What is Forest Bathing? with Duncan Murdoch
Originally posted January 2020.
Duncan Murdoch, a Certified Nature & Forest Therapy guide, has lead many Forest Bathing Walks at the Farm. We asked him a few questions about what the experience is like.
What is forest bathing?
Forest Bathing is a research-based practice for supporting healing and wellness through immersion in forests and other natural environments. The decades old practice originated in Japan and is known as shinrin-yoku, which literally translates to “taking in the forest.” or “forest bathing”. Studies have demonstrated a wide array of health benefits, especially in the cardiovascular and immune systems, and for stabilizing and improving mood and cognition. I build on those benefits and look beyond to what happens when people remember that we are a part of nature and are intrinsically connected to all other beings in fundamental ways.
Why would someone want to participate in forest bathing?
For some, it is an opportunity to “unplug” from their daily lives and the roles they play to enter a deeply familiar and fascinating space for us all- nature. Forest bathing offers a structured way to help deepen and develop a relationship of reciprocity with the natural world. In today’s daunting state of the climate, I see forest bathing as an actionable step towards healing.
You do this a lot. Is the experience different for you every time?
Even if I were to take the same walk at the same time every day with the same people over and over, each experience would be different. So yes, it is very different every time. The season, the time of day or night, the animals… Each moment is like none other.
Is there anything you particularly enjoy about doing forest bathing walks at Shelburne Farms?
Shelburne Farms is one of my favorite places to offer walks. I grew up in Shelburne, so the land has special meaning to me. Also, the extraordinary view of the lake and building a fire to gather around during the cold months are wonderful elements to have.
Are there aspects of forest bathing that people find more challenging? Most rewarding?
For some with especially active minds, it can be a challenge to slow down at first. This is a very simple practice that doesn’t require much problem solving or philosophizing and this runs contrary to how many people live their lives. This is a practice that requires… practice, some patience, and a certain degree of discipline to carve out time to do. When people “drop in” to a certain state of mind with nature — this is the most rewarding aspect of forest bathing.
What is one thing you’d like people to know about forest bathing?
It is a practice and can be a way of life if you allow it to be.
What changes do you observe in people once they’ve been on a forest bath?
Every single walk I have led, there is a very tangible turning point in the group as a whole during the walk. I feel and see it in people’s faces and in their demeanor. A certain lightness of being where gratitude and laughter flows with ease. Often times there is a revelation from people at the end of “Why don’t I do this more often?” And to that, I say, “You can, you can!”
What’s the most unusual or unique experience you’ve had while doing a forest bath?
With this practice, there is a clearly defined sequence of guided events that provides structure to the experience, while embracing the many opportunities for creativity and serendipity offered by the forest. I remember a moment during a full moon walk in Charlotte before the moon was out. I was off the side of the trail to allow the participants to walk by. And one by one they did. It was dark so I could just make out their upright shapes. I then witnessed the shape of a four legged animal saunter by me. It was actually a participant embodying a coyote so well that they appeared to be one in the same.
What can people expect if they register for a Forest Bathing Program at Shelburne Farms?
Expect to have time to be in nature. Expect that there will be times for solitude and times to speak to the group if you wish. Everything is modelled to accommodate your level of comfort so you will be free to participate at whatever level you wish. Expect to walk away with an experience to incorporate and reflect on. Also, expect to have either me or my colleague, Lisa Gwiazda as your forest therapy guide!