In between the constant text message notifications, email pings, and social media updates, it’s hard ever disconnect from our tech-crazed reality. I routinely try to take small breaks from it all — a quick meditation, some in-office stretching, and even dabbling in happiness hacks — but sometimes those things aren’t enough. Sometimes you just need to get away and take a real break from the everyday electronic stressors that affect us all. Taking time to reconnect with ourselves occasionally is so necessary.
Stumbling into the great outdoors
In a search for the perfect way to do just that, I stumbled upon a thing called forest bathing. No, it’s not literally bathing in mud and pine needles, but rather turning off all your electronic devices and going into nature to both chill out and recharge. It started in the 1980s in Japan, where it’s called shinrin-yoku, and the idea is simple: You disconnect from modern technology and go into nature with the express interest to fully connect with it. You can forest bathe in your own backyard for ten minutes, or you can go into the woods and do it for a day. Or longer! The idea is to be very purposeful, thoughtful, and meditative with your time outdoors.
I knew I needed more than just a 10-minute pick-me-up, and decided to head to a nearby national park for a full day of forest bathing. When I go to a park, I normally go with friends and bring my phone to take pictures and am generally just there to frolic and play. The difference with forest bathing is that you do it alone (even if you’re in a group, you are quiet and reflective) and you don’t bring electronics that are turned on. You’re going to connect with yourself and nature, rather than with other people or technology.
I filled a backpack with snacks, lots of water, a small blanket, a map, and a journal. I told my husband about my exact plan and where I would be, and then drove to the park. I brought my phone but left it in the car. Since I’m not what you’d call a “nature person,” I picked a spot where I could be surrounded by trees, but not so far off the beaten pack that I’d potentially get lost and/or eaten by wolves.
As I hiked into the park, I took things very slowly—forest bathing is supposed to engage all of your senses. I took in deep breaths of the yummy pine-scented air, which was so different from the smog-filled oxygen I normally inhale. I touched the trees and plants and dirt—feeling the tactile goodness of nature while making sure to avoid any poisonous plants (that’s key)! I found a quiet, smooth spot and put down my blanket beside a huge Redwood.
I spread out under the tree, listening to a nearby babbling brook and the sounds of rustling leaves. Was it wind or a woodland creature? I didn’t care, as long as it wasn’t like a snake or a bobcat. After a momentary panic, I decided I would chill out and just go with it. I’m still alive, so it was clearly all okay. As far as taste—some forest bathers collect herbs to make tea, and others eat wild berries. Since I’m not an expert on any of that stuff, I steered clear.
Communing with the living world
After a while, I took out my journal and started writing whatever came into my head. At first, it was to-do lists and some work-related business, but that quickly gave way to other, broader topics, including what I wanted to accomplish in 2019, and my thoughts on various topics. It felt very freeing to journal without a purpose in a beautiful setting.
I stayed in my spot until the air got a little chillier, and dusk appeared to be coming. Then, I packed up my bag and headed out. I got to my car, climbed in, and took a deep breath. Normally, after a day away from my phone, I’d be incredibly anxious to check it, but weirdly, I didn’t even glance in its direction! Instead, I drove home in a kind-of bliss—feeling calm and thinking happy thoughts about the year ahead. And I didn’t think about work once! Miraculous!
Getting back to reality
As corny as it sounds, I felt recharged, reinvigorated, and ready to take on the future. I vowed to continue to take those shorter breaks during the year—a 5-10 minute daily meditation practice has legit changed my life—but also to take bigger retreats for my larger well-being. Maybe I’m a “nature person” now?! I’m OK with it—as long as I never have to go camping.