Sunlight filters through the treetops, illuminating patches of the forest floor. The hiker stops on the trail, selects one of these bright-lit spaces and takes a seat.
The ground, covered with a layer of pine needles, is cool and soft beneath her. A breeze brushes her face, carrying with it the scent of sap and decaying leaves. Overhead, a chickadee sings and a woodpecker drums.
“It is by relaxing into the forest’s embrace that we are most likely to receive its benefits,” M. Amos Clifford wrote in his 2018 guidebook to forest bathing.
A practice that originated in Japan, forest bathing — “shinrin-yoku” in Japanese — is a form of therapy or healing that involves immersing and being present in nature. At first glance, the term may inspire images of skinny dipping in a woodland watering hole, but the practice rarely involves water or nakedness. More often, it simply means sitting or lying on the ground and experiencing your natural surroundings with your five senses.
In her 2019 book “Forest Bathing: A Start Here Guide,” Naturopathic doctor Cyndi Gilbert wrote of the practice’s benefits.
“Spending more time in green and blue spaces of the natural world can help to normalize blood pressure and blood sugar, build resilience to stress, increase vitamin D stores, encourage healthy aging, ameliorate mood and enhance cognitive functions,” Gilbert wrote.
In recent years, this practice has gained momentum in the United States, including Maine. Local guides have started to offer guided forest bathing sessions at preserves and parks. But it’s also something that people can pursue on their own, without any special equipment or skills.
To help you get started, here are a few quiet woodland trails where you can find great spots to forest bathe. Once you get there, remember to slow down. Breathe deep and open yourself up to the world around you.
Seaward Mills Stream Conservation Area in Vassalboro
Owned and managed by the Kennebec Land Trust, the 44-acre Seaward Mills Stream Conservation Area features a mixed deciduous forest, a stand of mature hemlocks, 3,800 feet of frontage on the historic Seawards Mills Stream and 15 acres of agricultural fields. A 0.7-mile trail explores the forested part of the property and travels close to the banks of the stream, where benches are located at scenic locations. These rustic seats present an opportunity to relax by the rushing water.
The most common forest on the property is aspen-birch, according to Kennebec Land Trust. But you’ll also notice several large oak trees, a sugar maple forest, and a mature hemlock stand. Also, along the stream, you can find patches of bluejoint, a type of tall, long-lived grass that serves as food and cover for certain animals, including deer, muskrats and moose.
Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.
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