While scores of people consider themselves nature lovers, the concept of forest bathing takes things a few steps further — until you become nature. Rooted in Japanese philosophy known as Shintoism, forest bathing attests no real separation exists between human beings and plants, animals, earth or sky.
“The concept is immersion,” says forest bathing expert Anne Markham Bailey, who has helped individuals, families and groups of all kinds appreciate this unique form of meditation.
The benefits of forest bathing, Bailey says, are undeniable. In one fascinating study, children from economically depressed areas were taken into the forest repeatedly and gained new perspectives and social skills from being in the wild. “The study found that, after structured time in nature, they were better able to problem solve and socialize,” she says.
Forest bathing reminds humans of similarities, rather than differences, shared with every tree, rock and cloud — and resonating with such similarities is a way to learn new things. “We can be informed in ways that aren’t intellectual,” Bailey notes. “This is how we learn to connect: we move out of the mental rut, endless chatter and negative self-talk as we move into our senses.”
While inner chatter might not cease during regular outdoor walks or jogs, forest bathing leaders such as Bailey can help you quiet your mind through what she calls “simple invitations.” Unlike with structured workouts, invitations are suggestions for soaking deeper into your surroundings.
On April 22, earth day, Bailey is leading a forest bathing session at Avondale Park, sponsored by the Friends of the park. She looks forward to building communities through forest bathing and introducing more of Birmingham to the power of nature with public and private programs.
“When we realize we’re all connected — not just as humans but to everything — the choices we make are different,” she says. “We view the world as a sacred place.”