Shinrin Yoku or Forest Bathing

 

Shinrin Yoku is something I’ve done most of my life and it now has a name because its health benefits in an increasingly stressful world are being discovered as important.  About two years ago, I was introduced to forest bathing while reading Florence Williams book, “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative” . While reading about forest bathing, I was reminded of some of my earliest memories (before 4th grade) in communion and relationship with the natural world.

My interest was piqued and I’ve continued to learn more (initially, to deepen and expand my personal love of nature). The more I learn and practice, the more I feel Shinrin Yoku may be an essential part of our self-care.

Shinrin Yoku (aka. forest bathing) is a guided service available in Japan, South Korea, and, now, in some parts of the United States. In Japan, there are a growing number of designated forest bathing parks & paths. Scientists are beginning to study the health benefits of forest bathing and, as a result, the practice is gaining momentum as a health and well-being  practice. 

What is forest bathing? It is a slow walk and exploration of nature with our senses wide open. It is not exercise. It is a consciously mindful practice with the intention of relieving stress, balancing blood pressure, and improving the functioning of our immune systems as well as build a beneficial relationship with this home we call earth. Forest bathing is using all of your senses — touch, see, smell, hear, and more — to fill yourself with the healing energies of the natural world around us.

We’ve all had the experience of breathing in negative ions (that fresh smell) when near a flowing brook or river or after a rainstorm. In nature there are a multitude of healing properties that we can ‘bathe’ in for our health and to relieve stress. There is a sensuality to our experience when we use our senses to see, smell, hear, touch. I find being in nature in a slow and deliberate way is also a spiritual experience as I remember and nurture relationships with all living and non-living elements while acknowledging that I am part of a larger web of living and being. When out in nature and away from the busyness of cities, highways, and the shops along Main street we connect with our primal selves who, not so long ago, lived in harmony with the natural world. Forest bathing is an opportunity to reconnect to the energies of the earth (especially if you go barefoot) — the  ground, the trees, grasses, wildlife, and flowers.

Forest bathing as a guided experience is about slowing down enough to listen with all of your senses while breathing in the healing found in nature. Your Shinrin Yoku guide will offer exercises or invitations to lead you into a deep experience as well as opportunities to write and/or share your experience with others (when done in a group). A forest bathing experience often lasts an hour or more while exploring less than 1/2 mile in the woods. Even though the word ‘bathing’ is used, in a forest bathing experience you are fully clothed (unless you choose to remove your shoes so you can go barefoot). The bathing is what happens when our senses are open and receptive to the natural world. 

Note: Interested in knowing more or having your own experience of Forest Bathing? If you live in New England, I would be happy to be your guide. Feel free to comment below or send me an email at: LJ5250@aol.com.

 

Meditation Monday: On Opening Your Heart

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Today’s meditation is all about loving yourself. Most of us know what it means to love another — our partner, our children, our parents, friends, even our pets. How often do we offer love to ourselves?

Today, we’ll focus on using the breath to expand our heart and deepen our relationship with this miraculous inner organ that beats continuously throughout our lives. We will take time to appreciate our heart. Then, we’ll use our imagination to breathe in and out of our heart center which is all about love and joy.

In our fast paced world, settling into our heart energy and extending love to ourselves is an important piece of self-care that we rarely consider. 

I hope you enjoy this meditation and return to it more than once — you deserve your own self love! Consider sharing this meditation with someone you know so they, too, can experience their heart opening to self-love.

Meditation Monday on Self-Compassion

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Do you treat yourself as you treat others? Are you kind, caring, and encouraging toward yourself? 

We tend to be our own worst critics. We easily see ourselves as “not good enough”; “not worthy enough”; “lazy”; etc. What are the judgements you lay on yourself? What is the standard you hold for yourself? Is it lower or higher than the standard you hold for others?

Compassion is an inner strength and a resource for building resilience. Compassion is caring, respect, and encouragement within the awareness of feeling and wanting to help make things right. For many of us, it is easy to offer compassion to others while, too often, it is awkward to be compassionate toward ourselves. 

Self-compassion builds our ability to cope with stress and to ride the waves of adversity or challenge. Todays meditation is a practice in self-compassion. Let’s give ourselves permission to be human during our sitting. As your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to return to your breath and your relaxed body. Let go of judgement toward yourself for wandering away from the breath or the silence of sitting.

Honor this time for offering yourself caring, kindness, and respect. When we practice self-compassion we are caring toward our feelings, we treat ourselves with respect, and we are encouraging. Through self-compassion we bring out our best and can better advocate for ourselves and our needs. 

Be on your own side. Be kind and sympathetic when you feel fear. Be warm when you are getting sick or sad. Be encouraging when you are embarking on a new venture or goal. All these are simple ways of practicing self-compassion. 

We can also ask, “How would I be with another if they are feeling afraid, insecure, or sick?” Place the same standard on yourself as you would another.  

Make this a week of practicing self-compassion and become your best. Give yourself permission to be magnificent!

**At the end of this meditation you will hear my dog barking. I left it in as it was my fourth attempt to record without external noises. A barking dog, a child, cars passing by, outdoor noises, or a cat is part of our everyday life. My own practice of self-compassion is being kind with my own desire to be perfect.**

Meditation Monday: On Light

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Welcome to Meditation Monday. Thank you for joining me in this weeks meditation. We will focus on breathing light within and beyond our body in a protective cocoon of breath and light.

Through todays meditation we will consider what positive energy we can build and share through creating our personal bubble of light. Our energy field extends beyond our bodies — we know this through research, especially, done through the Heartmath Institute. Many of you may have also seen photo’s of aura photography taken to show the extent and the various colors of energy fields. Through meditation and/or focus on breath we can change our aura into brightness.

We live in a time when more light is essential for our well-being. Focusing on our fields of light leave us with feeling protected from the chaos surrounding us in daily life. Who couldn’t use a bit more light and protection (no matter your beliefs).

My wish is that you enjoy this meditation and that you feel protected and safe in your own light.

Books — Portals to The World and The Human Condition

Books: Inspire, teach, inform, travel, transform, perspectives, joy, love, growth, tragedy, drama, mystery, beauty, words, photographs, what’s possible, past, future, history, science, other worlds, rich characters, imagination, magic, resilience, strength, happiness, health, meaning, fear, anger, sadness, joy, laughter, adventure, ideas, creativity, connection.

and, so much more….

I recently saw a post on Facebook, a video clip that has gone viral where young people are asked to name a book. Most of them struggled to name even one. I was shocked that Dr. Zeus was the only book an adult could remember while others admit they don’t read. Was the clip made up to  encourage reading? I’m not at all sure, though if it was made up, how brilliant! It certainly left me thinking about the books I’ve read and wish to read. I was inspired to visit the library and make a stop at a local bookstore — stocking up on this month’s reading.

Books! From novels to text books, I love to read. Over the course of a year, I easily read 2 – 3 books each month. At any give time I am deep into at least two books. Always a novel that I read before bed, quiet afternoons, or rainy days. Then, there is something inspiring, like poetry or a book on nature — being inspired keeps me positively focused. I also like Informative books on positive psychology, living a better life, or a book on herbs that will inform my work.

Books allow me to travel to far off places — I am especially fond of historical fiction. Some places I’ll never get to see, some places I’ve already traveled to, and other places are on my bucket list of must see. Reading invites me to dream and plan. Of course, other stories are about places that don’t exist except in the author’s imagination which then spark my own imagination. Through reading I’ve learned about the romantic lure of Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain and Italy. I’ve learned about the rich landscapes of India, Egypt, and Africa. I’ve also learned about the brief history of the US and the many beautiful places between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Books make my day-to-day richer. If I am in the middle of a novel, my imagination is carried into my life off the page — hikes become fantasy wanderings in the woods, people become characters in my story, and I am more open to creative thinking and being. Many things I make in fiber remind me of a novel I am reading or have recently read. I’ll often change my style with the next absorbing story. For example, reading the entire Outlander series came with a wealth of creative ideas — sweaters, shawls, blankets, cowls, and fingerless gloves.

Through reading I learn about other points of view on living, thinking, and being. Reading also informs my own writing whether creative writing, articles, or blog posts.

I can’t imagine life without books and a good story. We are wired for story — it is our ancestral way of ‘recording’ history and passing on what we need to know in order to survive, live a good life, and make informed decisions for change. Books also present stories with positive messages that open us to make more empowering decisions to bring more meaning and purpose into our lives. 

I am saddened to think reading is falling out of favor. Where is the richness of a good story if books aren’t part of life? Do you read? What do you like to read? Would you like to read more but don’t know where to begin? Check out goodreads.com where you can see what others are reading.

Hey folks! Reading is essential. Go out to your local bookstore or library and wrap your hands around a good story. 

Memorial Day Meditation

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Many people think of Memorial Day as a celebratory three day weekend of picnics (and, sometimes, fireworks), parades, and the unofficial start to the summer season.

Did you know?

~ Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, began after the Civil War (1864) by women who placed flowers on the graves of loved ones who died in the war.

~ Over 600,000 died during the Civil War which means that nearly everyone knew someone who had died fighting.

~ Originally, Memorial Day was on May 30th.

~ In 1971, it was moved to the last Monday in May and now includes those who have fallen in all wars.

~ In 2000, President Bill Clinton established a moment of silence at 3 pm. to remember and reflect on the sacrifices of our military personal in order to provide freedom for all.

Now, no matter what your beliefs and points of view, Memorial Day is a day of remembering, honoring, and reflecting on young women and men who have chosen to be in our military and have lost their lives while in service.

Today’s meditation is in honor of all soldiers who have fallen in war. 

Meditation Monday: Deepening You

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Research shows that those in supportive healthy relationships that are nurtured (especially in the rough times) tend to be happier. The same is true for our most personal relationship, the relationship with ourselves. 

Many people I know are uncomfortable being alone for any length of time. Many also go quickly from one relationship to another so that they are not alone. They ignore their primary relationship — the one with themselves.

There will be those times when we find ourselves alone whether by choice or in between relationships. Our relationships will be healthier when we offer ourselves self-compassion. And, our choice to be alone will be richer when we commit to be in a healthy and supportive relationship with ourselves.

Meditation is the perfect place to begin to nurture the self — in meditation we practice self-care, self-compassion, and self-love. This weeks meditation is focused on being in a healthy relationship with yourself. I hope you find some settling within yourself and embracing your self in the quiet of meditation. I also wish you joy in a deeper connection with yourself.

Meditation Monday & More on Mindfulness

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Take a mindful moment and appreciate these two baby chipmunks!

Mindfulness is a quietly active process of noticing, of heightened awareness.

Through mindfulness we learn how connected we are to the world around us. Through mindfulness we become more present in the moment. Through mindfulness we learn to let go of stress and tension in our body and mind.

This weeks meditation is continuing with the theme of mindfulness. Taking a few minutes to follow our attention in and around our body. We follow the breath. We explore the sensations both inside and around our body. Through actively noticing we expand our subtle awareness and become more present in the process.

I am glad you are here. Enjoy your meditation.

Winter to Spring: A Metaphor for Change

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The season change from Winter to Spring can be the most dramatic in the northeast US. This year is no exception besides it being later than last year with more starts and stops. With every season change there is the longing and waiting while looking for change.

Like changing a habit from one we wish to let go of to the new, positive habit we want to nourish, the change of season from Winter to Spring ebbs and flows. Each day there are changes. The signs begin small — melting snow, warmer sun, early light, daffodils and crocuses poke through dead leaves and, sometimes, snow cover. Excitement grows. Then retreat into snow again. Stops and starts. A slow change. Some habits are also slow to change with stops and starts. With each, acceptance is key.

Then one day there is a tipping point, a definitive arrival. The Spring peepers announce the change with their deafening peeps in the wetlands. The grass becomes green. Buds are on the ends of branches of forsythia, blueberries and lilacs. Coats are forgotten on our way outdoors. The newer arrivals, the Trillium, poke through. It is then I know that Spring has arrived even if there are snowflakes in the forecast (like tonight).

This season change is the most dramatic because we go from sparse, brown (colorless) cold hibernation into birth, regrowth, color, and a warming sun. The drama unfolds into splendor — the Winter blues fade into expansion, newness, and joy.

At the end of each winter, I find myself needing to change a few habits I’ve entertained over the dark winter. Habit changes are like season changes, they sometimes take time. Introducing a new behavior to replace the old requires patience. The brain takes time to carve a new neural pathway. Each day (and sometimes each moment) is making the choice to begin again — stops and starts until the new takes hold in a new pathway in my brain. Slowly the old pathway (or unwanted behavior) lets go, losing its grip on automatic pilot. There is a day where a tipping point is reached — the new becomes automatic while the old requires effort.

I find that changing habits — whether with food, exercise, addictive behaviors, or simply change — works best by introducing a new, positive behavior while preparing to let go of the old. Over time the new behavior takes up residence in a new brain pathway leaving little to no room for the old. The old is kicked out. I know it sounds easy. Not necessarily so especially with those habits that involve serious addiction and then physical detox.

Each Spring I change behavior from Winters hibernation. I feel the longing for my nature hikes as the light grows. I find that preparation is key in helping me make the choice to go into the woods instead of rolling over for ten more minutes curled up in my bed. I know I will need to transition from inactivity to stretching and moving my body through the trails. I prepare by placing my shoes by the bed or front door — creating a visible reminder to make a different choice. I get to let go of one routine for another. Gradually, I wake and put my feet into my hiking boots without an inner dialogue (sometimes an argument) and head out the door. I know I’ve reached the tipping point when I feel excitement to head outdoors and my legs have adjusted to climbing the hills I love to climb. This one is easier because the neural pathway already exists from last summer. I am simply waking it up to take over the Winter pathway.

Is there a habit or behavior you would like to change? Giving up comfort foods for lighter, healthier fare? Perhaps letting go of gluten or dairy for salads and coconut milk? Perhaps turning off the TV (or Netflix) for being outdoors or reading a good book? Maybe letting go of the extra glass of wine in the evening for lengthening your yoga practice or going for a walk outdoors?

Consider what new and positive behavior you wish to bring into your daily life. Then focus on letting go of your unwanted habit. Begin the new behavior now. Prepare to let go of the old — set a date or clear the space. Allow the new habit to take hold in a new neural pathway in your brain through practice.

You can also consider priming your environment for success. Priming your environment means clearing out the old and bringing in the new. Priming my environment involves bringing out my hiking boots, putting away my winter boots, and choosing again and again. If I wish to change food choices, priming my environment involves cleaning my kitchen — removing what I wish to let go of and bringing in my healthier choices. Sometimes I post reminders in a visible place (like a cabinet door). Priming makes my choosing easier.

Sometimes beginning again is necessary when a behavior sneaks back in (sometimes habits are stealthy and come rushing back in). Acknowledging failure is an essential part of change. I see it most in changing addictive behaviors. Sometimes I see people try again and again to change an addiction. I celebrate with them when the new habit is solidly in place.

I, also, celebrate when I recognize that my own changes have been successful. When the tipping point is reached I express my gratitude for success. What will your celebration be as we change the season fully into Spring?

Meditation Monday: Healthy Body. Healthy Mind

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Welcome to Meditation Monday!

I work with people every day who want to regain balance and healing. I often encourage clients to do regular meditation for assisting their journey back to balance. There is a growing body of research on the benefits of meditation for balance and for healing.

At work, I let my clients know what I am detecting in their pulses, their tongue diagnosis, and what I am focusing on as I design their acupuncture treatment. Even if they aren’t familiar with some of the terminology in Oriental Medicine, I try to make my explanations simple. What I know is that the person on the table then has an image to focus on for their health. My informing them of my treatment focus engages them to participate in their return to balance and health.

Today’s meditation is focused on balance and healing both body and mind. There seems to always be an area in need of healing energy that will bring us into balance. We will use the breath to direct our energy towards healing. Focusing your attention does assist your desired outcome. There is an adage I love, “Where your attention goes, your energy goes.” By focusing our attention on areas of our body and/or mind that are calling for healing we, indeed, assist in the healing process.

Though some diseases won’t be erased with focused attention (for any variety of reasons), our body will find balance and healing where it can to assist in our journey. I’ve been privileged to work with many people who found healing even though their disease eventually took over.

I hope you enjoy this meditation as much as I’ve enjoyed recording and experiencing it.

Have a great week and I hope you will return next Monday!