I took a walk in the woods yesterday. Not to count steps, calories burned, or even to puzzle out daily life problems. I took a walk in the woods to light up my heart and set my soul on fire. It was a cool, sunny spring day, the woods were birthing new green, and the scent of possibility was in the air (yes, that would include pollen).
There is nothing more healing than a solitary mindful meander through the woods on a day like this – as long as you pay attention. You know how you instantly feel better about everything when you enter the woods? Something seems to take hold of you and gently cleanse the unnecessary worries away? Some call it forest bathing or Shinrin Yoku, others a sort of walking meditation.
– Mary Oliver, How I go to the woods
“…when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.”
Forest bathing has been around for centuries – a practice long adhered to by the Japanese. Scientists have proven that there are microbes in the forest that reduce blood pressure, improve serotonin levels, and even create cancer-fighting cells in your body.
There is something about the woods, the forest – the lungs of the earth – that breathes new life into all of us. Hope, possibility, connection, energy, wisdom – just a few of the things that can be found while there, if only you pay attention.
Taking a mindful, sensory walk through the woods, a nearby park, or forest doesn’t require a trained guide or a handbook. It just needs you to commit to being there, being silent, slowing down, and allowing time to unfold. I turn off my phone and put it away, and prepare myself for my experience.
I start by setting my intention for my walk before I begin. What is it that I want? A clear mind? A stress-melt? A reset? I close my eyes, put my hand on my heart and breathe. It always comes to me.
Before entering the woods, I say a gratitude prayer to mother earth (you can say this prayer to God, whoever you want) and thank her for the bounty I am about to experience. I want to give back by being thankful, offering myself up as an ally and a protector. Someone who will give as well as take from what is offered.
As I walk through the woods slowly and purposefully, I turn my attention to really feeling the ground beneath my feet. With each step, there is a spark, a grounded feeling, and connection. Clearing my mind and focusing on that connection one step at a time. I do this for several minutes, maybe more – who knows, because the idea of time is beginning to slip away.
As I move deeper into the woods, I become aware of my breath. Breathing deeply, filling up my lungs with the vibrant living energy that surrounds me (and sometimes sneezing). What does it smell like? Is it sweet or earthy? Is the scent of water nearby? What is the temperature? As I move down the path – do these things change? Now I am really beginning to pay attention.
There is a magical light that happens in the woods – no matter the weather or season. There is a beauty to be found every single time. What is the light like? Looking up and around. Continuing on my path and recognizing the changes. What color is it? What memories are being called forward? What colors do I see – the sky, clouds, leaves, bark, flowers, soil, birds, moss – if I slow down I can see so much more – as if I am looking through a magnifying glass. Redwoods and dogwoods are blooming, new leaves in bright green, spring wildflowers, a brilliant red cardinal, and sometimes a yellow and black turtle emerging onto the path…
As I meander, I stop and put my hand on a majestic oak, the smooth beech, a small and delicate dogwood. I kneel down and press my hands onto the moss on the ground – feels like velvet. I wish I could just lay on top of it and dream a magical dream.
At this point, I usually stop and close my eyes. I am breathing deeply and am feeling grounded and connected to the land. I find a spot against a tree, on a log, or just standing. Sometimes it’s in a thick grove of trees, sometimes in a clearing to soak up the sun – just feeling into where is best.
If I wait and listen, the sound of life in the woods surrounds me in levels and dimensions I cannot describe. I start by hearing one bird, then two, three and then too many to count. I listen to insects buzzing. The wind in the treetops. Creatures are rustling on the woodland floor, crickets, frogs, and so much more. Even though there are human sounds – they seem to be drowned out by the chorus of the woods. I can feel my self being shrouded in the life of this place, protected by the earth’s magic, and healed by this incredible source of energy.
Back to reality
When I wrap up my meandering journey, I do so with much gratitude. I stop several times and take in the beauty of the place as if to imprint this in my memory. I am thankful for my time there. I am silent for a while after I return home, easing myself back into reality. I feel light, hopeful, inspired, connected.
When I am done, I have come back to myself and am ready for my day.
Learn more about forest bathing:
The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing – by Julia Plevin
The Joy of Forest Bathing: Reconnect With Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life – by Melanie Choukas-Bradley
Association of Nature and Forest Therapy