It’s nice to know my recent long sitting on a bench in Marion’s Woods has a name. It’s called “forest bathing.” No soap needed. Just zoom in on the senses and forget about the rest of the world.
Thank you, Art Eberhart, one of my favorite people, for bringing me a Washington Post story about the Japanese practice of having the urge to sit in the forest. Not just hang out in the forest, but shun technology. Something we all need to do once in awhile. It’s called “sit spot” and I was right on the mark, obviously with some “forest bathing.”
Marion’s Woods was my church one Sunday and Pastor Deb would have understood. I had the urge to get away — well, five minutes from home — and regroup. I was free of deadlines, bills, health issues, finding a missing sock and hearing the cat coax for a treat.
A bench was my pew. Chickadee chatter and woodpecker tapping was the choir. A squirrel delivered the sermon in gibberish drawing curiosity.
The gorgeous woods on Calvary Lane and named for Art’s wife, Marion, had a glowing path that stretched into a golden tunnel. Farther and farther I walked under so many trees Daddy would have been able to name. Leaves of so many varieties crunched underneath. I thought of how many leaves there were carpeting those woods and probably like snowflakes — no two were alike. A breeze tickled some berry bushes. A few chipmunks played hide-and-seek with each other.
The Washington Post reported a dozen or so people signed up for the first-ever “Unplug and Recharge in Nature” day, organized by the Wilderness Awareness School on 40 acres of forest right outside of a high-tech corridor home to Microsoft and Amazon.com. Those who participated came to the woods to unload their information-jammed virtual world and replace it with the natural.
One worker said he was barraged by 10,000 e-mails daily. Another said he spends up to 18 hours straight online. They said technology has driven a wedge between them and those they love. The group was part of a growing movement called “forest bathing.”
Try it. I didn’t know I did.
Forest bathing started in Japan in the 1980s, where it’s called Shinrin-yoku. In the United States, it’s been building momentum. Studies find people spend as much as five to seven hours a day in front of a screen and check their smart phones several times an hour.
Some companies offer forest therapy and tout its benefits. It shows bathing in the natural world is associated with lower stress levels, boost natural killer cells in the immune system and improve mood, self-esteem, physical fitness, memory, attention and creativity. Some doctors are even prescribing time outside rather than pills.
In the story, Michele Martaus, 36, relies on email and her online scheduling for her vocal coaching business. She came to the woods to escape technology and said, “With the web, it’s all about what you know, so you always feel ‘less than.’ Out here, you recognize how small you are, but also how you’re an integral part of it all. With technology, you always have to have the answer. Here, it’s OK not to know. OK to wonder.”
I relaxed and breathed in the sweet smell of all those Marion’s Woods’ leaves. Then, it was a stunning silence.
I prayed in thanksgiving for having a wonderful, clean forest so close by that’s part of Acres Land Trust.
What an extraordinary gift.
Jennifer Decker is a Herald Republican reporter and Michigander who, despite spending most summers in childhood in the Upper Peninsula’s woods, still can’t get enough of what they hold. She can be reached at email@example.com.