I recently read about a form of eco-therapy practiced in Japan called Shinrin Yoku.
Literally, this Japanese name describes the ritual of “taking in the forest atmosphere”. The passage of a few serene hours in the woods has been found to be stress reducing and soothing. Simply referred to as forest bathing, it is a conscious deceleration of life with a focus on nature. There are currently 44 accredited Shrinin Yoku forests in Japan.
Hm-mmm. This makes perfect sense to me since I grew up in a rural setting in upstate New York. Nature was my best playmate.
A small grove of sumac trees, a natural corner border on the outer limits of our property, was a favorite childhood play spot. My sisters and I lugged folding canvas stools, a small table and some dishes from our playhouse, The Barn, to this spot for an outdoor living experience.
For lunch, we smashed red currants from a nearby bush into jam and spread the gooey paste on to cracked pieces of Ritz crackers for our sandwiches. A handful of small, imperfect apples from the two trees at the other side of the property were crushed between large stones, producing our beverage. Juicy blackberries were picked for a sweet dessert.
The soft moss and dark soil kept us cool and the thick canopy of leaves protected us from the hot summer sun. I guess you could say that I figured out how to forest bathe at a very young age.
But as I grew older, and my stress level increased, I also need a water whisper to enhance the therapy. After all, my life started in a liquid setting, and maybe I was drawn back to this serene beginning. Or perhaps I was a mermaid in a former life. Nevertheless, I am drawn to water.
The ocean is a great place for me. I love the smell of unknown sea life mixed with the salty spray of the surf. The continuous rhythm of the pounding waves is the accompanying percussion to my water whisper on my long walks. Seagulls sometimes follow me, but they usually part as I rapidly pad on the wet sand to reinvigorate my soul.
A big lake will also do. Shallow at the shoreline, the water is clear and warm. Its whisper is quiet. Further out, I can feel the liquid temperature cool as I float with my face down.
Below, rocks are magnified on the sandy bottom and look like ancient ruins. Their surfaces are softened by a thin, green film and their edges are rounded by the constant massage of the natural undulations. An occasional brush on my leg by a small perch lets me know I am not alone. I don’t fear its small body, we can share the lake. But I do not feel as generous when I see a water snake crossing my path. Its tiny head looks like a miniature periscope at my eye level and I generally slap the water to scare it away.
Unfortunately, on this particular late summer morning I was not at the Jersey Shore. Sadly, I was not at my sister’s spacious Adirondack cabin in Lake George. I was landlocked at my home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and I felt an urgency for a water whisper.
I was restless. Perhaps it was the fact that the milestone of what would have been my 38th wedding anniversary with my late husband just passed. Maybe I needed my own form of eco-therapy to travel through that shadow. So I packed a lunch, grabbed my lawn chair and set out to find the closest big water.
There it was less than 15 miles away, the mighty Susquehanna River in all of its glory! This 464 mile long river is the longest river on the American east coast that drains into the Atlantic Ocean. I am very familiar with its source, Lake Otsego in Cooperstown, NY. The town’s beautiful Otesaga Hotel was the site of my wedding reception in 1977 and I have vivid childhood memories of summer stints spent at a rustic Girl Scout camp tucked in the bordering woods.
The massive river winds down through central New York State into Pennsylvania and briefly flows into Maryland before it empties its supply into the Chesapeake Bay. Here the fresh water meets the salt water, but they don’t seem to mind the difference. They easily blend and swim together.
The sun was hot so I looked for a shady spot near the shoreline. A thin haze made the trees on the other side look like soft, puffy green sponges and the sky was a muted blue. High clouds smeared the upper atmosphere.
A few small fishing boats dotted the river. I spotted a distant yellow kayak and wished that I was in that craft. A small female duck ignored me and passed by on her way to a cluster of tall grass. A monarch butterfly flitted around my head and assorted song birds briefly serenaded me. A furry caterpillar inched across my toes and later a few large black ants and some spiders joined the parade.I was entertained by the assortment of nature. I can’t adequately describe the smell of fresh river water, but its familiar odor reminded me of a creek near my home and the summer hours we spent looking for tadpoles and crawfish in ankle deep water.
The proximity of the beautiful river was just what I needed. The Susquehanna whispered to me. I felt my water therapy kick in. It was so peaceful and I could feel my stress dissolving.
For now, as long as the weather permits, I will continue to seek out water.
But winter will put an end to that.
Unless I head south.
So what is your personal nature therapy?
Do you have one?
I would love to hear what soothes your soul and awakens your senses.