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Forest bathing isn’t what it sounds like, but it can rejuvenate your body and mind

When the high tech, noisy world leaves you stressed, tired and uneasy, maybe it’s time to retreat to a world where trees are waiting to rejuvenate your body and mind. The practice of forest bathing isn’t complicated, but it might be just the antidote to modern life.

Forest bathing is not exactly what it sounds like. Jeanne Malmgren, a licensed professional counselor in Seneca, said the practice comes from several different cultures, including Norway, Germany and Korea, but particularly from a Japanese practice that started in 1982.

“It is the practice of intentionally spending unstructured time outside, ideally in a forest,” she said. “It’s not a hike or walking through to a destination. It’s spending time and opening up your senses to whatever the forest presents to you.”

It might involve deliberate interactions with nature, as well as finding a quiet forest spot to sit for 20 or 30 minutes.

Malmgren said forest bathing has physical, emotional and mental benefits.

“It can help balance and arouse the immune system,” she said. “It has a demonstrable effect on parasympathetic activity that helps bring us back to the status quo, to calm and balance.”

And the calm and mental clarity that come from this practice don’t end when you return to your car.

“A lot of interesting studies demonstrate that the benefits persist into daily life,” Malmgren said. “It’s a simple activity but it can affect us on so many different levels.”

Malmgren, in conjunction with a biologist, is planning to offer forest bathing workshops beginning in the spring. She said workshops can help participants use activities to connect to the natural world. Eventually, she hopes to offer overnight or weekend workshops in addition to the one-day programs.

“It’s different than the way most people experience the outdoors,” she said. “It usually is goal-oriented. The whole difference with forest bathing is to let go of preconceived ideas and see what the forest presents to us when we slow down and see how the environment impacts us.”

Compared to how most of us live – fully immersed in technology, with less and less contact with nature – forest bathing might challenge participants to see everything old as new again.

“Everything is so tied to machines or technology, we rarely take the time to say that we are just part of this living web,” Malmgren said.

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