A Mystical Practice to Heal Ourselves and the Planet
Recall for a moment the last deep breath you took while surrounded by trees; how most likely you felt an incomparable boost of energy, and perhaps even an immediate sense of restoration. This act of consciously being in and with nature is what the millenary Japanese tradition of Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing entails: just being.
Mindful Feminism spoke to Julia Plevin, a woman who has made it her life’s purpose to expand the reach of this practice. She’s the founder of Forest Bathing Club and author of the recently published book “The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing.” Read below for an intriguing conversation on this powerful path to heal ourselves and the planet.
MF: How do you define forest bathing?
JP: I define forest bathing as an intentional practice of going to nature to heal. I see it as a mindfulness practice. Often when we go outside we hike, we’re with friends, we spend a lot of time moving through nature, but not actually slowing down, connecting, and being present. Forest bathing is about waking up to the present moment, awakening your senses, and getting out of your head and more into your animal body.
How did you personally connect with this practice?
I always loved being in nature, I never really thought that much about it. I just loved being outside. I’m an avid trail runner, surfer, climber all of that, but it wasn’t until I was living in New York City and going to design school that I realized the effect the lack of nature was having on my mental health. I began to have a lot of anxiety and stress. So I decided to do my graduate thesis on the mental health effects of being disconnected from nature. It began as an academic pursuit, and as I went deeper I started to see that my decades worth of chronic illness came from that disconnection –the work quickly became very personal. As a designer I was seeing the problem and thinking about solutions, I thought ‘How do we heal this? And the answer was always "reconnect with nature," which began a quest of giving meaning to that idea.
Who should practice forest bathing?
Everyone can benefit from it, especially people who live in cities, work in offices, and anyone who is going through a transition in life or dealing with a heartbreak, for example. Really, anyone who’s seeking a different way of understanding. This is a practice of reconnection to the source which is also of reconnection to your true nature.
Can people who live in cities with little to no nature embrace this practice?
Of course! You can do this anywhere, there’s no need to go deep into the forest. In fact, there’s research to show that just looking at photos of nature will make you feel better, so simple things like going to a park or enjoying any patch of earth you can stand on are valuable. It’s easy to cultivate a sense of wonder when you’re deep in a primary forest, but I believe you can do this practice and get the benefits in the middle of the city. You’re connected to the earth in anything that you do, so it’s a mindset shift as much as anything else.
What sparked the idea to begin the Forest Bathing Club?
I come at everything as a designer, and this was kind of an iteration on my graduate thesis. I started on Meet Up, because this was something I needed, and I wanted to know if anyone else needed or wanted it. It began as a sort of test, and from there people started to respond. Slowly the club has become an international organization of people who just feel this desire to reconnect with nature as a way to heal themselves, their communities, and the planet.
And why did you decide to write the book?
I actually didn’t decide to write the book. At some point, I just decided that this was the work I was here on the planet at this moment to do. This is my service and my reason for being, I know it’s the healing I need, the healing individuals and communities need, and also the healing that the earth needs. As I started to follow that purpose, things began to happen organically. So the book deal actually happened because the publishers reached out to me.
Why do you say this practice also helps heal the earth?
That’s a profound question. One way to understand it is that at this moment, many of us don’t have a relationship with the earth, so we don’t think about the way we use the planet, we take that for granted. When you actually have a relationship with it, and you come to love it, I believe you’ll want to naturally protect it. You defend the things that you love, so this is a practice of restoring relationships. It’s also a practice of coming to understand that you are the earth, so anything we do to the earth, we’re doing to ourselves. If we pollute the water, we pollute our bodies.
We often talk about environmental issues and climate change from a place that creates even more anxiety and stress, and that actually isn’t great because it makes us sick. Through forest bathing, as we heal ourselves, we’re also healing the earth because we’re all connected. Everything’s interconnected, and once you start to understand that, you embrace another level of consciousness.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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