Yesterday, I attended a class called Mindfulness in the Garden: Autumn Awakening. In this ninety-minute outdoor program, about twenty of us engaged in heavy breathing, teasing our senses and Forest Bathing (Shinrin-yoku in Japanese). Sound risqué? Not with a temperature of fifty-five degrees, fierce winds, and the occasional raindrop.
My sensual journey included shivering, squeezing my hands under my armpits and attempting to mindfully ignore my discomfort.
But the actions of breathing, and paying attention to all aspects of the environment that surrounded us kept me from dwelling for long on the chill.
The class took place in a botanical garden I often visit. By visit, I mean circle the grounds fast enough to raise my heart rate while also stopping to take photos. Yesterday, none of that was permitted: no selfies, no haste, no talking.
One definition of Forest bathing is simply spending time in the woods. And so we stood quietly, inhaled and exhaled and felt the ground under our feet. We moved at the speed of starfish and stopped every few seconds to look closely at a particular plant or a tree, finger a leaf or two, stick our noses into the last rose of summer, pay attention to the water gurgling under a bridge, and listen to leaves rustling overhead. I even stopped on the trail, peered into a thicket and waited until I saw a leaf fall, one leaf.
We also gathered in a grove and thought about our relationship to the trees encircling us. We inhaled oxygen produced by the trees, and exhaled carbon dioxide for their benefit.
The effect of the class was to still my monkey mind, introduce me to dozens of plants and leaves I’ve never noticed on my fast walks, make me focus on what I was doing, not on what I was going to do later, and feel content. There are more benefits, which Japanese researchers have discovered. These include
- Boosted immune system functioning
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep.
And to achieve these results is uncomplicated. No equipment needed. No number of repetitions required. No knowledge of botany. Only a good coat and boots in winter. Next time, I will pay more attention to the coat.