Connecting with forests

By Jeff Zeringue

Shinrin is the Japanese word for forest. The word for bath in Japanese is yoku. Put together you get the phrase that has been popping up in stories across the globe — forest bathing — encouraging people to spend more time in forests as a way to decompress or reset.

The Japanese culture has a close connection with the natural world, as described by Dr. Qing Li, who has promoted “forest bathing” in a book by the same title. Li, chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, explains how in his culture, trees and forests play a huge role in changing moods from stressful to calm.

Many folks in America who enjoy spending time outdoors probably don’t call it “forest bathing,” but being immersed in a sea of trees and drink in all that it has to offer allows them to shed the tension of work and life and don a sense of tranquility.

“It’s simple, really, not complicated,” said Cristy Garcie, a nurse who lives and works in Central Louisiana. “It’s just to get away from the hustle and bustle.”

Garcie, 42, is fond of hiking and tries to hit the great outdoors often.

“I try to do it weekly or every other week,” she said. “ Or if I do a vacation, its usually some kind of adventure in the woods.”

Although Garcie has spent much of her life in Louisiana, she spent her younger years in Alaska, where her love for the outdoors began. Her family had a camper and they spent many times enjoying getting away.

When she was 14, her family moved thousands of miles south, away from what she had known growing up. However, the family’s property was adjacent to the Kisatchie National Forest, which allowed her to ride her horse in the woods, further developing her love of forests.

“I don’t think I’ve ever tried to put it into words,” Garcie said. “It’s just my adventure.”

Now she seeks the sights of forests within a several-hours ride of her home, taking on adventures with her trusty sidekick, Haze, a black lab mix she adopted a while back. On any adventure in the woods, she said it takes about 30 minutes to clear her mind. After that, the time spent is more serene.

For Mary Lynn Ward, spending time in the forest might seem to be a little more on the spiritual side. Ward is a nurse practitioner at the VA Hospital in Pineville.

“Just being in nature, with all the stress we deal with, it (time outdoors in the forest) restores my soul,” Ward, 52, said.

“There’s something spiritual about being out there and connecting with nature. You get to play and be a kid again.”

That playful attitude includes much “cutting up” and lots of laughter, she said.

Spending considerable time away from the forest is easily felt.

“I get very tense in my neck and shoulders, and my blood pressure” is often raised by the end of the week, though she admits that she has gone as long as a couple of weeks without spending time in the forest.