Phyllis offering an invitation to forest bathing participants, 2019. Credit: Elyse Butler/Hana Hou! Magazine
by Phyllis Look
For those of us who call Mānoa home, we know when we’ve crossed that invisible threshold on our return mauka. Immediately, we feel the Valley’s cool, green embrace, we breathe easier, our hearts lighten. You’ve just experienced a little of the wellness practice of forest bathing!
I’m Hawaiʻi’s first certified forest therapy guide and it’s my pleasure to provide some background on Shinrin-Yoku (translated: forest bathing). This innovative nature therapy was created in Japan in the early 1980s to address a public health crisis of stress-related diseases brought on by the country’s rapid post-war urbanization. Decades of research have confirmed the numerous physiological and psychological benefits of immersing yourself in a forest atmosphere, including normalizing blood pressure, boosting immunity, increasing mental clarity, and easing anxiety and depression.
While still a young movement— some have compared it to where yoga was in the 80s — awareness of forest therapy has accelerated, made more urgent by the impacts of climate change, and now a global pandemic. The current approach expands on the original vision of preventative self-care for the Japanese “salaryman” to one that also addresses community building and environmental activism.
But it begins simply, with a gentle facilitated walk. As your guide, I would offer a sequence of “invitations” to encourage an embodied and empathetic connection with your surroundings. The groups are small and we find time to pause, to share what we are noticing, to connect with ourselves and with others. In the words of a former participant:
Peace, focus, tranquility. These are just a few words that describe a Forest Bath. We are fortunate to be surrounded by natural wonders in Hawaiʻi, but it is easy to ignore them and take them for granted. With gentle intention, Phyllis guided all of us into opening our eyes, hearts, and minds to a deeper level of harmony and healing, with meaningful and lasting results.
Phyllis Look is the owner and founder of Forest Bathing Hawaiʻi , and certified by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. She has guided more than 200 walks, which have been recognized in The New York Times, Forbes, National Geographic, and United Airlines’ Hemispheres Magazine.