Forest bathing at Weir Farm

The term “forest bathing” could conjure up some odd images, but it has nothing to do with flip-flops or large fluffy towels.

It is a means of enhancing personal wellness — mental, emotional and physical — through walks that encourage people to become more attuned to nature. For the second year, Weir Farm National Historic Site on Nod Hill Road has been offering forest bathing programs as part of its Healthy Parks Healthy People program.

Certified forest therapy guide Jennifer Salkin of Redding leads participants on a two-hour walk that incorporates a number of exercises to encourage greater awareness of one’s senses while experiencing the calming effects of walking quietly and attentively through meadows and along forest trails.

“They are different ways of being present in the moment and nature,” she said of the exercises. It’s not a workout. “It’s to be connected to nature.”

Forest bathing began in Japan, where it is known as Shinrin Yoku, in the 1980s, Salkin told The Bulletin during a visit to Weir Farm.

“As Japan became more industrialized, a rise in diseases associated with industrialization like stroke, heart attack and diabetes were seen,” she said. “Forest bathing is one of the ways to combat these effects. It draws on Shinto and Buddhist traditions of being in nature.”

A number of studies done in Japan showed that spending time in a natural environment helped with blood pressure, cortisol levels, and mood. A licensed marriage and family therapist, Salkin turned to forest bathing as a way to help people alleviate anxiety and depression and improve their mood.

While each guided walk may differ, two exercises that she does with all groups are to have participants stand with their eyes closed and focus on their other senses — what they hear, smell and feel. She also leads a slow walk through a meadow, encouraging people to take in all that they see, feel, hear and smell around them.

Another exercise she may incorporate takes place in the forest. Participants will walk along the trail until they reach a tree. She encourages the walkers to look at the tree and talk to it, perhaps expressing a problem or a concern, and then sit with the tree and reflect on what can be taken from it. Perhaps strength or growth.

She ends each walk with a tea ceremony.

“One of the great things about Weir is the range of environments here,” Salkin said. “I love seeing how people slow down and notice things, there’s a happiness in that.”

Forest bathing does not need to be done in a special place, or even in a forest, per se.

“I really encourage people to do it in their own backyard,” she said. “If people sat in their backyards and did the sensory exercises, that would be great.”

Wellness at the park

While Weir Farm is most associated with art, having been the home of several artists beginning with impressionist painter Julian Alden Weir in 1882, it has also served as a retreat, a place for respite, rejuvenation, and creativity, even in those early days.

“Weir Farm is not just for artists,” said Kristin Lessard, the park’s chief of Interpretation, Education, and Volunteer Services. “People can just come here and reconnect with nature and find peace and happiness.”

The forest bathing walks are free but space is limited. To register, or for more information, call 203-834-1896, ext. 28.

Remaining programs for this year are:

 Saturday, Aug. 31, 9-11 a.m. — registration is open.

 Sunday, Sept. 22, 9-11 a.m. —registration opens Aug. 15.

 Saturday, Oct. 12, 9-11 a.m. — registration opens Sept. 15.