Shinrin-Yoku: Reflections on a forest bathing walk
TEXT BY REAL EGUCHI, OALA, AND RUTHANNE HENRY, OALA
In the spring of 2016, Ben Porchuk invited us to participate in a guided forest therapy walk called Shinrin-Yoku. This translates from the Japanese into English as “forest bathing.” It took place in Sunnybrook Park, Toronto. We both had been interested in this practice since hearing about it several years ago. After a small amount of pre-walk research, and as seasoned landscape architects, we were skeptical to varying degrees in thinking that this could in any way be a profound, therapeutic experience. Ruthanne has walked in forests for more than four decades and Real has engaged in nature-related activities since childhood. But we remained open and agreed to leave our skepticism outside the forest.
Ben started the walk with a quick introduction as we entered the forest. As an experienced ecologist as well as a forest bathing guide, he explained that this was not going to be a cognitively based interpretive/educational experience. Ben indicated that we likely would not cover very much ground, so this was not focused on physical exercise either. We were told that we would be invited to share in a series of experiences and we could accept or decline any invitation.
For the first of these invitations we sat in a circle, focused on our breath, and shared our name and what we were grateful for based on what we were sensing and the feelings that arose in that moment. We felt a sense of group connectedness within and to the forest.
The second invitation found us swaying our bodies, listening, with our eyes closed, while feeling supported by the ground. We were grounded. After this we allowed the forest to be slowly revealed to our sense of sight. In this meditative state, the forest was startling in its renewed beauty, with magical shafts of sunlight spraying down through the many layers of foliage. In the stillness, we connected deeper with nature and to ourselves.
The third invitation was to mindfully walk with full visual and vestibular awareness while intensely noticing “movement” around us. We walked with “intention” on the pathways and at our own pace through the forest. We witnessed the breeze gently blowing in many different locations on numerous elements of the forest in an integral and connected way. We felt the subtle nuances of the air grazing our skin. We experienced the extensive activity of flora and fauna at every scale. It was an entranced feeling, similar to snorkeling around a coral reef, everything in constant moving harmony with the current. The forest revealed itself as a large interconnected organism, our heightened sensory perception engaged in its slow motion.
A moving meditation (where one gazes softly and notices the motion within the forest around you). VIDEOS/ Ruthanne Henry
Another activity had us standing on rocks within the refreshing cool of a small brook, fed by groundwater. We felt the water with one hand in stillness — above, within, and below the flowing water. This included immersing our hand in the substrate. Our hand was uniquely bathed.
There were other invitations such as trusting each other during a partner exercise near the top of a ridge and feeling quite vulnerable in our bodies. In that exercise, we deepened our connection with the nature around us, with each other, all the while awakening our awareness of our own bodies.
After each invitation and experience, we shared what we felt, and, in so doing, clarified and confirmed our experiences in each moment.
We ended our forest bathing walk in a closing circle while sharing a tea that Ben made from a couple of abundant forest plants he collected along the way. He assured us that we did not negatively impact the local ecology. We drank the forest, literally, again deepening our alignment with the forest by yet another direct sensuous and nourishing experience of the nature we were immersed within.
Shinrin-Yoku is a therapeutic experience, in essence a moving meditation encouraging full sensory immersion. It offers an approach to reducing stress in our challenging urban life by connecting us to the rhythms and processes of nature. The outcome of the session left us alert and calm.
Landscape architects are relatively well informed about natural phenomena and processes because nature has always been central to our work. In addition to enhancing our own rejuvenation and restoration, the regular practice of forest bathing provides us with an additional somatic framework for understanding nature, thus potentially helping us to be more mindful of the medicinal, meditative qualities that others may experience in the landscapes that we help steward.
BIOS/ REAL EGUCHI, OALA, IS A PRINCIPAL OF EGUCHI ASSOCIATES LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS/BREAL ART + DESIGN. HIS KEY INTEREST IS “SUSTAINABLE BEAUTY,” AN AESTHETIC THAT DERIVES FROM THE TRADITIONAL JAPANESE SENSIBILITY OF WABI-SABI, AWE, AND CULTURAL TRAUMA IN THE CONTEXT OF NATURE. PRINCIPLES SUCH AS IMPERFECTION AND IMPERMANENCE HAVE LED HIM TO A CREATIVE PRACTICE THAT COMBINES SOMATIC HEALING, MINDFULNESS IMPROV DANCE, EARTH-BASED SPIRITUALITIES, AND LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE AND ART.
RUTHANNE HENRY, OALA, IS AN ARBORIST AND LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT WHO HAS SPECIALIZED FOR MOST OF HER CAREER IN FOREST-RELATED LANDSCAPE PRACTICE, SUCH AS HABITAT RESTORATION, FOREST CONSERVATION, AND MINIMIZING IMPACTS RELATED TO INFRA- STRUCTURE DESIGN IN SENSITIVE ENVIRONMENTS.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE ASSOCIATION OF NATURE AND FOREST THERAPY GUIDES AND PROGRAMS, SEE WWW.SHINRIN-YOKU.ORG. FOR INFORMATION ON THE CANADIAN CHAPTER, HEADED BY BEN PORCHUK, VISIT FACEBOOK OR WWW.RESTORATIVENATUREEXPERIENCES.COM.