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Forest Bathing at YMCA Camp Moody with Melanie Choukas-Bradley
There’s a simple pleasure in turning away from distractions, going outdoors, and devoting your full attention to all the sensations of the present moment. On Saturday, December 1, families gathered at YMCA Camp Moody to experience this immersion, known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, together.
Celebrated author and Certified Nature and Forest Therapy expert Melanie Choukas-Bradley guided us through the three major parts of forest bathing, which she outlines in her new book, The Joy of Forest Bathing: Reconnect With Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life.
The first step of forest bathing is a disengagement from your daily routine. As new arrivals to our group slowed, Melanie invited us to silence our devices and walk together to a clearing in the meadow. She struck a bell that rang a clear, crisp note signaling to adults and children alike that now was a time for quiet inner contemplation.
We held the silence for a comfortable moment and found ourselves naturally engaging in step two of forest bathing, which begins with breathing deeply and then connecting to nature through a series of quiet activities or invitations. Step two can be as brief as a few moments, or as long as an entire day.
As our breath deepened, we connected to our senses, which tuned into the natural landscape of Camp Moody. It was here that Melanie invited us to close our eyes and notice with quiet curiosity, everything our ears could hear. One child said with delight that she could hear the water flowing in the creek nearby. A man mentioned the faint rustling of leaves as the breeze gently blew.
As we opened our eyes, Melanie suggested that we imagine it was the very first time we were ever seeing. With this invitation in mind, I took in the leaves on a branch next to me. Each one shone its own hue of ochre or green-gold. The cool winter sunshine lit them from behind, outlining their delicate vein patterns.
Our party continued along the meadow and paid close attention to the things we noticed moving – a bird! the grass! us! - and we found ourselves at the bank of Onion Creek. With an invitation to pay attention to what our skin feels, we inspected pebbles and noticed whether they were warm or cool, sandy or smooth to the touch. Nestled in the rocks were the fossilized remains of sea creatures – a treasure of a find, everyone agreed.
The more time we spent bathing, the more natural it felt. When asked how we can encourage people of all ages to develop relationships with the trees and other natural surroundings every day, Melanie said that children need no prompting to connect with nature. They only need the freedom to engage and explore. “Their joy when they are splashing in Camp Moody’s Onion Creek or searching for fossils along its banks is contagious! Adults can take their cues to relax and playfully relate to nature from their children and grandchildren.” She also mentioned that teenagers are often drawn to nature because it provides relief from daily stress. “Forest bathing is a practice,” Melanie added, “and like any other practice, the more frequently you engage in it the easier and more natural-feeling it becomes.”
The third and final step of forest bathing is transitioning back to your daily life. Melanie likes to mark the conclusion of a forest bath with tea in the tradition of the shinrin-yoku practitioners of Japan. This tea can be steeped from local plants if you’re knowledgeable with identification. Maple sap is a fine alternative for any novice. The important thing is to create a bridge between your forest bathing experience and the everyday world to which you’re returning.
Melanie poured maple sap into little wooden cups, and our group enjoyed these gifts created by the forest. She asked us to think back to the hour or so we had spent together, and consider what we might bring from our experience with us when returning to daily life.
I decided that I would bring back with me the peace of knowing that at any time I wish and for however long I feel, I always have the ability to practice forest bathing. That’s the simple beauty of it. No expertise is required; only a quiet mind and open senses.
If you’d like to try forest bathing, you can do it the very next time you are at the park. Melanie suggests that you only “notice how the breeze feels on your face and the way it stirs the leaves around you; listen for the sounds of the wind and the birds; smell the earth and the plant life.” If your feet feel called in any particular direction, follow them.
Over time these actions create a habit that becomes as natural as the wild spaces that surround you.
To learn more about YMCA Camp Moody and opportunities to invest in a mission that invites all children to experience nature, click here!
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