My favorite forest primeval, Warren Woods State Park, lies sleeping under a blanket of snow and the spell of winter. I am out in the woods, practicing winter Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” – a nature inspired body-mind spiritual practice. By experiencing the winter forest in a liminal meditation state, through my senses, and without agenda, I’m connecting with nature and practicing meditation in motion.
The simple and dreamy practice of Shinrin-yoku comes from Japan and is encouraged by the Japanese government as a way to decrease stress, elevate mood, strengthen the immune system, and improve quality of life since 1982.
I walk slowly and use my senses. Or come back to my senses! For this experience I’m not trying to identify plants or birds. I’m not counting my steps or trying to work up a sweat. I’m just being, in the forest, in winter.
With the absence of the leaves and plants, sounds are clearer, yet at the same time the snow mutes. Rasps and groans from the trees cut through the crisp air. The chatter of birds, woodpeckers rapping, an occasional soft thump of a heavy snow dropping from a tree limb. The curious sound of my feet in the snow makes me laugh out loud.
The landscape is awash in an endless array of subtly magnificent shades of cobalt, grey, browns, and white. A solitary snowflake sparkles like a faerie kiss on the snow – white, blue, or gold.
I pause and feel the snowflakes land gently on my face; I follow a single snowflake on its path fluttering down. In the air lies a hint of the scent of fresh linen (washed in unscented soap, please). In the winter forest there is scent, but at the same time, no scent. The scent of snow is almost more of ‘scentsation.’ I open to the idea of feeling the scentless scent.
Eventually a chill creeps in. I wish I had brought a thermos of tea. I could have stayed longer! Next time. For now I return to my car, my spirit cleansed and bright.
Maybe I’ll head over to a local beach community, now pleasantly sleepy with winter, Union Pier. I can warm up with a sandwich at Milda’s or a soup and vegan pastry at Black Current Bakehouse. Life really is good.
Interested in a talking a winter forest bath of your own? Here are some ideas to try:
Walk as slowly as you can while still keeping warm.
Fix your gaze on a single snowflake and notice how amazing it is!
Stop and listen. What do you hear?
Lean your back against a tree, feeling it sway (or not) and look up at the bare branches in contrast to the sky beyond.
Place your mittened hand on your heart. How do you feel?
For more info about Shrinin-yoku go to http://www.Shinrin-yoku.org or check out the book The Little Handbook of Shinrin-yoku by M. Amos Clifford.
Warren Woods is located in Harbor Country Michigan. A few miles from my sweet home in the magical village of Three Oaks.