“Forest Bathing” Has New Meaning

Tuesday, May 12, 2020 | 08:35am

By Craig Owensby

When I first heard about “forest bathing,” I got it all wrong. I had a mental picture of an old claw-footed tub in a grove of tall cedars, lit by a beam of sunlight down through the treetops, steam rising off the water, bar of soap and a stack of fresh white towels on a stump nearby. But that’s not it at all, not even close.

Turns out, it’s a lot simpler. You just go out in the woods, be calm and quiet for a while, connect with nature, and you’re there. The “bathing” part applies because you are immersing yourself in nature, deliberately relaxing, and getting closer to the natural world. You can sit still, walk, climb a tree, whatever suits you, the point is just to get away from humanity, chill out for a while and bathe, you might say, in the forest atmosphere.

So, by that standard, it looks like a lot of us have been forest bathing for quite a few years without knowing it. Closest I’ve come to what I thought it was involved cleaning up behind the cabin at deer camp with a coffee can dipper and a bucket of hot water off the wood stove. It’s hard to relax much doing that in November and December temperatures, though, even if there’s no snow on the ground, so I’ll just say I’ve done all my forest bathing fully clothed and dry.

Forest bathing, or forest therapy as some call it, as an organized process appears to have started in Japan in the 1980s with a group of doctors and counselors who realized that the pressures of city life are not good for you and people need to get out in nature more often. We, of course, already knew that here in Tennessee. They just made it more formal and gave it a name.

There are plenty of directions online about how to make your forest experience an exercise in meditation, or mindfulness, or just mental and physical decompression. And if you really want to get into it, a week of classes, six months of supervised practice, and a pretty substantial check will get you certified as a “nature and forest therapy guide.”

Travel is optional – Japan has 62 “healing forests,” the national forest-therapy trainers’ association has group leaders all over the USA, Europe, and parts of Asia, and you can even forest-bathe online. Seems to me that would miss the whole point, but maybe it’ll do for a little while if you can’t get out to somewhere green.

I don’t see a need to go too far, though. My backyard creek bank in Davidson County works just fine once I tune out the traffic, and a couple of spots in Maury and Humphreys counties come to mind right after that. I’d bet that just about all of us know several places in Tennessee where we’ve enjoyed the simple peace and quiet of nature, and if you don’t, they’re not hard to find. The TWRA has plenty of wildlife areas to check out.

Call it what you want, bathing or therapy or shinrin-yoku, I’m just going to keep on doing it the way I’ve been doing it: getting outside, feeling the peace and tranquility of the natural environment, and leaving the bathtub at home.