Emily VanGorder – Staff Writer
Forest bathing is a traditional Japanese practice known as Shinrin-yoku, in which people go outside to meditate and reground themselves. The practice first originated in Japan in the 1880s in response to a technological boom.
The Japanese government saw that citizens were complaining about aches and pains, irritability and suffering more from anxiety and depression. Their response was forest bathing, which was created as a way to encourage working people to get outside, lower stress levels, and enjoy nature.
Dr. Qing Li, MD, Ph.D. is a doctor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and president of the Japanese Society of Forest Therapy. He believes that spending large amounts of time indoors contributes to negative feelings about life, school and work. He promotes forest bathing as a relaxing and positive outlet that can improve one’s mental health.
Forest bathing at Gustavus was first implemented by Junior Lily Engebretson, who works as an Arboretum Assistant.
“I was really excited to hear [Engebretson]’s idea for the Arboretum, and I was glad that she decided to turn a one-time event into a regular Chapel break activity… I would love to see this event continue in the future because it is a space for relaxation, regrounding, and reconnecting with the elements of nature,” Senior Brie Wintz said.
Forest bathing events are not officially affiliated with the Chaplain’s office, but Engebretson started hosting these events in the fall as a way to provide students with a time to pause and relax, especially given that the Chapel was closed to students in the fall. Now that the Chapel has re-opened, forest bathing will continue as a supplement to Chapel services for interested students.
“I thought Gustie students would also benefit from an event that provided relaxation, a chance to de-stress and a digital detox, as well as get Gusties outdoors and into the Arboretum.”
Recent weather has affected student turnout, but not forest bathing events themselves.
“Four students headed out two weeks ago when there was still snow on the ground. I simply told students to bundle up and be prepared to sit among the snow. I envision us being able to watch the changes of spring‒from the quiet beginnings when plants start to peek through the snow, to when flowers bloom,” Engebretson said.
Upcoming forest bathing events will be hosted on March 17 and 31 at 10 a.m.