As I sink into the green joy of forest bathing, I sense the spirits of the place rejoice.Dr Maggie B
This post is about connecting with nature and communing with the spirits of place for health and wellbeing. It’s also a travel plug for A.H. Reed, a park in Northland, New Zealand, that is a must-visit if you come to this part of the world.
Forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) emerged in Japan as an antidote to a life overfilled with technology – a way to reconnect and recharge. It’s about drinking in the forest atmosphere to support wellbeing – immersing yourself in the smells, sounds, images, feelings and other sensory delights of green.
I have only heard of the term forest bathing recently. I’ve been going into nature to feed my soul and commune with the spirits of place since I was a small child. I can attest that wandering among the living vibrancy of trees while immersed in bird and insect songs is a powerful tonic, whatever you choose to call it.
If you live in an urban or built-up suburban environment or work long hours inside, finding a way to connect to nature is critical to balance. It feeds your soul in a way that pizza and Netflix just can’t.
AH Reed is a stunning park close to Whangārei in New Zealand’s north. I find it incredibly rich in beneficial energies, particularly the locations closest to the two main rivers. Entering the park, you feel the atmosphere change and, depending on your route, you can feel recharged next to mysterious rivers, stunning waterfalls or tall, mighty native NZ trees. It’s a magical place filled with unseen, playful energies.
But not all of you can travel to New Zealand. Particularly in a global pandemic. You need to find your version of AH Reed. Somewhere with reasonably dense nature, ideally trees and some form of water. And what do you do when you get there?
So here’s what you do
Choose a location where you feel safe and makes you happy. Just because it’s a forest, bush or nature reserve of some sort doesn’t mean it will automatically rejuvenate you. Do some research, bring a friend, trust your intuition and go somewhere else if you get a bad feeling. Nobody wants to go forest bathing and end up the subject of a true-crime podcast.
Once there, before you enter the actual tree line, ask the spirits of the place if they can protect and support you while you are in their realm. Ask for healing, and in return, promise to send them light and love. If you get a good feeling after this request, proceed. If not, turn back and find another place. Seriously. There may be an excellent reason you are not meant to be there today.
As you cross the boundary onto the site, allow yourself to drop into your senses. What do you smell? Hear? Taste in the air? What takes your attention? Fills your eyes? Stimulates your soul? Let yourself safely wander the paths until you find a quiet spot that feels right, and let yourself ‘be’ with the place. Then, consciously allow your energies to align with the site’s energies (or the tree, or river etc.). that you are near.
Imagine you are breathing in the forest. As you take in a breath, hold it, then breathe out again. Do this regularly for a few minutes as you focus all your attention on your breath and the sensory experiences of the site. Avoid doing your Instagram selfie until after this experience feels complete.
When you are complete, you will know when. Hold your arms out wide and imagine you are sending love and good energy of whatever colour feels right back into the forest. If you are near other people and fear ridicule, discretely imagine energy running through your feet to the intertwined roots, lichens, fungi and branches around you. Always give back as a practice. Don’t just take.
On your way out, thank the spirits of the place for their protection, generosity, and kindness, and send a little love their way again. And when you get home, see if there is a way you can donate to that location. It could be via a local nature group that volunteers to work on trails (‘friends’ of that park), the forest service or a national nature organisation. That, for me, is a complete experience of forest bathing or connecting with nature for wellness – you feed your soul and feed the soul of the place in return.
For more about forest bathing, check out this article by Harriet Sherwood (8 June 2019) in The Guardian. To find out how to bring the sacredness of the spirit of place into your home, check out my posts on the spirit of place and altars. And if you want other ways to support your wellbeing and build a sense of place, take a look at my posts on making.
Have a great day – and say hi to the trees for me when you next take a bath.