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  • Writer's pictureSteph Holmes

Japanese Forest Bathing

hiking forest trail

I think it will come as no surprise that I am inspired by nature, but it actually goes much deeper than that. Last year at this time I was walking in the woods nearly everyday. Working and living alone, I didn't know what else to do with myself as the pandemic continued to rage on and all of my grief threatened to spill over. Those walks gave me life -- a brief respite from the human world which was falling apart.

The term I often use to describe the thing I love to do is "hiking", but I think that's pretty inaccurate actually. It's only once-in-a-great-while that I'm charging up rocky mountainsides with the goal of sweating and feeling my muscles stretch. That sounds more like hiking to me. When I stumbled upon an article about Japanese Forest Bathing, I felt as if someone was describing my solo walks perfectly (and no it has nothing to do with nudity)!

Forest bathing is "not simply a walk in the woods, it is the conscious and contemplative practice of being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest. It was developed in Japan during the 1980s, and in 1982 Japan made this form of mobile meditation under the canopy of living forests a part of its national health program." (source)

How I forest bath is by wandering. Ideally, I arrive at a park or preserve with no plan of what trails I want to walk and no expectations. I just get myself there and follow my intuition. Sometimes I'm drawn like a magnet down a certain path and other times I find myself wandering around back and forth. I pay close attention to what I see and sense around me, but I also try my best not to look for anything too hard. What's going to catch my eye, my ears, my nose, and my attention if I remain open? When I'm inevitably drawn to something, I pause and observe.

Over the years I've followed dozens of woodpeckers who swoop from tree to tree above me as if they were showing me the way. I've accidentally wandered into a grove of fawns and a mama deer who just watched me calmly as I slowly backed my way back out. I've photographed a thousand tiny scenes with mushrooms, moss, little worms, spiderwebs strung with heavy dew drops, crusty lichen on ancient boulders, paw prints in snow, the kind of beauty that brings me so much hope.

Though it's not the goal, any photographs I take come back with me to my studio to be used as references for paintings. In fact, here's a sneak peek of my latest painting in the very early stages of creation. I'm heavily relying on reference photos for these mushrooms, though I'm also exaggerating their sizes and colors. It's inspired by my last mushroom hunting adventure with Karen and features almost all of the mushrooms we found that day. Stay tuned!

mushroom painting work in progress

Though I do understand that every person is so different, part of me knows that spending a bit of time in nature has got to be good for us all. Putting your feet in the soil and breathing in the smell of wet leaves just can't be bad. Though... perhaps I am preaching to the choir, so to speak.

Have you been forest bathing before? Have you had moments where you've experienced pure magic out in nature? Please share your stories, your photos, and your favorite places to be outside! I would love to hear and maybe add another destination to my bucket list.

I hope you are having a truly lovely day wherever you might be and that perhaps you can steal a moment to be outside.

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