Shinrin-Yoku for the Soul

I just took a tree bath.

Yep, I totally meant to say that.

My morning started off with some harsh words and less than kind exchanges. Nothing too serious, just life getting the best of me. My soul was left aching, and I knew exactly what I needed to do.

I needed a walk in the woods.

I didn’t need it for the exercise (well, my lazy self could always use some exercise I guess), I just needed to be there. Surrounded by the beauty and life and oxygen-giving trees.

While sitting in the lobby of the dentist’s office, anxious about being poked and prodded all up in my mouth, I flipped through one of my favorite magazines and saw a quick insert about a place north of Atlanta where you can rent small, simple cabins in the woods. They referrenced the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which when translated, literally means “forest bathing”. A Japanese forestry expert coined the phrase many years ago, and it has since been a practice widely used and loved by their culture. You simply spend intentional quiet time surrounded by trees.

I didn’t need to read this article to know that I love being in the forest (ok, honestly, I love being on a well-maintained trail in a forest; I get a little freaked out about being lost or surprised by bugs and critters off-trail). I’ve always said I feel the most at peace, most inspired and most spiritually connected when I’m surrounded by nature. So of course when I hear terms like “forest bathing”, I geek out a little.

Some of my best memories and most peaceful moments are when I’ve been immersed in nothing but trees. We grew up going to a quiet cabin in the North Carolina mountains, and were even fortunate enough to purchase our own cabin last summer, nestled among miles and miles of trees. We love sitting on the deck, looking out at the long-range views of nothing but green, listening to leaves being rustled by the breeze or the dancing rain. My husband says he does his best thinking up there. It’s definitely good for the soul.

View from our cabin…ahhhhhhh

So this morning I headed out to one of my favorite trails. I let the rhythmic sound of my feet, pounding the damp ground, lull me into a state of peace. I smiled at the way the sun peeked through the leaves, leaving a golden glow among the darkened forest floor. I watched a black and blue velvet-winged butterfly float by, I passed a field of tall, bushy grass, alive and buzzing with a chorus of grasshoppers, I exchanged a curious glance with a pair of deer. Luckily I didn’t see a snake or get eaten by mosquitoes…I mean, not everything in nature is pleasant.

What I noticed the most on the walks, however, were the trees. I mean, their symbolism for life just amazes me. The way they endure so much. They live through heat waves and frost, too little rain or too much. They lose limbs in storms and become covered in vines or eaten by insects, and yet their root systems are usually so strong, their trunks so sturdy, they survive again and again. They grow and grow and grow some more, some for many more years than I will ever see. Even as I passed trees that had finally fallen or succumbed to death, I notice their ability to continue to give life. Plants were sprouting from within and moss covered the bark. Creatures found new homes in their safe shelter. The tree continued to give, even in death.

One of the trails at Cheatham Hill

I walk on and on, my soul filling up with every step. The trees guide me on. Acorns and branches and leaves are falling all around me, but I head on. I have to keep going. I realise that after a heavy storm, it’s not the best time to hike in the woods, but there’s so much beauty to notice, so much more good, that the benefit is worth the risk.

Life is like that…things are falling apart all around us. We are attacked from every angle, every day. But our roots are strong. We may be covered in fungus and loose some leaves and limbs here and there, but we endure. We are life-livers and life-givers.

Everyone struggles everyday with something. Even the people who seem like they aren’t (I’m looking at you Facebook and Instagram). We are all human and life is hard. Sometimes we search so desperately for something to take away the hurt, that we forget that right in front of us, all around us, God has put everything we need already here on this earth. I think we just forget to stop and notice. We strive, we search, we struggle…but we forget to just be still.

Truth.

So go hug a tree. Ok…just kidding. Kind-of. At least if you do, send me a picture because that will just make my day.

Do take the time to be still and notice. Slow down, breathe deep, go take a tree bath or two. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself one day, when no one is looking, giving those trees a quick thank-you hug.


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