parks fa­cil­ity on the west bank of the Scioto River. It was sunny and in the mid-40s as Olate in­tro­duced her­self and Sheets as guides, adding, “but re­ally, the for­est is the guide.”

The group then strolled into the woods. Shin­rinyoku is not about walk­ing for dis­tance or phys­i­cal ex­er­cise. It’s about im­mer­sion into na­ture. The struc­ture in­volves a se­ries of “in­vi­ta­tions,” which Olate ex­plained at the first stop. She in­vited ev­ery­one to find a leaf “that speaks to you.”

Af­ter sev­eral min­utes, par­tic­i­pants sat with their cho­sen leaves, then took turns ex­plain­ing why they picked that leaf. The ex­pla­na­tions in­cluded metaphors for life: old leaves that still had some life in them, for ex­am­ple, or one leaf tucked into an­other, pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion.

Next, Sheets led the group far­ther down the path, but he walked slowly. The idea was to force ev­ery­one to slow down and truly no­tice their sur­round­ings. Again, the group then shared their thoughts, al­though that is not manda­tory — par­tic­i­pants can choose not to speak.

“It’s hard to share at first,” Olate said, “and then I feel like slowly peo­ple start thaw­ing, get­ting more com­fort­able with each other.”

The orange tree pro­vided a base from which par­tic­i­pants scat­tered into the nearby woods, then gath­ered to dis­cuss what they had ex­pe­ri­enced. They came to­gether a fi­nal time for a tea cer­e­mony. Olate served hot herbal tea from a ther­mos, and the first cup was poured onto the ground, “in grat­i­tude for shar­ing the land­scape with us.”

Af­ter­ward, the group slowly dis­persed, though not be­fore more dis­cus­sion of their ex­pe­ri­ence.

Adam Wil­son of Gal­loway was a first-time shin­rin-yoku par­tic­i­pant. He said be­ing out­doors is not in his com­fort zone, so it took time to “get calm and feel grounded.” He also was ner­vous about shar­ing his thoughts. But he said he would do it again.

“It helps me no­tice other parts of my life that I can dwell on that aren’t as neg­a­tive,” he said. “I have a stress­ful work life that I’m deal­ing with right now, and this is kind of a nice break from that.”

McBrearty went on sev­eral shin­rin-yoku walks ear­lier in the year with Olate and Sheets. De­spite oc­ca­sion­ally feel­ing awk­ward, McBrearty said she is in­creas­ingly en­joy­ing her ex­pe­ri­ences.

“It’s a jour­ney,” she said. “It’s a beau­ti­ful way to con­nect with na­ture. They say it’s re­ally good for you, and it feels re­ally good for me, so it all seems to work out.”

COURTNEY HERGESHEIM­ER/COLUM­BUS DISPATCH

Par­tic­i­pants of shin­rin-yoku ob­serve their sur­round­ings and then share what they no­ticed at In­dian Vil­lage Out­door Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter in Colum­bus, Ohio.

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