Hello, Tree!

Forest bathing’s all the rage right now – but what’s it actually all about? Hunting down clues in the forests of South Tyrol.

  • October 2017

  • Reading time: 5'

    Reading time: 5'

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Hello, Tree!

Forest bathing’s all the rage right now – but what’s it actually all about? Hunting down clues in the forests of South Tyrol.

Tree-hugging, right? Far-out. Although I have to admit it does me good to be in the forest. I feel the calm as the world melts away a little, even if I’m not doing anything active, as was recently the case. I was back in the forest again because lots of thoughts were whirring in my head and I was looking for a place to catch my breath.

I don’t know why I usually go into the forest when I’m under a lot of stress. Maybe I’m trying to get away from my everyday life for a moment? Am I hoping I won’t meet anyone? Will I be able to clear my head there? There’s one thing that happens every time I’m in the forest, though: I remember my childhood, especially building tree-houses with friends in the summer. The memory of secretly making off with the neighbor’s nails and a plank or two makes me giggle out loud. Luckily nobody can hear me, because I’m alone – right in the middle of the forest. 

I’ll take a book with me today. Or maybe nothing at all for a change – and let nature work its magic on me: I’ll go for a walk, pull off my shoes, meditate or play like I used to. Is it really so easy? And why is that? I’m going to hunt down clues, because I want to find out what the forest does to us.

Be mindful of the forest:

- 1. Slow down: Walk slowly and be mindful of the surroundings; you’ll gather more impressions
- 2. Enjoy the journey: it’s not about the journey, but what you experience on the way
- 3. A lived relationship: Forest bathing isn’t an education in nature, but a natural lesson for life.

World Wide Wood

Sydney – The city on Australia’s East Coast isn’t a place you’d immediately associate with forest. Martin Kiem would do though, as his work with the forest began where he was living with his Australian wife. The psychologist by training was a “wellbeing coach” and taught forest therapy: in an office right in the middle of the city. This was no easy task – and then, a year ago, he realized he had an urge: To return to his home country. South Tyrol is half covered in forest. That sounded perfect to him.

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Shinrin Yoku

Originating from Japan, forest bathing is a close-to-nature activity that is aimed at reducing stress and amplifying general wellbeing.

Klaus Alber also has a special relationship with “his” forest, the one that you’ll find right behind his own hotel, the Miramonti in Avelengo/Hafling. Forest bathing helped him live a pain-free life. From the age of 19 he’s been suffering from a chronic illness, and he used to be dogged by back pain, with few to no prospects of a cure. One day, by chance, a doctor came to his hotel on vacation. His advice brought him a crucial step forward. He found his way back to nature, and nowadays goes on extended walks and does special exercises in the forest. In the Miramonti, Klaus regularly offers forest therapy workshops and his advice to his guests today is to go out into the forest; he often sends them out before breakfast: “Each person who walks through the forest will find his or her own medicine. For some it’s less effective, while others feel great after a forest walk. But lots of them come back with a smile,” he tells me, beaming.

"Forest bathing’s nothing out of the ordinary. But the results people get from it often are, though.“ Amos Clifford, American forest therapy guide

“Oh, an ant!”

The world stands still for a moment. A moment when my mind is clear. The feeling’s so unusual. Normally I’m rushing from one appointment to the next. I love pushing everyday stress away and taking in the unhurried events in the forest, leaning into them. “We don’t have to over-analyze everything all the time,” Martin had told me, “It has an impact on our autonomic nervous system, endocrine system and immune system. Forest bathing is designed to consciously steer the attention away from thinking and toward the senses and body.” I inhale deeply and hear a voice from the distance: “Hello, tree!” Probably not on my own after all, then.

Biofeedback measurement

In order to medically measure the forest’s effect, two sensors are attached to your shoulders and chest. They gather data during forest bathing. How does my body react to walking barefoot, meditating in the forest? What has the most positive impact on my body?

This “conscious act of switching-off” was new to even Martin, once. He got to know it and mastered it on a six-month stay in a Buddhist monastery in Asia. He tells us about his experiences while we’re bathing in the forest – putting all of our senses to work:

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OK, I admit it: Everything in my life has to always make sense, I’ve got a goal for everything I do. I’m always wanting to improve myself, be productive, achieve lots. But now I’m blanking out my surroundings, concentrating on nothing; and thinking about nothing. Bit by bit, I’m leaning into nature – experiencing it, instead of thinking about it. Just the way Martin explained it to me. And the way I should do it more often. How easy it can be!

Text: Katja Schroffenegger
Transcreation: Covi, Wurzer & Partner - Die Sprachdienstleister
Photos: Othmar Seehauser