How are you?” The common modern response to this daily question is alarming.“Tired.” “Busy.” “Stressed.”  Well. Of course we are. The environmental philosopher and early American advocate for the preservation of wilderness John Muir once said, “Wilderness is a necessity.” Few of us take that seriously. His simple directive to reverse the plague of modern-day stress and fatigue physical or emotional is often ignored.

But Japan and South Korea have been studying the benefits of wilderness therapy for decades, and practice what Muir preached. Their belief that humans can benefit from wilderness has led to what they term, Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”—to wash away the urban stress that accumulates on us like layers of patchy, dead skin.

Forests offer more than shade. Apparently, a 40-minute forest dip lowers cortisol, the human “flight and fight” hormone. In Japan, forest bathing is used as a form of preventative medicine. Scientists believe trees release organic phytochemical compounds which when picked up by humans relieve stress, improve immunity function and could possibly turn that frown upside down. We really do need to hug trees. Lucky for us, our mountain canyons are loaded with them. Wasatch Forest Therapy was founded by Lissa Kennedy, a certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide. She organizes public nature walks as a way to build connection and meet up with like-minded forest-loving folks. Her forest bathing sessions last for a few hours and unlike a typical canyon hike, you probably won’t break a sweat. This is a time to slow down and open up your senses.

Can’t make it there? Create a mini-forest bathing session for yourself. Visit an outdoor spot (a wild area or backyard will do), sit quietly and stay still so that birds and animals nearby can get past the initial alarm they feel with a human’s presence. Stay for 20 minutes, and practice two to three times a week.

Taking the Big Springs Hollow Trail, close to Provo, you follow Lissa’s lead. You match her pace and don’t walk past her on the trail. She asks you to stay silent while walking and encourages you to touch, stop, breathe deeply and smell your surroundings. She occasionally plays a soft melody with a wooden flute to call you back.  At one point we were partnered: one person acting as “photographer” while another was the “camera.” Once positioned by the photographer, the camera was told to re-open their eyes, and the resulting “shot” was both surprising and fun.

Returning home, cell reception returned along with all the hassles of regular life and its deadlines. Those didn’t disappear during my forest bathing session, but I left feeling better about my place on the planet. Making it a practice of getting back to nature may just bring us back—to a kinder, gentler and less jaded version of ourselves.Each forest therapy session ends with a tea ceremony. Lissa steeps indigenous fresh spruce needles infused with honey, and sets a tablecloth. The tea, warm and fragrant, was cupped in both hands tasted surprisingly light.

Wasatch Forest Therapy |
Lissa Kennedy | |

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