Give Forest Bathing a Try!

Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Ice Age Trail Alliance, Forest Bathing, Shinrin-Yoku, Milwaukee River SEgment
Along the Milwaukee River Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Photo by Cameron Gillie.

The term “forest bathing” may bring up some odd images and a few questions, but in Japan, forest bathing, called “Shinrin-yoku” in Japanese, is a leisurely visit to a forest. Shinrin means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So Shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. The aim of forest bathing is to slow down and let ourselves become immersed in the natural environment around us.

“Humans have brains that are sensitive to social and emotional stress,” states Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. “Perhaps what matters is not the source of stress but the ability to recover from it. This is perhaps what we’ve lost by giving up our connection to the night skies, the bracing air, and the companionate chorus of birds.”

One of the best gifts we can give ourselves, when we are stressed out or want to wholeheartedly relax, is to tune into the sounds, smells, sights, textures, and tastes of the woods, prairies, and connecting routes along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. One of our main tasks as we hike is to go from point A to point B, so we might as well take our time to simply enjoy it!

Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, suggests that by opening our senses through the practice of Shinrin-yoku, we’re able to “bridge the gap between us and the natural world.” It’s a gap increasingly widened by the hectic pace of life and all of our electronic gadgets. However, we can unplug for a few hours and let nature’s soothing influence enter our ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet.

The Plover River Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Photo by Cameron Gillie.
The Plover River Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Photo by Cameron Gillie.

Engage Your Senses

Dr. Li offers these easy ways to unlock the power of a forest bathing experience:

  • Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees.
  • Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches.
  • Smell the fragrance of the woods; breathe in their natural, immune boosting aromatherapy.
  • Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths.
  • Feel the texture of bark as you place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream.

Relax as you lie on the ground; allow yourself to feel completely supported. Release a sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind.

Now, as Dr. Li says, “in your connection with nature you have crossed the bridge to happiness.”

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.

~John Muir, The Yosemite (1912), page 256.

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Forest Bathing, Shinrin-Yoku
Kids getting a happy dose of nature. Photo by Leah Bradley.

Forest Bathing for Kids!

Check out these engaging activity sheets created by Education Outfitters for our youngest Trail enthusiasts!