Wasatch Forest Therapy, run by Utah County resident Lissa Kennedy, wants to help people slow down by experiencing forest bathing, because many Utahns love spending time outdoors, but often spend that time whizzing through the landscape.
Immerse yourself in nature with forest bathing
Once a month, Kennedy takes up to 10 people into the woods for three hours. She conducts what’s called a “forest bathing session,” which is simply spending time in nature.
Kennedy is a forest therapy guide certified through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy.
It’s the pace that sets forest bathing apart from hiking. “I’ve found that it’s hard and uncomfortable for people to go slowly. They want to move along. But my job is to slow them down,” Kennedy said. A forest bathing session thus takes connection with nature to a deeper level.
“It’s hard for people to really comprehend how different it is from hiking until they’re actually out on a walk,” Kennedy explains. “We’re moving very slowly, attempting to be in the present moment and actively using our senses to connect to the life around us.”
The benefits of forest bathing
People seem to know spending time in nature makes us feel better, but now there’s a body of developing research to explain why. The bulk of research surrounding forest bathing started in Japan in the 1980s; and now there are studies occurring all over the world.
One study showed that even fifteen minutes of forest bathing can provide benefits to the immune system. Evergreen trees emit phytoncides, which are chemical compounds that significantly elevate a certain type of white blood cell when inhaled. These white blood cells, also known as “natural killer cells,” are responsible for attacking tumors and cancerous growths.
Time in nature reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and normalizes blood pressure levels. Other positive benefits include alleviation of mood disorder symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Mindful awareness in nature also offers positive benefits such as increased creativity and empathy.
There is a guided meditation, sharing while gathered in a circle, and a series of invitations designed to help participants use their senses to connect more deeply with the natural environment. Every forest bathing session ends with a tea ceremony made with ingredients foraged along the way.
Participants on Kennedy’s walks say they haven’t experienced nature this way since they were children, and actually had no idea it was possible to fall so deeply into presence with the natural world.
“One time I was out with a group and we were moving slowly and quietly enough that we were able to observe a deer only 15 feet from us. It was amazing to be that close to a wild creature and share the experience with others. Another time we were in the middle of a guided meditation, and the very moment I invited everyone to direct their awareness to their sense of touch, the clouds opened and the sun beamed down and warmed our faces. It’s little moments like this during a forest bathing session that are so special,” Kennedy said.
Forest bathing sessions bring complete strangers together.
With the support of a guide in a forest environment, there’s a social healing that Kennedy calls “culture repair.” She explains it this way:
“There’s a deficiency of human connection in our digital, automated world. People show up with a desire to connect. Even those who don’t realize they’re hungry for social connection find that time with strangers in nature is nourishing. I’ve seen people transform on my walks. They’ll show up quite reserved and keeping to themselves. But by the end of our time together they open up, they’re hugging and exchanging contact information. It’s like we’ve been on a 10-day retreat together.”
The benefits of maintaining her own forest bathing practice have been substantial. “I’ve struggled with depression off and on. As I’ve deepened my practice over the years, I can see a significant shift in my own personal mental health. What I can say is that it works. It works. You are healthier and happier.”
To join an upcoming forest bathing session, visit Kennedy’s website, WasatchForestTherapy.com.