Fitness trends cycle through their popularity so quickly that it's hard to keep up. Does Soul Cycle still reign supreme? Is hot yoga in or out? Could the Olympics inspire a competitive badminton fad? But one recent craze captured my fancy: forest bathing.
Despite its name, forest bathing has nothing to do with water. Rather, it's an immersion in nature, often coupled with guided meditation. Originally known as shinrin-yoku, which translates to "taking in the forest atmosphere," forest bathing began in Japan in the 1980s, and has been been linked to health benefits ranging from reduced blood pressure and stress levels to boosted immunity.
Sounds like a walk in the park, quite literally.
The practice has been gaining popularity in the States, with luxury hotels like Blackberry Farm and the Mayflower Grace in Connecticut featuring it as a wellness experience. It was at the latter property that I tried it out for myself earlier this week.
Located just a few hours outside New York in Washington, Connecticut, the Mayflower Grace is known for its spa, which has a beautiful white-and-gray relaxation room peppered with crystals and a menu featuring services ranging from the traditional (Swedish massage, customized facials) to the decidedly new-age (sound healing using Tibetan bowls). But forest bathing took me off-property to the nearby Hidden Valley trail along the shallow Shepaug River.
As my treatment group, a trio of urbanites, entered the woods, our guide Megan, a pilates, yoga, and fitness specialist, asked us to indulge each of our senses, encouraging us to touch the soft, cool moss with our hands, listen intensely to the ceaseless din of insects, and feel the texture of the earth beneath our feet. At one point she even asked us to stick out our tongues to taste the air, something I wouldn't dare to do in Manhattan.
We wandered along the path for an hour, mostly in silence, with Megan breaking the calm every so often to educate the group about our chakras or to lead an exercise in expanding peripheral vision (which, she said, is constrained by screen size in the modern workplace).
I've never been very good at meditating, but as I kept my body occupied, walking leisurely through the trees, I found it easier than ever to focus on my breath, inhaling deeply the morning air. And as we made our way back to the car after completing the practice, I felt calm. Sure, I still felt my daily stresses of deadlines and social obligations but they were quieter, more manageable. And I wasn't itching to reload Twitter or post to Snapchat. I still don't quite know what it means to be "centered," but I felt grounded in my surroundings and certainly more aware of the world.
Forest bathing isn't much more than a walk out in the woods, but that's all this tech-addicted city dweller needed to be.