Forest Bathing, Shinrin-yoku

I was busy this morning, totally engrossed in a project that needed my undivided attention. But Cisco begged to object.

At first, it was just a gentle reminder: eyebrow raised, gentle nudging with his nozzle, easy to ignore. “Not now, Cisco. Later.” He drooped to the floor with a barely audible sigh, but there was no ignoring his disapproval, and within a few minutes he is bringing me for my boots and snow pants. Like it or not, Cisco knew it was time to take me for a walk in the forest.



And just as I did yesterday, and have done most days for the past 18 years with the different dogs that have passed through my life, I’ll do it again tomorrow because it’s a new experience every time.

Today, light dry snow gently settled over everything, including the smallest strand of wild grass. With no wind to disturb it, the forest felt still, quiet and protected. The sky was saturated with an endless cloud that hid the sun, and slowly released its flakes. Only the soft glow piercing the haze reassured me that the sun will one day return.

The forest finds a way to offer a brand-new spectacle every day. But there are days I remember more than others, days where I have seen my forest in a way that I know I will never see it again. Like that April-full day, years ago, where it had snowed heavily the night before and the thick white blanket was glistening in a glorious spring sun, melting at such a rate that I wondered if my dog and I might get stranded on a temporary island. The tree branches, heavy with thick wet snow, where bending across the path. My dog was covered in snowballs that stuck to his fur and slowed him down. I’ll never forget that day.

I was reminded of that day a few weeks ago, when I was listening to a podcast called Revisionist History  The speaker said that for a memory to incrust itself in your mind, there must be a strong emotional experience associated with it, and it struck me than that most of my vivid and longest lasting memories are linked to nature. (Sorry boys, it’s not always about you!) In fact my first memory is of a rock cliff that stood at the end of our backyard in Arvida, Quebec when I was a toddler.

The Japanese have a name for that experience . Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere, or forest bathing. And, since the 1980s, forest bathing has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers, primarily in Japan and South Korea, have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest:

  • Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus, even for children with ADHD
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep

Just as impressive are the results that we are experiencing as we make this part of our regular practice:

  • Deeper and clearer intuition
  • Increased flow of energy
  • Increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species
  • Increased flow of eros/life force
  • Deepening of friendships
  • Overall increase in a sense of happiness.

For me, all those benefits happen without my noticing. What I do pay attention to, however, is the impact on my creative and visual world. My work has always taken its source in nature, first literally, when I painted landscapes, and then abstractly as I became more interested in expressing the emotional relationship we have with nature. I suspect my forest will keep nourishing my artistic endeavours for years to come. If not this forest, then another one; either way, I will try my best to keep it close to me because I need it, and because Cisco loves it.

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