So, What Is Forest Bathing Anyway?

The Japanese practice offers serenity, which feels particularly relevant in these stressful times.

forest bathing

On walks at Garret Mountain, Gerti Schoen guides participants to be mindful of their surroundings. Photo by Erik Rank

Psychotherapist Gerti Schoen has always been interested in connecting people with nature. When she heard about forest bathing, she couldn’t help but take notice. The practice originated in the 1980s in Japan, where it is called shinrin-yoku. It involves no bathing, but rather, immersion in nature. 

“I know how much stress and anxiety is out there,” says Schoen, 55. “I wanted to find new and different ways to find peace and calm.” In 2018, after a nine-day course through Ottawa’s Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and a six-month trainee period, the Ridgewood resident became a certified forest-therapy guide—one of six in New Jersey. She leads guided walks, mostly at Garret Mountain Reservation in Paterson and the Glen Rock Arboretum.  

The two-hour walks cover just a short distance, during which Schoen invites participants to connect with nature on a deeper level. At a recent Garret Mountain walk, Schoen used the phrase “I notice” to steer the group. “The prompts made me more aware of my surroundings,” says Fernando Palma, 36, of Clifton. “I noticed the bright white of the clouds and the withered leaves that were old, but had character.” 

Heel-to-toe walking slows the pace. Standing in a circle with eyes closed helps participants pay closer attention to what they hear, smell and touch.

[RELATEDGet Into a Garden State of Mind at Willowwood Arboretum]

Sandy Pather, 54, on her third walk with Schoen, was impressed with a stream that flows along a dirt road at the county park. “Touching the water and listening to the gurgling was a sensory, meditative experience,” says Pather, also of Ridgewood. 

forest bathing

Even a stream becomes a sensory experience. Photo by Erik Rank

The fee per walk is $25, but free when the venue is a public area. The groups can include 5–12 participants, socially distant, with any level of fitness.  

Forest bathing “can be done in any outdoor space,” says Schoen, “but it’s especially uplifting when there’s a body of water nearby.” 

Schoen’s next scheduled walk is October 11; visit forestbathingnjny.com for information. Also upcoming is a November 6 walk with guide Richard Collins (thefriendlyterritory.com) at Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown.

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