The leaves whisper in the breeze all summer long.
From: A Tree is Nice
written by Janice May Udry
pictures by Marc Simont
Winner: Caldecott Medal, 1957
accessed on YouTube 8/30/2020
Girl Scout Day Camp was a feature of many of my growing-up summers. We spent time in the woods learning to Be Prepared, leave Nature better than we found it, and find our way with a compass. I never got the hang of using a compass, but that was okay. Even when I was very young, 8 or 9 maybe, I loved to be in the woods. If I got lost, I’m not sure how long it would take for me to care. Probably till I got hungry or had to go to the bathroom.
Although we were outside in the park, we were not really forest bathing.
I only heard of Forest Bathing recently. When I began my research, I was surprised to find so much interest in something I thought was new.
The first thing I discovered is Forest Bathing is not so new. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries created the term shinrin-yoku in 1982. It translates to “forest bathing” or “absorbing the forest atmosphere.”
While physically being present in a forest, or an urban park, or your backyard even, the object is not a literal immersion, but more of a spiritual one. Being fully present to all your senses and staying in the moment, for about 40 minutes will reap benefits.
And you don’t need hiking gear, jogging shorts, or riding helmets. A leisurely walk on a trail or path, an easy pace, an eye and ear open to sights and sounds seems simple. But, intension is key. Awareness of the moment is vital. Carefully touching tree bark, gently stroking a flower petal, smelling a pine tree or a skunk can be part of the experience. No tasting, though. Unless you’re sure, really positively sure. I still say, no tasting. No berries, no mushrooms, no greenery. The sensation of taste is closely connected to smell. Being aware of that is enough.
Want to lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and level of the stress hormone, cortisol? Take a walk in the woods. A study cited in a Time Magazine article from May 1, 2018, shows “being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, and refresh and rejuvenate us.” https://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/
You might want a guide. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy provides a training program in the science of Forest Bathing. A guide encourages the natural connection we humans have with our environment. Several practice in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. https://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/membership/guide-directory#!directory/map
Evergreens secrete a chemical, phytoncide, that is associated with improvements in the immune system. Creativity can improve by 50 percent, as shown in a study by David Strayer. The psychological effects of urban walking vs. nature walking show nature walks tend to correlate with improvements in mood.
To sum it up, “[f]orest therapy is about creating relationships between humans and the more-than-human world, in which the relationship itself becomes a field of healing and a source of joyful well-being.” https://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/about/the-practice-of-forest-therapy
Stefano Mancuso, a founder of the Society for Plant Neurobiology, claims that even without neurons and a brain, plants can acquire, process, and integrate information to shape their behavior in a way that could be called intelligent. In his very popular and extremely interesting book, The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohllben discusses the way trees communicate among themselves. Merlin Sheldrake shows us how fungi and our relationships with them are changing our understanding of how life works in his fascinating Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures.
Maybe they can’t hear with ears, but I thank my cucumber plant each time I take its gifts. I do the same with my tomato plants. The basil, parsley, and chives, too. I heard awhile back that the reason to talk to your plants is to give them an extra dose of carbon dioxide from your out-breath. I’m sure that doesn’t hurt, but I do believe they understand me, on some other level.
Without getting overly sentimental, I respect my plants for doing what they do even bound in pots that probably cramp their rooty toes. When I sit quietly behind the forsythia and listen to the bees work in the tiny thyme flowers and notice contrasting scents and colors of marigold and tomato plants, I’m awed.
Science proves that feeling awe redirects our concern away from ourselves and toward the greater good.
https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2014-6-november-december/feature/science-awe. The feeling of awe is most often elicited by nature. That’s part of why it's restorative. Feeling awe is energizing and humbling. A feeling of grandeur mixed with insignificance. Wonder and understanding on a very deep level.
Sometimes you know something is true just because it’s True. The Truths of forest bathing, the sentiency of non-human life forms (including plants and fungi), and the Awesomeness of Nature now have science to help us to quantify them.
-—stay curious! (and hug a tree, literally!)