Forest Bathing with Julia Plevin
Happy Solstice…. the turning point where the abundance of darkness in winter will begin to be balanced with longer, lighter exposure to the sun for me here in the northern hemisphere. Some regard it as the opening of the solar new year. Perhaps you celebrate the solstice with some nature-related ritual to mark this transition. We woke up to some grey skies after one of the heaviest rains recorded in the Pacific Northwest. I took a morning run and I ALSO felt compelled to drop this episode of my conversation with Julia Plevin, who is an eco-spiritual guide, author, and designer. We talk about the intricacies of the practice of forest bathing.
As the founder of the Forest Bathing Club, Julia has more than a decade of experience guiding individuals and groups of people into the forest, where the practice of shinrin-yoku helps calm the mind and create space for wellness and prosperity. This Japanese term literally translates into “forest bath” in English and signifies taking in the forest atmosphere. In North and South Korea, it’s called samrinyok. In China, the tradition is called senlinyu.
Through studies with Shamanic Reiki masters, Shugendo Buddhist monks, Mayan elders, Bhakti yogis, and Renewal rabbis, Julia has developed a unique program that both respects and transcends tradition and brings us back into direct connection with Source.
The Forest Bathing Club that she started in San Francisco has more than a thousand members from around the world. And she recently published her first book, The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing: Finding Calm, Creativity, and Connection in the Natural World.
I found my copy of this book in a Toluca, CA gift shop. My family and I were flying out of the LA area after a Spring Break vacation. After a magical and whirlwind trip to Joshua Tree National Park and Harry Potter land we had a pre-flight breakfast and we were biding our time walking around the neighborhood. We ducked into this gift shop, and there Julia’s book sitting on this little stick alter surrounded by moss – that’s how my memory remembers it anyway. It jumped out at me, and I needed some in-flight reading so I bought it and now here I am recording a conversation with her.
What is Forest Bathing you may ask? We are going to break it down. In our conversation I brazenly said “most people” know what it is. Maybe you don’t. That’s okay. The practices has and is actively being, and has been most extensively, studied in places like Japan.
While research has shown small and/or frequent does of nature exposure can alleviate some of the ills of living in an urban society - intention is what sets forest bathing apart. It can be done individually and with others. Leave your phone behind, walk silently, sit quietly, make an offering, hug a tree – these actions are all fair game in a forest bathing experience. Importantly, scientists have tested the blood, saliva, brain waves and surveyed the feelings of forest bathers. The studies specifically on this type of activity have shown it lower Natural Killer T cells, lowers cortisol, increase personal sense of well-being and much more. Some folks think it does this by exposing us to terpenes – namely alpha pinene and limonene – forest aerosols that float around the forest understory that we breathe in. May very well have to do with exposure to natural outdoor environments and beneficial bacteria in the soil and on leaf surfaces too, right. If you haven’t already, go back and listen to the first couple treehugger episodes where I talk with other guests about the positive health impacts of environmental exposure and cultural connections to nature.
Julia and I are fairly close geographically, but she joins me via Skype from her new homebase in the Siskiyous outside of Ashland, OR. In our conversation,
we discuss her book, her background in nature-centered design and the context for forest bathing practice in a busy culture
the mental health effects of being disconnected from nature
the difference between being outside and the intention of forest bathing practice
accepting nature where you find it and cultivating our sense of oneness and wonder
how forest bathing complements the wider environmental movement
where to find your nearest forest bathing club
how the practice aligns with restoration of ecosystems and culture
lastly, what does nature have to tell us if we take steps to listen
Join the club! You can find Julia at the website forestbathing.club and then connect with the Club on Instagram @forestbathingclub all one word.