As I near the halfway point of my hike on the Lost Lake and Island Loop Trail in Ludington State Park, my pace starts to slow. It’s not because I’m winded from the gradual hill climbs or the sandy trail under my boots. Instead, it’s because I start to tune into my senses and observe the nature that surrounds me.
Casting my gaze down the trail, I can see the sun shining through mosaic-like gaps in the roots of a tipped-over tree. I close my eyes and hear the soft rustling of leaves overhead the wind. I can smell the pine in the air mix with a sudden whiff of mud and algae from the marsh.
At this moment, I am practicing the art of forest bathing.
Chances are, you have forest bathed in nature, too — whether you realized it or not.
Mindfulness in nature
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku — or “Forest Bathing” — centers on taking in the atmosphere of the forest through mindfulness and meditative exercises.
“Forest bathing is about changing your mindset in nature, tuning into your senses and getting out of your head,” said Brooke Mellen, founder of Cultured Forest, an organization that leads and facilitates guided forest therapy trips and trainings. “It’s then you start to notice what’s around you and benefit from the experience.”
Whether it’s slowing down to observe your environment, steadying your breath, or focusing on the microdetails of the nature beneath your feet, forest bathing has proven to improve health and wellness by reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and diminishing anxiety.
“Seeing and experiencing something beautiful in the outdoors helps you understand there’s more than just pain, anxiety and stress in the world,” Mellen added. “As we continue to hear and absorb bad news in the media and in our personal lives, forest bathing is a reminder that there is still beauty, hope and good in the world.”
Forest bathe along The Pike
Your options are endless when it comes to finding an outdoor space in Michigan to escape to and take a moment for yourself. To help you on your mindfulness journey in nature, try practicing these meditative forest bathing exercises at the following stops along The Pike.
Ludington State Park
As you hike the beach at Big Sable Point Lighthouse, pick up driftwood along the way. Once gathered, close your eyes. Take a moment to notice how the pieces of wood differ in size and texture. Can you feel the changing shape as you trace the outline of the driftwood with your fingers? Are the knots in the wood prominent or are they smooth to the touch? Can you picture the Lake Michigan waves whittling away the fresh bark?
Sit down in the sand or on a bench on the Empire Bluff Trail. Look out onto the lake and trace the horizon line back to the beach. Then let your eyes follow the shape of the shoreline. Observe the color palette of the trees, notice the different hues of blues and greens in the water, and watch the clouds move gradually across the sky.
Stop for a moment on the Baldy Trail in the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve at the Arcadia Dunes. Notice the roots on the ground. Are they above the soil or partially covered? Search for rocks and mushrooms. Are the rocks moss-covered? Are the mushrooms growing directly on the forest floor or on downed tree trunks? Touch a nearby tree with the palm of your hand. Is it cold or damp to the touch? Can you see insect life moving in the grooves of the bark?
Wilderness State Park
At Wilderness State Park in Carp Lake, breathe in tandem with the waves as they lap onto the beach. Inhale deeply on the first sound of the wave crashing. Breathe out a long exhale on the second crash. Repeat for two minutes with your eyes open or closed.
Work forest bathing into your workday
Find your sense of calm at home or in the office with these simple tips:
- Experiment with essential oils. Use nature-inspired scents in a diffuser, such as Japanese
Hinoki, juniper, lavender or eucalyptus.
- Bring the outdoors in. ‘Ground’ your workplace with shells or rocks and hold them
throughout the day.
- Surround yourself with plants. Add greenery to your home or office and improve your
indoor air quality.
- Hang a photo of nature. Looking at a picture of a place you love in the outdoors provides
the same calming effect as being there in person.
- Take your workplace outdoors. Review your reports or take a work call at a local park on a
blanket under a tree.