Forest Bathing, Meditation, and Transcendentalism
Spending time in nature helps you feel rejuvenated, refreshed, and ready to tackle any challenge life throws at you.
Imagine this: you are walking peacefully up a mountain, through a forest, with the sun gently shining through the leaves of the tall trees and birds singing in the distance, when a rush of tranquility overcomes you. You are more committed to self-growth and feel reflective about your identity, behavior, and lifestyle. You feel rejuvenated, refreshed, and ready to tackle any challenge life throws at you.
Does anyone else experience this? If you do, you are not alone. Although it may be subconscious, spending time in nature does wonders for your health. Maybe that is why you hike, or maybe it is an added bonus. Let’s talk about how and why this tranquility happens and hope that we learn from it!
Forest bathing originated in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise to clear the mind and body. So what is forest bathing? It isn’t taking a bath in a forest—although that does sound rad. Forest bathing is simply being in a forest or surrounded by nature. Easy enough, right? We do that all the time! It is hearing the wind through the tree branches and smelling the pine or oak. In other words, forest bathing is allowing our senses to soak up everything the forest has to offer. We then bridge the gap between us and the natural world.
Today, we spend the majority of our lives indoors: in an office, a classroom, a car, etc. Thankfully, we don’t need to spend much time outside to get the health benefits. It only takes a matter of minutes to feel instantly relaxed, lower stress levels, and feel at peace.
Forest bathing can look different for different people. Other ways to forest bathe are aimlessly and slowly walking, sitting, laying, etc. There isn’t a goal in mind or a destination to get to. For us hikers, this doesn’t necessarily work. First off, don’t get lost. Second of all, just acknowledging and understanding what is happening is a great step to reap the benefits. Although I’m pretty sure anyone reading this already knows the magic of nature! Maybe slow down on your hike and take some more time to breathe deeply and truly enjoy what is around you.
The key is to use all of your senses to enjoy what is around you. Feel the sun on your skin, listen to the birds, smell the fresh air, hold a tree trunk, and for taste: eat some dirt. Just kidding, please don’t do that. Lie on the ground, taste the air in a deep breath, dip your toes into a stream and just enjoy.
Meditation and Transcendentalism
Forest bathing is a type of meditation. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, hiking is a great opportunity to self-reflect, clear the mind, and rejuvenate yourself before heading back into civilization. It’s a way to rid yourself of the endless burn-out that we all have and reconnect with the beauty around you.
If forest bathing doesn’t sit well, understand that meditation can look very different to everyone. Maybe while you hike you choose to listen to a guided meditation or music that soothes you. Perhaps taking deep breaths at the peak does the trick for you.
Forest bathing and other meditative practices in nature are not new concepts. They’ve been around since the time of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau (1820s and 1830s), when the transcendentalism movement flourished. This philosophy was a reaction to rationalism and inspired by romanticism. It focused on naturalism and rejected materialism and consumerism. Emerson and Thoreau constantly tried to remind society that nature helps humans connect spiritually to the rest of the world—but most importantly, connect to oneself.
You may believe it or not, but all you hikers have been a part of the transcendentalism movement simply by enjoying the outdoors! Transcendental followers acknowledge the sacredness of nature and that the natural world is not something that can be controlled or destroyed by humankind.
So go forest bathe or enjoy the natural beauty around you and allow the meditative calmness rush over you before your next work presentation or the stress of daily life comes rushing back into your mind. Take as much time as you need to de-stress and reflect.
Where to Forest Bathe
If you need some recommendations on some outright gorgeous spots to go forest bathing or to go meditate, here are my top choices:
- The Adirondack Mountain Range in New York is stunning year-round, but especially when the trees are full of green leaves. There are ample acres to roam around endlessly.
- The Redwood National Park in California is on the top of my list! The trees are epic, historical, and beautiful. If you listen closely, they have so much knowledge to share about the world.
- The Hawaiian rainforests are another great option. The terrain and weather will leave your senses going crazy. The heat, the rain, the smells, the sights—all truly beautiful and a wonderful place to look inward.
- The Tongass National Forest in Alaska is on my to-do list for good reason. Adventurers can enjoy the 16.5 million acres of forest filled with sitka spruce and cedar trees that are older than your great-great-great-grandparents.
- The Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming is a true sight to see and a perfect spot to forest bathe and hike around. Adventurers can enjoy the combination of large forests and vast meadows.
I personally love to hike, climb, camp, be outside, and have fun outdoors. After every trip I always feel more connected with myself and prepared to handle the daily stress my life consists of. Looking back, there was always this subconscious awareness of the meditative and healing benefits that nature offers.
So whether you are an avid hiker or just looking to lower your stress levels and engage with nature, forest bathing is something interesting to try out. My dream “forest bath” would be to go on an epic hike and at the peak, there would be a bathtub surrounded by tall redwoods or old pine trees. Nature can be very healing when we open our ears and hearts. Being available for all the magic the natural world has to offer is all you need to do.