2020 was a year with a lot of firsts for me:
First time quarantined
First time locked down
First time to wear a mask in public (other than Halloween)
First time to buy hand sanitizer in bulk
That’s just to name a few.
But there was one other first – and it happened on a Zoom meeting (which early in the pandemic was another first!) sponsored by the Missouri Dept of Conservation.
I learned about “forest bathing”.
It turned out that I was a pioneer in this new concept. It has been popular in the Ozarks for a long time, but people around here look at you funny if you call it forest bathing.
“Forest bathing” is defined as “being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest.” Not just taking a walk in the woods, which is another of my favorite things to do. It is deeper than that. It is taking time to breathe in the clean air, savor the smells around you. The goal is to relax, unwind, and soak up the beauty & serenity of the forest. Two hours is recommended, but not mandatory.
According to a study by the EPA, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors. I love being way below average in that stat.
Some studies have shown that “forest bathing” can lower your blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, and greatly improve your mood. The benefit of a good mood is not news. Proverbs 17:22 wisely noted a half a millennium before Christ was born that “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (New Living Translation).
An article I read in the Wall Street Journal by Betsy Morris even posed the question “Is two hours outdoors the new 10,000 steps?”
Maybe. Though I’d recommend both.
The goal is to reconnect with all five of your senses.
See the beautiful trees.
Smell the fresh air.
Hear the birds around you.
Taste is best experienced in the spring when delicious morel mushrooms pop up in obscure places.
Battered and fried morels are a delicacy in Cole County, Mo.
The sense of touch is often enhanced after you get back in the house after forest bathing and detect an itch in an obscure place. My wife and I are used to assisting each other in checking for ticks in places that are difficult to reach and even more difficult to see. Where we grew up in the Ozarks, checking your spouse for ticks was considered foreplay. We could readily identify with Brad Paisley’s hit song “I’d like to check you for ticks.”
But that’s another blog.
Word of advice: before you go forest bathing, douse yourself liberally with insect repellent.
Otherwise, “forest dining” might accompany your “forest bathing”– with you as the main course for pesky mosquitoes and ticks.
One soft-spoken, enterprising young guy named Duncan Murdoch has created a free “Forest Bathing Life” iPhone app. The basics are free. There is a charge if you would like to upgrade and hire Duncan as your virtual forest bathing guide.
I’d say urban dwellers might find a personal forest bathing guide attractive.
I guess my family is lucky.
Forest bathing just comes natural to us.
But I did love the line Duncan used on his “Forest Bathing Life” iPhone app:
“May the forest be with you!”