The term forest bathing conjures up all sorts of images when you mention the words forest, bathing and Sonoma County, California in one sentence. Forest bathing in Sonoma County is about going for a slow walk in a forest. The term Shinrin-Yoku means forest medicine or the medicine of being in the forest, and originates from Japan. The Japanese have been proponents of forest bathing, with research and scientific literature touting the health benefits of spending time outside, under the branches of a healthy forest. The phrase “forest bathing” was new to me, but the concept of enjoying a walk in the woods was not.
Recharging our spiritual batteries in the forest
Like many of us, I tend to rush around, checking off my “to do” list as I go. Even exercise for my health and well being is scheduled in like clockwork. It’s important for us to find ways to re-charge our batteries after a long day at work.
I had the opportunity to visit Armstrong Woods in Guerneville, California with Deacon Carpenter a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist, Yoga Teacher & Wellbeing Entrepreneur from Well Sonoma. According to Carpenter, “when forest bathing, approach it with intention not purpose. Don’t worry about how many steps you’re going to take. Instead, cut your pace in half. Look up, not down and deepen your breath.”
He also suggested that you, “Don’t try to forest bathe, just do.” Carpenter compared being in nature to an art museum where you can touch, feel, see and smell, using almost all of your senses.
Being the “take charge” type, I asked Carpenter what our morning in the forest would look like. He said that we might do some meditation, journal writing and yoga. Meditation can come in many forms. Some like to sit with their eyes closed and focus on a mantra or their breath, where others prefer a walking meditation. His suggestion was that I don’t let the word meditation prevent me from experiencing the profound benefits of it. He also handed me a pocket-sized journal for me to record any of my random thoughts during our walk.
He touched on the notion that self-care comes from self-referral – the act of being able to listen to our bodies when they are running down. As we moved higher in the forest, to Bullfrog Pond, we noticed a thick blanket of smoke snaking over the ridgeline, headed in our direction. My “fight or flight” instinct kicked in as I was reminded of California Wine Country after the fire. We headed out of the woods and learned from the park ranger that this was smoke from Butte County’s Camp Fire.
Daily distraction in our lives
As a matter of convenience, we typically turn to pills & potions to help us feel better. Accordingly, many of us don’t know what it truly feels like to feel well. Forest bathing allows us to get back in touch with our bodies by slowing down and listening, rather than be distracted with all that’s going on in our lives.
“Forest bathing isn’t a new phenomenon,” according to Carpenter. “Most major cities in the world have a park or green space for residents to visit. Can you imagine New York City without Central Park? I think every New Yorker has taken a walk, run or bike ride through it to help keep their sanity. It certainly helped keep mine when I was living there.”
Ways to wellness
At Carpenter’s wellbeing (wellness) center, they have many points of entry as far as your health and healing are concerned. For many of their guests, yoga is the “gateway” modality for stress management. For others, it’s acupuncture or massage. They have cultivated a practice of therapists, physicians and health pioneers under one roof, where you may go for yoga and stay for a massage!
I had a fantastic 90 minute massage with Certified Massage Therapist Ryan Voigt at Well+Sonoma. Walking into his massage studio, I was struck by the quote written on a chalkboard sign, “your path to wellness starts with loving yourself.”
So if you are in need of slowing down and getting back in touch with your body, consider forest bathing in Sonoma County, followed by a yoga class and a massage. You can thank me later.
If You Go:
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve (707) 869-2015
17000 Armstrong Woods Road
Guerneville, California 95446
Well Sonoma (707) 542-9644
416 B Street Suite D
Santa Rosa, California 95401
Forest bathing in Sonoma County written by Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown. All photography and YouTube video by Nancy D. Brown.