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Forest Bathing: Taking in the Vitality of Natural ...

Forest Bathing: Taking in the Vitality of Natural Spaces

While not literally what it sounds like, the act of bathing in a natural spring or brook in the forest has just as many benefits for one’s health, wellness and connection with nature as “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku as it is known in Japan where the technique was developed.  This particular techniques does not involve and actual bath or the shedding of clothes, which I’m sure will be appreciated by the local nature preserves in your area.

Abandoned Bathtub. Flickr. MNPhotos.

The Forest is a Conscious Being

The forest has been a source of healing, sustenance, and vitality for mankind since the dawn of time. Primordial forests were once the fortified walls of the earliest tribal peoples seeking shelter from the elements.  Although the forest has its own hidden dangers, early man was a part of this world and learned to adapt and survive according to its laws.  Some of the oldest and largest of living organisms, trees and fungi, claim the woodlands their domain.  The plants and wildlife of the forest are connected in a symbiotic relationship that at times can seem supernatural to the human observer.  Ancient trees seem to whisper to one another, their ancient languages carried on the wind, and the subterranean waters connecting them.

The trees and plants are able to communicate through means of complex interconnected networks of fungi and other organic compounds, through chemistry and electricity the forest is a collective entity made up of countless individual parts.  This network of communication is physical evidence of the unique type of consciousness that exists amongst these beings.  They are capable of acting as individuals, fully aware of their immediate environments and individual needs.  They are also able to extend their consciousness via their connection to the rest of the forest community, and direct their unique abilities to the greater benefit of the collective.

Young Maypops. Photography by Carey Ward.

This system of communication is a means of survival.  Individual plants and fungi are able to send out messages through various chemical and electrical impulses allowing them to warn others of impending danger.  They are able to warn one another of human and animal threats.  They also give one another advance warning during times of drought, disease and other traumas that threaten the community.  Through this network of communication the botanical entities of the forest biosphere help one another find resources such as water and nutrients, distributing these necessities to avoid too much competition.  Certain trees are able to send nutrients to others in need, and offer healing to parts of themselves that have been damaged.  On the other side of the coin there are those culling plants that are able to take the lives of those plants around them when it is necessary so that nutrients and precious resources are not depleted by overconsumption in any one area.

Over thousands of years of observation, experience, trial and error; mankind has learned through watching the interactions between the plant and animal kingdoms the benefits of a symbiotic relationship with the woodlands.  Ancient wisdom passed on from the plants themselves, via animal spirits made its way into the consciousness of humanity.  An infinite collection of folk lore, healing benefits, and spirit medicine has formed around the nucleus of the life force that connects mankind to the natural world and it is through this connection that we may continue to learn and grow in a mutually beneficial way.

Our Innate Connection with the Natural World

Anyone can tap in to their connection to the natural world regardless of their spiritual path.  We are all a part of nature, and can benefit from forming a stronger connection to the sacred qualities that exists with or without our awareness of them.  Pagans, naturists and the countless native land-centered traditions have held the spiritual and healing powers of the natural world in high esteem.  The sacred traditions of these peoples unfolding around their close relationship to the land on which they and their ancestors have lived and died.  Regular connection and communion with the natural world is the core component to all nature-based spiritual paths.

Photography by Carey Ward

As children, our adventures in the forest, gardens and other natural places are what first sparked our interest and enchantment with the natural world.  Whether we consciously realized it or not, these early spiritual experiences of immersing ourselves within nature was healing and strengthening us on a deeper level, nourishing our souls.  Many of us continue to return to these places seeking to understand their secrets.  There is something deeply spiritual about allowing oneself to simply exist as part of the natural world, observing the tides of its endless cycles.

As the seasons change the forest changes and so do we.  There are many lessons that may be learned by observing these cycles and they repeat themselves over longer periods of time.  As with any meditative or devotional practice, the act of immersing oneself in the natural world has many benefits on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.  While many of us already practice this and have done so intuitively with great success certain techniques have been collected to consciously enhance these effects and achieve greater healing and empowerment.

Taking in the Forest Atmosphere

This is the idea behind the concept of forest bathing, which was developed into a cohesive system in Japan during the late 1980s.  In its country of origin this concept is called shinrin-yoku, which simply means “taking in the forest atmosphere.”  This is a teachable practice of simple yet effective techniques that help facilitate the already existent healing properties of the natural world.  According to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs,

 “Forest therapy helps us remember our place in a kin-centric network of relationships with all beings.”

Photography by Carey Ward

Forest guides are individuals that are trained in the Eight Steps of Beginning Forest Therapy, which include learning how to facilitate forest walks, moving meditations and quiet contemplation amongst a diverse natural environment.  These individuals are able to teach others the benefits of immersing oneself in the sensory experience of the natural world.  It is all about facilitating a deeper connection with the natural world and the many benefits gained by such a connection.  Through observation, tactile experience and learning the concepts of reciprocity, individuals are able to develop their own practices, including leaving behind simple offerings as a way of showing thanks for the healing experiences that are received.  While not part of any specific religious or spiritual practice, the act of entering into a mutually beneficial relationship with the natural world will feel familiar to those who already have a developed nature based practice.

References and further reading:

Clifford, M. Amos. Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Powers of Nature. 

Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides & Programs. www.natureandforesttherapy.org

www.shinrin-yoku.org/

 

 

 

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Coby Michael Ward
,
I am a practitioner of traditional witchcraft, proud armchair occultist, and cultivar of baneful herbs. I have a passion for potion-making and arcane artifacts. I love researching and writing about the history of magic, occult philosophy, and the Pagan practices of Germanic/Norse traditions and the British Isles. As a writer, I have been working for about two years, and have taught workshops on esoteric herbalism, witches’ flying ointments, and the Poison Path. I recently self-published a zine-like booklet called “The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide” a collection of baneful plant lore and witchcraft. I have been growing a Witch’s Garden for about six years consisting of various plants commonly associated with witches and sorcery. I have been studying magic and the occult for a number of years. I later decided to go to school for religious studies, which helped me with my writing. Arizona State University is where I studied religion with an emphasis on religious text and ritual. I became interested in poisonous plants and traditional European witchcraft via my studies of American Folk Magic and African American Hoodoo, which introduced me to the grimoire tradition and eventually Sabbatic Witchcraft. In my writing I look to draw new connections between ancient mythology, symbolism, astrological correspondence and traditional witchcraft practices like spirit work, herb craft and soul flight.
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Coby Michael Ward
,
I am a practitioner of traditional witchcraft, proud armchair occultist, and cultivar of baneful herbs. I have a passion for potion-making and arcane artifacts. I love researching and writing about the history of magic, occult philosophy, and the Pagan practices of Germanic/Norse traditions and the British Isles. As a writer, I have been working for about two years, and have taught workshops on esoteric herbalism, witches’ flying ointments, and the Poison Path. I recently self-published a zine-like booklet called “The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide” a collection of baneful plant lore and witchcraft. I have been growing a Witch’s Garden for about six years consisting of various plants commonly associated with witches and sorcery. I have been studying magic and the occult for a number of years. I later decided to go to school for religious studies, which helped me with my writing. Arizona State University is where I studied religion with an emphasis on religious text and ritual. I became interested in poisonous plants and traditional European witchcraft via my studies of American Folk Magic and African American Hoodoo, which introduced me to the grimoire tradition and eventually Sabbatic Witchcraft. In my writing I look to draw new connections between ancient mythology, symbolism, astrological correspondence and traditional witchcraft practices like spirit work, herb craft and soul flight.

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