By: Chris Drost
I have known about the ancient Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” for many years but it is not until recently that you could experience forest therapy with an accredited guide here in North Hastings.
The past couple of years has been rather stressful for most of us. That being the case, I was delighted to be offered an opportunity to take a Forest Therapy experience in the Monteagle Valley, just minutes north-east of Bancroft. Marilyn Zehr is just completing her training under the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy to lead these experiences. This organization has more than 2,000 trained guides, 15 trainers and 30 mentors in over 60 countries. It states “that it supports the well-being of people, and by connecting them with nature, inspires people to become advocates for healing our relationships with more than the human world.”
It is a well-known fact that spending time in the forest is good for you. A greater connection with the nature around you is beneficial to your physical, spiritual and mental health. That being said, I really didn’t know what to expect when I headed out for my first forest bathing adventure.
The twenty-minute drive from Bancroft took me through some beautiful countryside, a mix of thick forests, open fields and a small lake. As I drove up the long driveway off East Road Loop, I was pleasantly surprised to see a large clearing with an amazing view over the Monteagle Valley.
Myself and another participant, a friend, were warmly welcomed by Marilyn before we set out on our walk. It was a windy day, as so many have been lately, the bonus being that there were no mosquitos or deer flies. It was good the deer flies were absent as I had forgotten to bring along a hat. As anyone knows who has spent time outside during deer fly season, they like nothing more than biting the top of your head!
As we walked down a gently sloping meadow filled with wild paintbrush, Marilyn put us at ease right away. We spent time introducing ourselves and reflecting on our first recollection of trees in our life. Already, just standing in that meadow filled with wild flowers, I could feel the earlier tensions of the morning fade away.
As we entered the forest, Marilyn invited us to use all our senses to experience everything around us. We walked together for a short while and then went off individually to spend some time alone looking for signs of movement within the forest. Perched on a log, I could hear birds moving through the trees and could see signs where the recent storms had caused water to rush down the hillside.
We regrouped and then spent some time “getting to know” another being in the forest. It may sound a little unusual but the time I spent sitting under a very feathery birch tree helped me come to the realization that although I have lived in a forest for 26 years, I no longer reap the benefits of living there as I should. Too caught up in day-to-day life and work, I have stopped appreciating all the nature around me.
We listened to a spring trickling down the rocks to the creek below. We smelled the earthy aroma of the soil near the water and watched the clouds overhead rushing by the treetops in the wind. A small gray toad hopped along through a forest floor coated in decaying oak and maple leaves.
Before the end of our walk, which was probably only a kilometre in total, Marilyn gathered us together in front of a rock face that was covered in ancient green moss. There, as she served us some amazing balsam tea that she brewed there in the forest and along with some delicious and healthy snacks, we contemplated the age of those rocks and the forces that put them there.
Since this experience, I have resolved to make myself a new bench for my favourite part of the forest where I live, like the one I had when I first moved to North Hastings all those years ago. I plan to spend some time there regularly to help reconnect and appreciate what I have.
It seems like such a simple concept, but Marilyn has way of making you feel comfortable and opening your eyes to all the little things in nature around you. As one of the other participants said, when you pay more attention to everything around you in nature, you actually feel pretty small in the scheme of things.