Forest Bathing Retreat: Find Wholeness in the Company of Trees – Hannah Fries

I’d never heard of forest bathing prior to being drawn to the photography on the front cover of this book. In the introduction Robin Wall Kimmerer simplifies the ethereal sounding concept, calling it what it really is, “daydreaming in the woods”. Personally I prefer the daydreaming description but the translation from the Japanese term shinrin-yoku is ‘forest bathing’ so my vote doesn’t count.

I assumed (wrongly) that shinrin-yoku would have its origins centuries ago and would be rich in eastern tradition. The term was first used in the 1980’s so it turns out that I’ve been practicing forest bathing since its inception. Growing up there was a fire trail behind our back fence that was kept clear by the locals and then there was the bush. For those of you outside of Australia, please pretend I’m saying either forest or woods whenever I refer to the bush.

I spent a good portion of my childhood going on bush walks with family and friends. I knew all the trails and even though a portion of it is now a concrete path (ew!) I still know it inside and out. My friends and I would go for walks or bike rides and we’d be gone all day; investigating, having a chat by the edge of the stream we found one day, going off-trail to see what new birds or trees we could find, using getting caught in a surprise storm as an excuse to waltz in the middle of a muddy path under a canopy of trees that were dripping a substantial amount of water on us.

I will be the first to admit I’d prefer to actually do forest bathing than read about it. I did wonder about the need for a book like this to encourage people to spend time hanging out in nature, then got sad as I remembered that peoples’ lives are so busy and screen based these days. Maybe it’s no longer a given that being in nature is something you do without a manual.

There are four sections in this book:

Breathe – a meditative noticing of your body and your surroundings, relaxing your muscles and paying attention to your breathing. Composer Oliver Caplan’s quote (abridged here) about krummholz really spoke to me:

“They remind me of the human spirit and our great capacity for resilience, a new possibility in every breath.”

Connect – connecting to your surroundings through your senses; basically grounding yourself.

Heal – forest bathing as medicine. You won’t find a big list of scientific studies spouting the health benefits associated with “daydreaming in the woods” but if you Google shinrin-yoku it won’t take you long to find them if you really need to know.

Give Thanks – you can figure this one out yourself. 😊

I’m not quite sure who to say this book is for. There will be the people who are totally into mindfulness that will most likely adore this book, with its mindfulness exercises, poetry and wisdom. I will forever be grateful to the person who, when I looked puzzled at the apparent complexity of the whole mindfulness thing, dumbed it down for me and said, “You do realise mindfulness is essentially just about being in the present, don’t you?”

There will be people like myself who have apparently been forest bathers their whole lives who’ll probably look at this book and think that it’s pretty and has some nice quotes and reminders. However, at the end of the day we’d rather be out doing the forest bathing than reading about it.

Initially I thought this could be a nice book for when you’re bogged down in the office and need a mental wander through the woods to centre yourself. Some sections would be helpful for this but the others where you’re basically given instructions on how to appreciate nature have the potential to fall kind of flat when you’re surrounded by concrete.

For those who need a how-to I can see this working if you read a section before you go for your wander and then apply the principles you’ve read about. However some of it reads like step by step instructions and I got this mental picture of someone taking this book with them, standing on the edge of a forest and paging through the book … noticing the edge of the forest … turning the page then pausing … turning the page and scanning their body and mind … trying to find the beginning of the next sentence on the page so they can find their next instruction. Kind of like how landscape photography can be wonderful but if you’re spending the whole time taking photos you don’t get the chance to appreciate the view.

I hope some people will pick up this book who have never forest bathed before because of factors like location or busyness. If this book gets them interested enough to discover how wonderful forest bathing is, then it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks of it as it will have done its job.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Storey Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

People have been retreating to the woods for quiet, meditation, and inspiration for centuries, and recent research finds that time spent in the forest doesn’t just feel good but is, in fact, good for you. Inspired by the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, poet Hannah Fries invites readers to bask in the company of trees, whether in a city park or a rural nature preserve.

Fries combines her own reflections and guided mindfulness exercises with a curated selection of inspirational writing from poets, naturalists, artists, scientists, and thinkers throughout the centuries and across cultures, including Japanese haiku masters, 19th century European Romantics, American Transcendentalists, and contemporary environmentalists. Accompanied by beautiful forest photography, Forest Bathing Retreat is a distinctive gift that invites frequent revisiting for fresh insights and inspiration.

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