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Resolve to try forest bathing in 2020

I’ve been looking forward to 2020.

My daughter graduates from high school this year, and references and jokes about clear vision have coursed through our family for a long time. Now that the new decade has actually arrived, I feel compelled to focus on themes that allow us to see the world around us more clearly – particularly the natural world – in this column.

Whether you actively participate in resolutions for the new year or not, I would venture that you at least consider resolutions or new starts when January rolls around. Assuming so, I encourage you to include purposeful time in nature this year.

The Japanese have a particular practice they call “forest bathing,” or shinrin-yoku. This practice is not geared toward going higher, farther, or faster. Rather, forest bathing implores us to slow down, unplug and connect with the world around us.

Think of a traditional bath. If you’re a child – or maintain that youthful spirit – baths are great fun. A good deal of time can be spent pouring water in, over or on any variety of items. Watching, listening and feeling the water flow mesmerizes. As adults, we treasure soaking in a bath as a way to unwind and relax, letting the warm water soothe what ails us. The ultimate benefit regardless of age is emerging from a bath clean and refreshed.

Forest bathing provides similar outcomes. The key is to engage the senses amid the trees – or other natural settings. Let your senses ignite your curiosity. Take time to smell the bark of the mighty ponderosa. Does it smell like butterscotch, vanilla or something else to you? Listen to the leaves on the quaking aspen trees. What do the different needles on our deciduous evergreens feel like? What does the sunlight – or rain drops or snowflakes – feel like on your face? What animals do you hear? See? Allow yourself to touch rocks, bark, leaves, dirt, mud and water.

We tend to focus so much on our physical activities that it can be too easy to rush through nature and miss out on the simple elements that provide so much additional benefit. By slowing down and engaging our senses, we experience so much more. Much like a traditional bath, forest bathing has tangible, proven benefits in reducing our blood pressure, boosting immunity and lessening anxiety – among other things. Studies have shown that phytoncides released by plants and trees emit anti-microbial and anti-fungal qualities that we take in when in their midst. Even a few moments of forest bathing has positive impacts.

I encourage you to resolve to include forest bathing in your list of activities in 2020. If you’re looking for ways to give back to the community and enjoy working with children and want to encourage them to have their own positive experiences in nature, including activities like forest bathing, consider joining Durango Nature Studies as a volunteer naturalist.

We will be hosting our orientation and training for the 2020 winter snowshoe program Jan. 15 and Jan. 17. Visit our website or contact me directly for more information.

Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at stephanie@durangonaturestudies.org.