Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese art of forest bathing. The idea is to immerse yourself in nature using all of the senses; it’s a meditation in the woods and an opportunity to be present.
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Shinrin-yoku means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe recently offered the three-hour experience led by Felix Brosch, an Association of Nature & Forest Therapy certified guide. I drove to South Lake Tahoe with Tahoe Weekly Publisher Katherine Hill where we met Brosch at the High Meadow trailhead, which is part of the Tahoe Rim Trail. There a group of about 12 people gathered.
As we prepared for our journey into the forest, Brosch spoke about the art of forest bathing; it’s a practice that offers a sense of being, a sense of place and if you listen carefully, the forest has something to say — and in his experience, the forest speaks.
Brosch heard about shinrin-yoku 10 years ago and realized he’d been doing it naturally while growing up in the countryside of south Germany. His love of nature and the outdoors called him to the practice. Forest bathing starts with the “threshold of connection.”
As I walked along the trail into the forest, the earth was rich, and the woods felt alive. Beautiful rocks and crystals underfoot captured my attention. Brosch invited the group to experience the first invitation of the practice called the place of presence, which he said was “an invitation into the five senses, as well as imagination, wonder, heart, inner peace and mystery.”
We gathered in a circle. I closed my eyes exploring a sense of being – listening, feeling and smelling the surroundings. I could hear the wind moving through the trees, the sound of water off in the distance, the smell of wet leaves, earth and the pine. Brosch handed us a stone and as we passed it, each of us shared what we experienced after the exercise. Brosch spoke often of creating a space called the sense of being, which is an opportunity to be one with the forest in the moment.
Brosch led us off trail into a different section of the woods. The invitation he offered was to explore a sense of motion. What did we hear and see while walking? It was a walking meditation; we were to be mindful of all things around us. I became aware of the crunching of the branches underneath my feet, the humming of the bees in the flowering purple holly and the birds chirping above me. At the end of the exercise, the group again shared their experiences.
After a bit more walking, we were led to a clearing in the woods and were asked to pair off. We took turns leading our partner with his or her eyes closed to a location in the area that called to us. We then asked our partner to open his or her eyes to share what called to us. This was an opportunity to take a visual photo with our eyes.
We then proceeded toward the sound of the rushing water. Each participant went and sat by the water’s edge of Cold Creek and meditated on the sound. I dropped into the sound of water; for me it was a flowing meditation.
“I felt like the river was like a wolf and I let it devour me,” shared participant Mike Dahl.
Deeper into the woods we were instructed to find a rock or tree and connect with it, greet it like an old friend. I found a boulder in the sun, climbed up and laid on the huge rock surrounded by clusters of snow flowers beneath me. The warmth of the granite was truly like being with an old friend. I felt enveloped by the forest and relished my time alone with this friend.
Brosch sounded the call of the wolf to bring us back together and we met in a circle for a tea ceremony.
“This is like taking in the forest in our body,” he said.
He served tea foraged from the area, a brew of stinging nettle, pine and mint. Brosch offered the first cup of tea to the forest; he poured it onto the earth. He thanked the stewards of the earth. As he offered the tea to each of us, he reminded us to smell the tea, feel the cup in our hands, breathe in and feel the steam.
The group was led back to the car and each of us shared one word about our experience before departing back into the cacophony of our lives.
“Forest Bathing is about community. It’s a shared experience. When I go into nature, I find hope in humanity,” says Brosch. “When we immerse ourselves in something bigger, there are possibilities and opportunities.”
Besides leading private groups, Brosch offers forest-bathing experiences for local organizations. He will be leading a Community Workshop for Trails & Vistas on July 21, as well as an Art Hike on Sept. 8, both in Tahoe City. Lake Tahoe Community College will host another event on Oct. 6. Visit the Events Calendar at TheTahoeWeekly.com for other forest bathing events. | earthkraft.org, trailsandvistas.org, ltcc.asapconnected.com