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Mindfulness in Nature: Forest Bathing in South Algonquin

You don’t have to go far from Toronto to enjoy forest bathing and mindfulness in Nature.


True solitude - time spent on your own in peaceful, quiet reflection - is one of the greatest experiences of all in South Algonquin.

In this article, expert guest bloggers Kari Krogh of EcoWisdom Nature Preserve, and Erin Morlock of Hay Lake Lodge explain step by step how to enjoy the beauty of slowing down to notice nature in South Algonquin.



Allow the Forest to Speak to You: Exploring the Joys of a Mindful Nature Connection


Are you busy?


Do you have time to read this or are you multitasking - trying to get work done while looking after the kids, your father, and the dog?


Are you on holiday but feeling a sense of urgency as you try to “fit in” all the fun? Do you ever wonder if you should slow down or how you might go about doing this? Or worse yet, have you ever found yourself in a moment of silence or rest and found it uncomfortable?


Can you pause long enough to consider: What does your body, mind and heart truly need in this moment?


What if I told you there was a way to take a rejuvenating ‘time-out” that can improve your physical and mental health dramatically and… that you can easily learn a set of practices that can be done for free to maintain these benefits, in any amount of time you choose!


No special diets or expensive gym memberships required. It’s called Forest Bathing, also known as Shinrin Yoku.


What is Forest Bathing?

Forest Bathing is a practice that originated in Japan that has gained popularity around the world. It involves slowing down, opening the senses, and noticing colours, gentle movements, textures, patterns, and soundscapes of the natural world.


Sounds simple right?


And yet it can be hard to slow down on our own.


This is where a guide comes in.


Having someone familiar with the science as well as effective practices to support mindful nature connection can be essential for moving into a state of deep calm. It is also great to have a shared experience with others in a group to build a sense of community and connection.


It's called Forest Bathing because of the invisible chemicals called phytoncides that are “showered” down upon us without us even realizing it when we walk among the trees.


Did you know that one study showed that spending a long weekend in nature can increase your Natural Killer Cells by 40% and that these improvements were maintained for weeks afterwards? These tiny NK cells fight off infection. Other studies have shown how these invisible gems in the air improve our mood!


Mindful Nature Science and Practice


EcoWisdom, a forest preserve in nearby Maynooth, provides virtual and onsite services that facilitate human connection to the natural world.


In collaboration with forest medicine researchers, the team found that their 2.5 hour mindful nature connection program significantly reduced pain (27%), fatigue (24%), depression/anxiety (32%), and memory/concentration problems (34%) among their participants.


These forest bathing programs were also found to increase social connection while reducing rumination – this is when we replay our worries in our heads over and over again. There are a growing number of international studies documenting how Shinrin Yoku lowers blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, and increases cancer fighting proteins. And the list goes on.


South Algonquin, known as Ontario’s hinterland – just beyond the bustle of the city – is an ideal location to try mindful nature connection practices like forest bathing.

We have groomed forest trails, pristine lakes, and gorgeous night skies jam packed with bright stars! We also have nature and forest therapy guides trained at the nearby EcoWisdom Forest Preserve who practice in our region.


Perhaps you’ll want to attend one of their programs hosted at Hay Lake Lodge or elsewhere in our community? Afterwards you can take what you have learned into Algonquin Park for an even richer and more memorable experience on your own!

We live in so many places where stepping outside for some fresh air to take a quiet walk surrounded by lush greenery, or sitting beside the lapping waves along a lakeshore is simply not possible in everyday life.


Do you live in one of these places? If so, I invite you to explore what you might experience during a mindful nature encounter moving along one of the trails or paddling on one of our lakes in South Algonquin. If you are curious to try out a few mindful nature connection practices yourself, here are some tips for practicing Shinrin Yoku to maintain physical, emotion, or creative wellbeing, and a sample self-guided forest bathing walk you can do on any of our local hiking trails.


How to Bathe in the Forest

Forest bathing isn’t difficult - anyone can do it!

Remember: It’s about slowing down to notice your surroundings with your senses.

Use the images and prompts below to imagine yourself walking along a pathway in a forest. Or if you are able, visit the Old Rail Trail in Whitney or Madawaska to enjoy the experience in real life. Here are some tips to get the most out of your experience:


How to start?

  • If you go into the forest, choose a safe place to walk, like a public trail or pathway. The Old Rail Trail is a fabulous place to start.

  • Be patient with yourself. Slowing down can be hard.

  • Walk slowly and notice the environment around you with your senses – sights, sounds, smells, and touch.

  • The key activities are: Pause. Breathe. Notice. Feel.

  • Absorb what is most pleasant in your surroundings – which will be unique to you!

  • Aim to spend at least 20 min at a time and a total of 2 hrs a week minimum engaged in mindful nature connection.

Pause

Walk slowly for a few moments, or choose a picture below to focus on.

There are many things to see! You can take time to look at them all so it doesn’t matter where you start.


Breathe


Take three slow breaths while gazing softly upon each image or at something in your surroundings, as you consider each question.

See what you are noticing externally and then internally, if this feels comfortable.


Red and green leaves on top of bright green moss.
How many shades of green are you noticing?



Upward view of the gnarly trunk of a cedar tree
Can you imagine reaching out to a tree, allowing her roots to ground you?

Upward view of a bright blue sky with white fluffy clouds through the trees
Can you breathe in the expanse of the sky and feel a sense of possibility?

Various kinds of moss and mushrooms with a fern mixed in, all growing in the forest
As you gaze softly upon this image, can you feel the temperature, texture, and comfort of moss?


view across the blue lake at the tree filled horizon on a calm  clear, misty morning.
Can you absorb the calm of your surroundings into your body?

Feel


As you move through the images, do you notice any feelings of release or relaxation in the body? Any enjoyable emotions or perhaps pleasant memories? If these arise, linger there!


Consider which of these practices you might take out on the trail… and afterwards, as you return to the parking lot, your car, and cabin, notice how you feel.


Can you carry the feeling of calm and comfort with you?


Mindful Nature at Night


A mindful nature connection can happen at night too!


South Algonquin’s dark night skies are brilliant with stars on clear nights. Away from urban lighting, the Milky Way rotates across the sky.


When you visit, notice the special magic of the moon as it changes over the month – waxing and waning - from the full moon that creates moon shadows among the trees to the darkness of the new moon.


You can sign up for a guided night-sky event, or simply take a blanket outside for a great family activity as you lay and watch for meteors, perhaps using a pair of binoculars to see the moon’s craters.


See if you can tap into a sense of awe as you consider the wonders of the universe. South Algonquin’s public beaches are a great place to stargaze – they have safe parking, bathrooms, and often the sky reflects on the water for an amazing experience.


Guided Programming

Are you ready to try a guided mindful nature connection program? If so, please join us!


About the Bloggers


Erin and Kari live in the Madawaska River watershed on the traditional home of the Madaoueskarini Algonquin First Nation, on unceded territory. The forests of this region are graced with maple, beech, white pine, and hemlock.


Erin Morlock, is an environmental educator and EcoWisdom-certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide. She has enjoyed decades living on the shores of Hay Lake along the eastern boundary of Algonquin Park. Watching the sunset from a kayak in summer and hearing the wind blow across the frozen lake in winter are some of her favourite things.


Kari Krogh, Ph.D. Psychology, is co-founder of EcoWisdom with environmental educator David Gordon, B.Ed. They live off-grid on hundreds of acres of forested land with wild-roaming moose, wolves, and pine martins. EcoWisdom offers virtual and in-person nature connection programs as well as nature & forest therapy guide training.

Photos by Kari Krogh


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