Forest Bathing • Julia Plevin Breaks It Down

Photo: Julia Plevin

Photo: Julia Plevin

When we first connected with Julia Plevin earlier this year and she introduced us to the magical art that is forest bathing, we knew that we had to bring this practice to our KISMET community. In preparation for this Sunday's KISMET x Forest Bathing club experience, Julia gives us all the details on the simple and profound art of this age-old practice.

What is forest bathing?

Forest bathing is a practice of being in nature without doing. It's based on the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which literally means bathing in the forest atmosphere. Sometimes I call it a yoga class meets a hike but that doesn't even begin to describe its magic. It's a practice of slowing down, being present, getting out of your own head, and connecting with yourself, your community, and the world around you. It's fully experiential and healing for the mind, body, and soul. It's a way to awaken your senses and your soul. 

What are the benefits?

Since the 1980s, researchers have scientifically proven what we've always known. Nature is healing. Being in nature lowers your heart rate, stress levels, and cortisol levels. The phytoncides, oil that trees give off, increases our natural killer (NK) cell activity and aids in cancer prevention. Just looking up a tree for one minute can increase your sense of awe — which is associated with all sorts of positive characteristics like increasing collaboration and empathy. Being in nature makes us more creative and even makes us love our own bodies more. Really the benefits are endless.

How did you discover it?

I was living in New York City while getting my MFA in design when the lack of nature in my life became an all-encompassing itch that I couldn't scratch. I became obsessed with all the ways that being disconnected from nature makes us sick. But we don't need more ways to be sick — we need ways to heal. No matter what I read, the way to heal was always to connect back to nature. So that's what forest bathing is. I started the Forest Bathing Club as a group on Meetup.com just to see if anyone wanted to do this practice with me and it's been an ever-evolving adventure since. I've been on my own journey of reconnecting to nature that has led to me old growth forests around the world, forest therapy trainings and symposiums in Japan, writing a book on forest bathing, and learning healing practices from Mayan elders. 

Why do you need a guide?

As kids we naturally know how to be in nature, but as adults most of us have forgotten. We might go for a hike or a run, but we forget to slow down and just be. A guide helps open the portal to the magic of nature. I see myself as holding space for people to open up, relax, and heal. I'll keep you safe, keep track of time, and create the experience so you just get to show up. There's also a lot of benefit to doing this in a group. We get to share and learn a lot from each other. It's humbling to see people who have just met sharing so intimately, but that's the power of nature. It's amazing. 

What do you do during a forest bath?

It's an experience that's co-designed with nature. We meet as a group to share our intentions and then step over a portal into liminal time. Really you could just sit under a tree for two hours and call it a day, but I will give the group different invitations for ways to connect with nature. It can be serious or really goofy – often both at the same time. There's time to go off on your own to establish your own connection and then share and integrate back with the group. We always end with a tea or cacao ceremony and council. 

What do you recommend for someone who wants to jumpstart their connection to nature?

Come to a forest bath! We host regular community events and you'll meet lots of likeminded people. Also, find a sit spot in nature and spend 20 minutes just sitting there every day with your eyes open and see what you discover. You can also give offerings (of tobacco, corn kernels, your time, presence, flowers, etc) to the Earth every day. It's a simple and really profound practice. 

Natalie Rizzo