Bathing in the forest

Slowing down in the peaceful atmosphere of the forest

The forest is a millennia-old place of power that welcomes us and allows us to find peace. That is why increasing numbers of people are spending time there to rejuvenate. “Forest bathing” is a term for taking a “bath” in the atmosphere of a forest.

After 100 metres, I am already completely out of breath. This is embarrassing because we are not running towards the edge of the forest. We are walking at a leisurely pace. And it is not far. The following excuses occur to me: it is a hot day. My rucksack is heavy. I am trying to talk at the same time. “I’m sorry, Nina,” I say. “Somehow, I have no stamina today.”

“Do you think it is because of your stamina?”, asks Nina gently and I can tell from her voice that she does not believe it. “Ines is going to do a few bathing exercises with you in the forest. You definitely had a stressful journey.” Normally, I am not too keen on people discreetly pointing out that I could be suffering from stress. It makes me feel somehow caught out, as if I do not really have my life under control. But Nina says it so nicely and sympathetically that it really does me good. It is true that I am pretty worn out.

The forest that to which we are heading has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011 – Hainich. Ines May is waiting for me in the ancient beech forest. She is a coach and is going to help me to immerse myself in the atmosphere of the forest today.

“You should change your perspective when you enter the forest,” says Ines. But how? “Simply turn around and walk backwards!” Oh, okay! From the edge of the forest, I can see a meadow with bushes in the glowing sunlight, the small gravel path on which we came here, a few fluttering butterflies and a fat bumblebee that buzzes as it crosses my path. Then it suddenly gets cool and dark. When I turn around again, I am standing in the middle of a green, almost magical hall, under high trees. The summer heat and the everyday noises have stayed outside. Instead, a bird is chirping loudly. “A blackcap,” says Ines. “It is welcoming you to the forest.” Ines generally starts by giving the participants in her course the task of looking for a peaceful spot between the ancient beech trees and staying there quietly for a while.

What is "forest bathing"?

Do you need a swimming costume?

“Forest bathing”, known as shinrin-yoku in Japan, is a term for taking a “bath” in the atmosphere of a forest. So not bathing in the traditional sense. In Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, shinrin yoku is already an integral part of the preventive health care. The peace of the forest ensures that the body releases much fewer stress hormones and the blood pressure falls. The plant fragrances that are released by trees, so-called terpenes, strengthen the human immune system – this has even been scientifically proven. The forest is a millennia-old place of power that welcomes us and allows us to find peace.

What do you hear when you are quiet in a forest and take some time for yourself? Is it just birds – or also other, spooky noises? Is doing nothing at all endurable? Ines is convinced that we find our centre more easily through contact with nature. “It is ultimately about occupying ourselves with the present, the here-and-now” – a classic mindfulness practice.

I am actually only here to write a report, but somehow I end up getting a couple of days of rejuvenation out of it: with Ines, we roam through the surrounding meadows, getting to know “weeds” and their wonderful modes of action. As her guests, we try stinging nettle seeds roasted in butter, courgette noodles, vegetable goulash, elderberry lemonade and rose salt. All home-made and an intense experience for the noise and the taste buds. And Nina accompanies us through the programme as a good angel.

I return to the forest again alone. At dusk. The last rays of sunlight cast long shadows over the soft forest floor. I lean against a hornbeam and enjoy the warm light on my face. This time, I made it here without getting short of breath. And instead of my thoughts going round in circles about my overloaded desk, my fear of failure and two children alone in the house, I am full of positive resolutions.

I would like to grow even more herbs in my garden, to start doing more sport and yoga again, and to finally take enough time for myself and my life. To be more open to life. To not always want to hold on to everything. The journey to get to this point was not really long. Just a couple of days of finding peace in the primeval beech forest in Hainich National Park.

Header Image: ©2021 Simona Pilolla 2/Shutterstock.

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