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The Real Banff / Published: Sat, 10/17/2020 - 12:32

A First Timer's Guide to Forest Bathing

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Unlike many things these days, forest bathing is exactly what it sounds like - and refreshingly so.  

Immersing yourself in the sounds, sights and scents of the natural world is an experience you might think you’re familiar with. Ask an expert forest bather though, and they’ll likely tell you otherwise. Whether you’re new to the forest or a frequent wanderer of the woods, forest bathing will help you uncover powerful connections you’ve never explored before.  

Start on Solid Ground 

While you might expect forest bathing to offer medicine for the spirit, scientific research and time-tested customs also show the clear physical benefits. The roots of the practice run as deep as the forest itself. Researchers and practitioners in Japan gave it the name shinrin-yoku, which can be translated to “bathing in the forest atmosphere.”  

The essence of forest bathing is about bridging the gap that separates us from the natural world. Once you’ve crossed over that bridge, you can find what speaks to you most in the forest. For every forest bather, that will be something different – from the smell of pine needles to the sound of whispering leaves, the late-afternoon warmth of a sunny rock face or the crisp sincerity of frosty air.  

Find a Forest Therapist 

To help you see the forest for the trees (literally and figuratively), join a guide for your first forest bathing experience. They’ll orient you to the practice and help you switch off the many tracks that may be running through your mind.   

According to local guides Forest Fix, “the key to getting these benefits is to slow down and tune deeply into your senses.  It’s a third way of being in the forest which most people have not experienced.” 

To truly experience it, your forest therapist will help you understand that it’s not about doing something. In forest bathing, the sense of competitive conquest that underlies so many outdoor pursuits is pleasantly absent. This isn’t about tagging a summit, breaking a sweat or checking off your bucket list. Forest bathing asks for no accomplishment - it’s simply about being in nature.  

Tune Out to Tune In  

To perfect the art of forest bathing, you’ll need all sensory cylinders firing. This means turning off distractions that may draw you away from the woods, instead of towards them. The 6,600 square kilometres of wilderness in Banff National Park are a forest bather’s playground and a perfect place to begin. The untouched wilderness lies just outside the communities of Banff and Lake Louise but feels a world away.  

Leave your phone at home, and come prepared for the outdoors with cozy layers, water, bear spray and other essentials. These will put your mind and body at ease, so that you can let your soul soak up what you came for.  

Branch Out 

No matter the time of year, the forest offers a dynamic but restful place to recharge. As seasons change the aspens spread their leaves, the larches glow golden and the steady pines stand strong beneath their winter coats of snow. As the forest evolves, it has different secrets to tell – you just need to be listening.  

Winter Snowshoeing Bow Lake Noel Hendrickson

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