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Alexandra Lowry will give an introduction to forest bathing on Thursday, Nov. 9, followed by a guided forest bathing event on Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Middletown headquarters of Connecticut Forest and Park Association. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Connolly )
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The term “forest bathing” appears in popular media a lot these days. A recent article in The Washington Post refers to it as yoga, 30 years ago. If it is new to you, however, you are not alone. And in case you’re wondering, it has nothing to do with water—nor with dancing through the woods wearing only a smile.
Smiles, however, are among the many positive outcomes of a forest bathing session, according to certified nature and forest therapy guide Alexandra Lowry of Middletown. To help people understand and experience the practice, Lowry started introductory lectures and guides forest bathing events at the Middlefield headquarters of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA) earlier this year. She has one more lecture scheduled in 2017, on Thursday, Nov. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at 16 Meriden Road, Middlefield. On Saturday, Nov. 11, two days later, Lowry will lead a two-hour forest visit, leaving from the same address. Both events are free of charge, but preregistration is required (visit www.ctwoodlands.org/CFPA-events or call 860-346-8733).
Lowry is a certified life coach (www.thewisdomalliance.com), but she learned about forest bathing outside her work.
“I was always aware that trees and forests were important to my wellbeing,” she says. “But I learned about forest bathing—also called shinrin-yoku—through the writing of Peter Wohlleben.”
Wohlleben is the author of the bestselling 2015 book, The Hidden Life of Trees.
A forest bathing session is not a hike or a run, Lowry says. Neither is it a foray into plant, animal, bird, or insect identification.
“Forest bathing is a sensory- oriented, contemplative walk, somewhat like the meditation walks used by various religious traditions,” says Lowry. “We slow down, breathe, rest among trees, and remove technology. We do very little talking.”
When Lowry leads a session, she covers about two miles in two hours. (That’s about one-third the pace a healthy person can walk in an hour.)
“But some leaders do much less walking, going perhaps only a half mile in two hours,” she says.
She is quick to add that anyone can do this by themselves, “but just like taking a yoga class, many people find it nice to be led, to let someone else facilitate.”
The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries set off the phenomenon when it started promoting the practice of “taking in the forest atmosphere” for health and wellbeing in 1982. The Ministry coined the term “shinrin-yoku,” which roughly translates to “forest bathing” in English.
The healing benefits come from several sources, but it is the exposure to essential oils that trees exude—phytoncides—that sets forest bathing apart from other woodland retreats. These oils are protective shields for the trees, fending off insects and diseases.
It turns out they are good for us as well. For evidence, The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides’ website www.natureandforesttherapy.org offers links to numerous research papers and articles that document positive outcomes for people with diabetes, PTSD victims, people with ADHD, chronic pain sufferers, people with high blood pressure, and those with compromised immune systems. The research comes from Japan, Australia, the U.K., Scandinavia, and the U.S.
Another positive feature of forest bathing is that it is available to people with a wide range of physical abilities. If you’re not in peak hiking condition, no worries. Some local state parks have easy forest trails, such as Bluff Point State Park in Groton, Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme, Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam, and Chatfield Hollow State Park in Killingworth. For a guide to trails statewide, visit CFPA’s Connecticut Walk Book www.ctwoodlands.org/connecticut-walk-book-20th-edition.
Once again, when it comes to nature, what is old is new again. See you in the forest.
Kathy Connolly is a landscape designer, writer, and speaker from Old Saybrook, CT. See her speaking schedule and contact her through her website: www.SpeakingofLandscapes.com.
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