By Rachel Urich
Forest therapy, also called forest bathing, is the ancient meditation technique of slowing down, calming your mind, and “bathing” in the forest and the energy that surrounds you.
The Forest Preserves of Cook County is a perfect place to practice forest bathing techniques. Recently I tried them out myself as part of a forest therapy group walk and guided meditation led by Kim Ruffin in Thatcher Woods. During the walk, Kim showed the group techniques for how to slow down our minds and be present in the moment. As we tried several breathing techniques, we and always had the option to share my thoughts about our personal sensory experience.
While we all shared our thoughts, we spoke to the people around us and to the forest itself. At one point, I even found a tree to connect with. During the sharing, I realized that everyone has a unique sense of what nature means to them and why the outdoors are important.
The group had the opportunity to sit and relax in the Thatcher Woods field (or do yoga as some did) and to sketch on paper that Kim provided for us. It truly was a time to tap into our feelings and connect with the Earth on a higher level.
The closing tea ceremony brought this less-than-a-mile walk to a perfect close. Kim offered the first sip of tea to the Earth for being a participant for our forest bathing experience. She encouraged everyone to touch and smell the tea ingredients.
Within this welcoming environment, I realized a deeper connection with the nature around us. I found this outdoor experience to be refreshing and a wonderful way to start the work week.
I started the day by living my normal busy life, but the forest therapy session immediately calmed my racing heart. Although I had many thoughts going through my mind, as the hour passed by, those thoughts dissipated for a few moments and let me relax and take in the nature all around. I took in the surrounding nature through all of my five senses.
Even while walking to the car, I felt this sense of feeling lighter because my mind stopped racing and I stopped stressing about the week ahead. This was a refreshing way to start a busy week.
Forest therapy often caters mostly to adults, but anyone of any age can do it. There are many kinds of guided walks and forest bathing techniques for children and young adults, Kim said.
Forest bathing can also help those with PTSD, special needs, and those living in violence-prone communities clear their minds in times of stress.
The Forest Preserves of Cook County and the Forest Preserve Foundation hope to bring more forest bathing walks and guided meditations to the Preserves for more to experience.
Rachel Urich, a Forest Preserve Foundation 2018 summer intern, is a student at Lawrence University studying environmental studies.