Beautiful sunshine pouring through trees
May 2022 Carolyn Barber

Forest bathing

Embrace the moment and improve your mental and physical health.

Before the world shut down from the pandemic, I would relieve stress by going to the gym. After the lockdowns and mask mandates, I had no choice but to change my mindset and embrace the outdoors. I have lived in the city for most of my life and growing up we were told not to walk on the grass. Perhaps it was because my parents and my older sisters thought it was more bothersome to clean any dirt off our shoes, so it was just. We never went hiking or camping, but during an 8th grade overnight field trip to the Blue Hills while most kids had a regular-sized backpack, I had to carry a huge duffle bag. It was stuffed with two sets of clothing, blankets, and a ton of food. I shared a tent with friends whose parents did the same. They came with a big thermos filled with chicken for us to share. Little did we know that you weren't supposed to leave your trash outside the tent because that evening a raccoon came for a visit. As you can imagine, our screams woke up the entire campsite, and we had to separate for the rest of the evening. Those were good times. 

 

In my early 20s, my boyfriend at the time wanted to take me hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains to see the beautiful mountains, and the famous Old Man of the Mountain. He grew up hiking and camping every summer with his family. I never told him that I'd never gone hiking before. I was young and naive, and thought to myself, “how hard can this be?  Well, it was a gut-check. The trail we took was Tuckerman’s Ravine which is a 7.4-mile hike to the summit of Mount Washington where the weather can change rather quickly. I wore my regular sneakers, sweatpants tucked into my socks, layers of clothing and OFF to keep the mosquitoes and ticks away. Instead of appreciating the trees and plants surrounding me, I focused on not getting lost or eaten by an animal. We started later than we should have, so towards the end I was getting fatigued and irritable.  It took us about 5 1/2 hours to finish, and as soon as we saw our car, we started to hum the theme to Chariots of Fire and ran to the car. I’ve only been back once since. 


 

Image of trees while looking up in a forest
Peaceful image inside a forest

Twenty-five years later, I decided to give the great outdoors another try. I enjoyed it at my pace. The first time I heard the term ‘Forest Bathing’ was from my sister Faye when we were hiking the Blue-Sky ecological reserve in San Diego. It was then where I started to appreciate the benefits of Forest Bathing, also called tree bathing, earthing, or forest therapy.

 

It started in the 80s as a Japanese fitness trend called ‘Shinrin-yoku’ which means ‘forest bathing.’  It became a popular antidote for those who were getting burnt out from daily life and taught them to be one with nature. This mindful exercise helps you to embrace the moment and improve your mental and physical health. You use all your senses to take in nature. The best types of trees for forest bathing are evergreens because they emit phytoncides. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities, which help plants fight diseases. When people breathe in these chemicals, it helps boost the immune system by increasing the number of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK.  

 

These days I get my weekly dose of Forest Bathing walking through the New England trials. You don’t have to travel far, but if there are beautiful paths, reservoirs, or lakes surrounded by trees all it takes is fifteen minutes to decompress. Lay on the grass and look up into the sky through the trees, breathe deeply and forget about all the chaos in the world.

 

 

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