“Forest bathing” is more than a walk in the woods

Spirit of the Bluegrass
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDKY)– On a cool October morning, four women headed into the woods of Louisville’s Jefferson Memorial Forest, a couple of them not sure what the were getting themselves into. Their guide told them they were going to take a bath.

“I wasn’t sure, but I asked her, ‘Do we need to get naked?'” said Cat Stevens of Louisville.

It’s not that kind of bath.

Jennifer Owens, a trained ecotherapist, leads sessions in a Japanese practice known as Shinrin-yoku,  which means “forest bathing.”

“The translation of forest bathing is being awakened to all your senses in the forest, literally taking a bath in the forest atmosphere with all your senses,” Owens told the participants.

She slowly shifts their attention from the sights around them, to the senses of smell, touch, sound and taste.

Forest bathing is not hiking.  It’s going slow and being still, finding a place to meditate and noticing things such as sparkles on the water or the art of a spider web.

Owens can cite studies that show how this practice lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. She admits some people think it’s crazy.

“Actually the people who say they don’t like nature and don’t want to talk to trees,  they’re the ones at the end of forest bathing who are lying on the ground (taking it all in),” she said. “It’s different things to different people.”

Participants sometimes stay quiet for the better part of an hour, before Owens breaks the silence and calls them back into the group with music from her flute.

Then, everyone shares a cup of tea and their thoughts on the experience.

Kara Whalin of Louisville said, “I thought it was awesome. It was just what I needed,  to just take a breath and reconnect because life if a little crazy right now.” She was moved to tears by the peacefulness of her surroundings.

 Stevens agreed, saying “it’s nice to turn off the noise around you.”

Owens knows she’s done her job if people aren’t in a hurry to leave the forest . After all, why would you take a quick rinse, when you can have a long soak?

Owens hopes to conduct forest bathing sessions all over the state and says it can be just as enjoyable in the winter as in the other seasons of the year. And she says you don’t have to go to a forest to have a similar connection with nature. She encourages people to try the practices in a park or their own backyard.

More information is online at forestbathingkentucky.com

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