When I first heard the term “forest bathing in Nova Scotia”, it made me think of wading into slimy muddy ponds in the woods — let’s just say the idea was not appealing.
Thank goodness I’d got it all wrong. It turns out that forest bathing can be the best medicine for exhaustion, burn out, and overall mental health.
What is forest bathing?
Do you remember a time in your life when you felt content and most at ease with yourself?
Perhaps you were in quiet peaceful surroundings, things were slow and life’s pressures had slipped away. You were present in the moment with no worries about the future and no baggage from the past weighed on your mind. For most, if not all of us, there’s a time in our lives when being in the stillness of nature calmed us, melted away our daily stress, and improved our mood.
Forest bathing can take you there. The experience is designed to connect you with nature to help you achieve that happy, content, and in-the-moment state of mind.
Forest bathing was developed in Japan in the 1980s, where it’s called shinrin-yoku and is a part of the nation’s preventive health care. Its the practice of slowing down and taking in the atmosphere of the forest using all your senses, slowly and mindfully as you walk through the wilderness.
The terms forest bathing and forest therapy are sometimes used interchangeably. Some guides also call it nature bathing when they guide a walk on a beach.
The best part is that forest bathing is easy and inexpensive — you can do it anywhere there are trees and plants and you can do it day or night. It helps that it’s not physical exercise — a hike would take you far and fast.
As a therapeutic walk, it’s a great way to refresh your mind and recharge your batteries.
How do you forest bathe?
There is no right or wrong way to go forest bathing and there’s zero pressure and no expectation to perform or do it in any particular way — the only thing you need to do is clear your mind, enjoy nature, and relax.
Here’s a few things you can do to get ready for a forest bathing walk in nature:
- Dress for the weather. Wear layers so you can add or subtract clothing for whatever the Nova Scotia weather will bring. If it rains, most forest bathers will keep walking because rain is known to sharpen our senses. But if it looks like there’s thunder and lightening coming, find shelter. (Note — check with your guide on their weather policy as it may vary from one guide to the next.)
- Bring water in an insulated bottle to stay hydrated — don’t drink from natural sources unless you have the kind of water purifiers that seasoned hikers use.
- Don’t forget a hat, sun block, bug spray, and whatever you’d need if you have allergies. You’re outside — so be ready for all that the great outdoors will throw at you.
- If you’re concerned about ticks, wear closed footwear (not sandals) and socks and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and your pants into your socks.
- Unless you’re with a forest bathing guide, plan your expedition. You want to be able to commune with nature instead of worrying about getting lost.
- Remember: mindfulness and be in the moment — so turn off the phone or leave it at home.
The journey is about moving slowly, purposefully, and being present in the moment. Internalize nature however you want — it’s all about the experience. The more open you can be to it, the richer and more personal it will be.
Where can I go forest bathing?
All you need for forest bathing is nature and the natural world: trees in the forest or in a park, or even at home with indoor plants and your pet. The nature you focus on might be the sun and sky, the wind, or the rain, or the sound of running water, plants, animals, or sand and bedrock.
Getting outside is always good for your health and If you’re looking for a good place to go forest bathing, look for safe grounds in a forest, a meadow, or near water. A setting in the country has fewer unwanted distractions and have more natural things to stimulate your senses. Even Nova Scotia’s appealing beaches around the coastline and the Bay of Fundy help to evoke the sense of peace we’re looking for with forest (or “beach”) bathing.
According to Wil Brunner, a guide for forest bathing in Nova Scotia, people get a better experience when the site is more natural — a less disturbed forest versus a poorly maintained urban park can help bathers focus on the moment.
Another Nova Scotia guide, Sophie Hebert, says she’s even led forest bathing over Zoom during the pandemic lockdowns. Says Sophie: “I had a few plants and some shells and rocks with me and asked participants to gather things like that around them too.” She adds, “I love guiding outside the most.”
Rosmarie Lohnes, guide from the Bridgewater area, says she finds it most affective in quiet woods with no highway noises, pets or children. “But many of us don’t have that luxury, so a park is fine if you can let all the noise and peripheral stuff around you not be a distraction.”
Where would these experts NOT go forest bathing?
For the best experience, they’d avoid places with no clear trails, big rocks or roots that you may trip on, or that may have outcrops of poison ivy or poison oak.
For specific locations for forest bathing in Nova Scotia, check out our post on the 10 best places to go forest bathing in Nova Scotia.
Peace and calm in the forest = less stress, less anxiety
Forest bathing has a number of benefits, but one of the most important is that it helps you to connect with nature. Moreover, researchers have found that being in nature can help improve:
- problem-solving skills
- sleep quality
- energy levels
Forest bathing can also help you to reduce stress and anxiety which, in turn, has beneficial effects on blood pressure. Some studies have also suggested that phytoncides (natural chemicals released by trees) can boost the immune system.
Where does this data come from? The research database PubMed returns 100+ studies on the health impact of forest bathing, supporting these claims. Also, the Max Planck Institute for Human Development ran studies on this subject and the results showed reduced levels of stress after a simple walk in the woods.
Brunner says: “These ‘tree chemicals’ increase our natural killer white blood cells which seek out and help to destroy foreign and harmful substances in our bodies like infections and tumors. So, forests with healthy spruce, pine, fir or hemlock trees add this benefit.”
If you’re looking for a way to relax and de-stress, forest bathing is definitely worth a try! For more information on the health benefits of forest bathing, be sure to check out the Forest Therapy Institute’s sites on Facebook and on LinkedIn.
Going forest bathing with a guide
The Nova Scotia guides we contacted all agree that forest bathing can be done anywhere that you have meaningful contact with nature and a guide isn’t absolutely necessary.
But like anything else, if you want make the most of your experience, especially if it’s your first time forest bathing, a knowledgeable and skilled guide can make a world of difference.
You don’t need to be a meditation guru or nature expert, says Brunner, but the benefits of the forest are there if you just slow down, tune in, think less, and really be open to each moment in nature. This is where a guide can help.
- Guides have the route planned out — no worries about getting lost.
- They already have the skill and knowledge to help you get the most out of the bathing experience.
- You just have to relax – the guide prepares you and takes care of all the planning.
Here are several guides for forest bathing in Nova Scotia:
Rosmarie is in the Bridgewater area of Nova Scotia’s South Shore. She has done a 14-month internship for Contemplative Forest Practice and studied forest bathing for several years.
“I think it can happen in a fleeting momentary sighting of a butterfly, in the graceful touch of a plant’s foliage, or in the scent of a flower as you walk by. Any outdoor space can work, even a balcony and a potted plant can be effective.”
Rosmarie does forest bathing tours year-round.
Wil is an ANFT (Association of Nature and Forest Therapy) Certified Forest Therapy Guide and is wilderness first aid certified. He runs community forest bathing walks in the Annapolis Valley.
“The idea is to use your senses to create a connection with nature in the present moment. I have run coastal or ‘beach bathing’ sessions on the Bay of Fundy as well as in deep forest locations. Each place will offer unique opportunities for intimacy with nature.”
Wil’s tours by-pass the hotter summer months and begin each year in September.
Sophie is an ANFT (Association of Nature and Forest Therapy) Certified Forest Therapy Guide in Halifax and is wilderness first aid certified. She says her purpose as a guide is to provide a safe and supportive experience for every participant. She suggests that If you’re trying forest bathing for the first time, have no expectations and pack for every weather scenario.
“A common saying is that the forest is the therapist and the guide opens the door. This means that you’ll get out of it exactly what you need every time, and we, as guides, hold the space for you to do just that.”
Sophie hosts forest bathing walks from mid-spring to late fall, typically from May to November.
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Wendy is the owner and on-site director of Harbour Retreat in Musquodoboit Harbour, providing travellers with accommodations in a tiny house and a variety of onsite wellness experiences.
“My forest bathing program brings art and nature journaling into the experience and it’s designed around all five senses. The forest locations I favour tend to offer a good variety of sensory stimuli to explore. I prefer a country setting with fewer man-made noises.”
She’ll be offering guided forest bathing experiences during the fall and winter of 2022-2023 as part of her Harbour Hygge experience.
Forest bathing gifts?
Forest bathing in Nova Scotia is not so commercial that there’s a gift shop waiting for you at the end of the tour — in fact, quite the opposite.
It’s almost cliche in these times to say it’s all about the journey — but it’s true. Forest bathing is about the experience and achieving the personal benefits that communing with nature will bring you.
But after your first experience you’d be forgiven if you want to share forest bathing in Nova Scotia with your friends. If you really want that t-shirt or hoodie to show off your new forest bathing interest, or a book about forest bathing, there’s plenty of places on the web to look, including Etsy and RedBubble.