Many of us have had the experience of going into nature to “get away from it all.” Intuitively we have sought refuge in our green spaces for various reasons, such as rest, relaxation, stress relief, and personal reflection. We are guided instinctually to seek these spaces out; however, recent scientific evidence has shown that our nature connectedness supports and nourishes our mind, body, and spirit. One such article suggested that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and well-being.
In April 2022, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley announced the launch of the Healthy County Challenge – aimed at bringing County residents into parks, trails, nature areas, beaches, and other outdoor spaces to foster physical and mental wellness. As a nature center, we have been providing nature-based programs for nearly 50 years, and while we cannot quantify how nature has impacted our visitors, we know of its importance to our patrons. That is why in the past few years, we have introduced programs such as Operation Recon Nature (programs for veterans and their families) and SPARK! (programs for caregivers and care receivers who are experiencing cognitive decline). This spring, we will be adding guided forest bathing walks.
What is forest bathing? Forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) is a term that was first coined in 1982 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in Japan to attract more citizens into the forested areas of Japan. Forest bathing is a technique in which you “bathe” in the environment of the forest, using all your senses. What initially started as a clever marketing campaign was soon backed by science in showcasing the many health benefits of forest bathing, which include but are not exclusive to reducing the feelings of stress, reducing tension felt in the body, and reduction of blood pressure.
What can you expect during a guided forest bathing walk? As a certified forest bathing guide, I will use a variety of invitations that incorporate the senses. The practice intends to help you relax, decompress, slow down, center yourself and connect with the natural environment around you. Invitations are just that: invitations. You can accept them or decline them as feels best to you. Each session will be two hours long; moderate walking will be involved with no destination point in mind. Guided forest bathing opportunities will start in April and will be scheduled monthly
Brooke is a Park Naturalist at Wehr Nature Center and is certified as a forest bathing guide through the Nádúr Centre for Integrative Forest Therapy.
Book recommendations on the nature and healthy well-being connection are:
“The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative” by Florence Williams
“Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild” by Lucy Jones