Early Autumn Forest Bath

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October in the woods in SW Michigan, just minutes from my Three Oaks home…

Moving from the heated expansiveness of summer, a refreshing and introspective autumnal forest calls.  Come walk and linger, enjoy scents and colors, experiencing the restoration and inspiration of the trees, plants, and earth.  The shadows are long and the days shorter, heightening our pleasure of the moment.  Falling leaves reveal the skeleton of a tree.  Scent of decaying leaves is both dank and sweet, a curious embrace.

I imagine most of us woodsy fans are aware of the Forest Bath movement, Shinrin-yuko.  (I rambled about Forest Bathing previously in a wintry blog – Winter Forest Bath). In Japan, formal studies are conducted regarding the health benefits of spending time in nature.  A recent study explores the immune strengthening abilities of essential oils from trees and plant life.  ‘Scuse me while I dab on some Hinoki Oil…

Most beguiling is the personal creativity that awakes in a Forest Bath.  If we step into the woods with senses open we begin to feel very deeply.  We let the forest in –  into us, our psyche – and we experience profound pleasure and the rarified activity, play.

Yeah, it sounds “woo-woo.”  Well, it is “woo-woo.”  Let’s just lighten up go with it.

Here’s some sensory forest bath games to explore.

Scent

Find a scent and breathe it in.  Close your eyes.  How does it make you feel?  Where do you feel it in your body.  Open your eyes and follow the scent until you discover another. Repeat.

Pine, I feel in the head,  throat, and heart.   I walk through the woods tracking pine until I discover a fungal-mushroom scent.  This I feel much lower in my body, it is heavy and rich.  Something about the mushroom seems mischievous to me…  Colors seem brighter after the scent of mushroom.

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Vision

Let yourself gaze at something until your eyes go in and out of focus.  Explore trying not to focus on anything!  Find some lovely objects and make a design with them.

I feel connected to my inner child when I do this.

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Hear

Sit in silence.  Close your eyes.  What do you hear?  Repeat, this time with a smile.

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Touch

Here’s a favorite.  Find a tree.  Go ahead and rest your hand on it.  Feel.  Move your hand away, slowly, and see what you feel now.  Ok, umm. Just wow!  Next, silently introduce yourself to this tree.  “Well, hello there, Tree.  I’m Doreen.  It’s so nice to be in your company.”  See what happens…

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Have Fun!

Go ahead and revel and twirl!  Don’t be perfect!  Be wild and wonderful!  Be present!  Be you in the deep, deep woods of autumn!

An Invitation

If you are interested in exploring forest bathing, yoga, and mindfulness in a cozy group setting  you will want to know about this fantastic retreat offered by Inseus at their retreat center in Harbor Country, Michigan. “An Invitation to Be.”  October 11-14, 2018.  Experience meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture, Soulcollage, and a Forest Bath experience (led by me!).  Hope you will join us!

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Winter Forest Bath

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My favorite forest primeval, Warren Woods State Park, lies sleeping under a blanket of snow and the spell of winter. I am out in the woods, practicing winter Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” – a nature inspired body-mind spiritual practice. By experiencing the winter forest in a liminal meditation state, through my senses, and without agenda, I’m connecting with nature and practicing meditation in motion.

The simple and dreamy practice of Shinrin-yoku comes from Japan and is encouraged by the Japanese government as a way to decrease stress, elevate mood, strengthen the immune system, and improve quality of life since 1982.

I walk slowly and use my senses. Or come back to my senses! For this experience I’m not trying to identify plants or birds. I’m not counting my steps or trying to work up a sweat. I’m just being, in the forest, in winter.

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With the absence of the leaves and plants, sounds are clearer, yet at the same time the snow mutes. Rasps and groans from the trees cut through the crisp air. The chatter of birds, woodpeckers rapping, an occasional soft thump of a heavy snow dropping from a tree limb. The curious sound of my feet in the snow makes me laugh out loud.

The landscape is awash in an endless array of subtly magnificent shades of cobalt, grey, browns, and white. A solitary snowflake sparkles like a faerie kiss on the snow – white, blue, or gold.

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I pause and feel the snowflakes land gently on my face; I follow a single snowflake on its path fluttering down. In the air lies a hint of the scent of fresh linen (washed in unscented soap, please). In the winter forest there is scent, but at the same time, no scent. The scent of snow is almost more of ‘scentsation.’ I open to the idea of feeling the scentless scent.

 

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Eventually a chill creeps in. I wish I had brought a thermos of tea. I could have stayed longer! Next time. For now I return to my car, my spirit cleansed and bright.

Maybe I’ll head over to a local beach community, now pleasantly sleepy with winter,  Union Pier.  I can warm up with a sandwich at Milda’s or a soup and vegan pastry at Black Current Bakehouse. Life really is good.

Interested in a talking a winter forest bath of your own? Here are some ideas to try:

  • Walk as slowly as you can while still keeping warm.
  • Fix your gaze on a single snowflake and notice how amazing it is!
  • Stop and listen. What do you hear?
  • Lean your back against a tree, feeling it sway (or not) and look up at the bare branches in contrast to the sky beyond.
  • Place your mittened hand on your heart. How do you feel?

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For more info about Shrinin-yoku go to http://www.Shinrin-yoku.org or check out the book The Little Handbook of Shinrin-yoku by M. Amos Clifford.

Warren Woods is located in Harbor Country Michigan.  A few miles from my sweet home in the magical village of Three Oaks.

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