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‘Forest bathing’ connects with nature for wellness and healing

By Staff | Sep 6, 2018

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Rev. Beth Jones, a certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide and workshop leader, guides the Christian Ladies Group in Tivoli on “forest bathing” outside the Tivoli United Methodist Church on August 15 as they become more aware of the different sensations touching skin and body.

TIVOLI – A journey into the deep green world could put forth restorative and healing powers according to master Beth Jones, a certified Nature and Forest Guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. Jones was invited to speak in mid August to the Christian Ladies Group at the Tivoli United Methodist Church. She presented a program on Shinrin-Yoku which means “forest bathing.” Rev. Jones also was former superintendent of the United Methodist Church in the Williamsport District and spoke on how interactions with nature can connect with God or a higher being. She spent 20 years as a Methodist pastor and now enjoys her career as a walking guide to introduce short (one half mile) hikes or slow walks in a natural setting.

This is a practice that was developed in Japan in the 1980’s to experience a deeper and spiritual renewal through nature. “This is emerging more now in the mainstream,” Jones said. Studies show more and more results on the health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, building the immune system, decreasing depression, and promoting healing. “Our entertainment is so lowered with technology,” she explained, “and people need to get back outdoors.”

Forest bathing came to the United States around 2010 and more people are coming together to “connect on a more personal level with nature.”

“Let’s experience the gifts that nature can give,” she added and her work provides a guided, slow time to wander with frequent pauses along the way. “This forces you to slow down.” Often this is difficult for many, to slow their pace and recognize the senses and experience the pleasantries of the trees and nature. “It is a sense of where you are in space and what’s calling to us. Nature pulls us in to quiet our souls and sense God or the Holy Spirit. Sometimes nature pulls us in a certain direction to experience something.”

Members who attended the program were able to walk outside and participate in a short, guided experience with nature all around. Some pointed out they could hear migrating geese, others heard songs of the birds, some heard the crickets singing while others listened to the moving and shifting waters of the stream amidst the collection of leaves and trees.

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Pastor Beth Jones points out the fractal patterns of a fern to Connie Richart during the forest bathing presentation. “These repetitive patterns can be a stress reducer and are plentiful when crossing nature,” she said.

“It is important to take the time and slow down and notice what is in motion,” advised Jones. Connie Richart said she could see tiny critters on the leaves, another participant noticed flower petals, never seen before. “We have neurons mirrored inside us,” Rev. Jones said. “It’s like a quickening inside us when this happenswe regain a sense of our natural being.”

She added, “When we notice what’s around us, we can mirror the pace.” All senses are experienced from smell, taste and sound through guided intuition. “I felt a contrast between the warm sun and the breeze,” said Marion McCormick.

“I noticed the relaxation of the sun,” noted Deb Steransky. “I noticed a change of smell when turning direction, and could smell the marigolds,” said Ruth Rode.

Forest bathing can be done just about anywhere, even one’s back yard. Shinrin-Yoku walks are an exercise of what’s in motion, and a full twenty minutes will complete three cycles to enter into that center of peacefulness according to Jones.

Listen to nature and follow the attractive sounds that provide an invitation to move into a certain direction. “Use your body radar to find a tree or part of nature that is calling to you. It can be a powerful moment, an experience of release. God uses nature to help us feel.”

Find a spot and sit for awhile and see what can be noticed for the first time. Jones related that she has observed much healing through this practice by bringing others into a more balanced state for healing to occur. Senses become fully alive for a “gentle, meditative approach.”

At the end of the presentation, Rev. Jones showed how to make some tea from something obtained from nature along the way. She usually brings some hand made pottery tea cups and hot water and participants will look for some hemlock or pine or wintergreen to make tea for everyone to enjoy the nutritional benefits of nature. Jones likes to do many of her guided walks at World’s End State Park but is available for any groups or individuals who would like to know more about nature. She said winter walks are “richly alive” and one of her favorites. “The woods can really be a safe place, comforting, welcoming and emotional for most,” she said.

Jones can be reached at bjones@susumc.org or deepgreenjourney.org or 570-578-2311.