Thoreau said it best: “A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors.”
While we have strived to make the interior spaces of Lafayette Flats as beautiful and comfortable as possible, we are at our core, outdoor people. Most every weekend for us includes at least one walk in the woods, whether hunting mushrooms or searching for a new vista.
Sometimes we walk just to walk. There is just something about being in the forest that satisfies a yearning for something; something un-nameable, undefinable.
This yearning prompted us to join the West Virginia Master Naturalists program, which gave us even more reason to be outdoors –and the skills and knowledge to deepen our connection to nature. Now as we are finishing the course of study, we find ourselves being drawn even deeper by that same yearning. Still as unnamable and undefinable, but louder and more persistent.
But even if we can’t define it or name it, we do know where it leads us.
Glade Creek, Butcher’s Branch, Town Loop, Rend, Southside. These trails – and many others – soothe our souls and restore our minds.
We know we’re not alone. We’ve never met anyone that disagrees with the notion that being in nature is therapeutic. People feel better when they are outside.
Nowhere is this idea more accepted – and more practiced – than in Japan. The concept of “Shinrin-Yoku” means “taking in, in all of our senses, the forest atmosphere” (“Forest Bathing” for short). Led by a guide, forest bathers are invited to connect with nature through each of their senses; to experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the forest. This is not a hike, but an intentionally slow and contemplative walk in the woods.
Shinrin-Yoku has been part of Japan’s national public health strategy for the past decade. Japanese scientists have studied and documented the specific health benefits of Shinrin-Yoku, including:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep
Regular forest bathers also report:
- Deeper and clearer intuition
- Deepening of friendships
- Overall increase in sense of happiness
- Boosted problem-solving ability and creativity
The reason most often given to explain why Forest Bathing is so prevalent and accepted in Japan is because the country is so heavily forested (64% of the archipelago is covered with trees), and the Japanese people have always had a strong connection to the land.
Sound familiar? West Virginia is 77% forested. And who has a stronger connection to the land than West Virginians?
Forest Bathing is already spreading across America. A recent article in the Washington Post asserts that Forest Bathing is today where Yoga was 30 years ago; beginning to be recognized as an alternative to expensive health care and backed up by science and history. And West Virginia is uniquely situated for Forest Bathing.
The New River Gorge has many beautiful forests where people can practice Shinrin-Yoku, and the activity is the perfect complement to all the other outdoor activities for which the area is known. Forest Bathing is slow-paced and contemplative. It is great for visitors seeking an alternative to the high adventure activities, and a respite for the adrenaline junkies themselves.
Does the idea of Forest Bathing intrigue you? We (Amy and Shawn) will be guiding a free Forest Bathing Experience on Saturday, August 11, as part of Fayetteville’s “Wild Weekend” Nature Festival. We will also be offering guided Forest Bathing as an elective activity for our upcoming personal retreats this winter.
We invite you to join us in the forest and deepen your connection with nature.