I closed the door behind me and stepped into the brisk air of a 20-something degree afternoon. The sky was dull and deflated as if the weather gods had partied too hard New Year’s Eve and regretted decisions that came to light this morning, the first day of 2019.
The concrete sidewalk of my subdivision guided me two blocks over to the sloping curves of the DuPage River Trail, an 8-mile stretch of forest preserves that cut through the Chicago suburb of Naperville and contain an abundance of nature nestled within its plains, woodlands, savannas, and wetlands.
I felt invigorated to be in nature. The air smelled fresh and clean. A slight breeze chilled my skin. A dusting of snow was visible on the timberland surrounding the paved trail path. I could hear the bustling of the DuPage River, a pulsating heartbeat against the silence of woods in hibernation.
I wasn’t aware of the origins or benefits of “forest bathing” before my walk. All I knew was I needed to get outdoors to shake off a case of self-imposed cabin fever.
This was the first time I consciously went “forest bathing” which was introduced as a health practice in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan to encourage relaxation. Derived from the Japanese concept known as Shinrin-yoku (森林浴), the activity involves taking leisurely walks in forested areas for the express purpose of simply “being” in nature.
Numerous studies have shown that regular exposure to forest environments can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and enhance mental wellness. Soaking in nature has become increasingly popular in the U.S. where, as recently noted by The New Yorker magazine, you can sign up to join the national Forest Bathing Club or apply to become a certified forest-therapy guide.
I wasn’t aware of the origins or benefits of forest bathing before my walk. All I knew was I needed to get outdoors to shake off a case of self-imposed cabin fever. I’d spent too much time indoors with a computer screen on the last day of 2018, updating the WordPress architecture that powers my blog and divining the intricacies of Twitter’s algorithm (which is ever-evolving and seemingly unknowable). It wasn’t exactly how I imagined I’d spend the last day of the year. But with my four-year-old daughter at daycare and my wife working from home, it was one of the few occasions as I had as a busy parent to get lost in digital space.
The next day, I laced up my running shoes, slipped on a jacket, scarf and gloves, and made a beeline for the nearest access point of the DuPage River Trail.
When I arrived, only a few people were out at mid-afternoon. A lanky young runner seemingly half human and half giraffe sped by me as if to catch up with his herd. A middle-aged man with an awkward stride jogged toward me. It appeared he hadn’t run in a while but was making good on his New Year’s resolution. An older, jolly couple followed, their boisterous conversation breaking the wooded hush.
I nodded my head and smiled at them all, grateful to live near nature’s respite from modern life.
Ten minutes into my walk, I noticed a sign posted on the trail. I’d passed it several times before but never slowed down to pay attention until today. It read:
- Keep to the right
- Pass on the left
- Travel at a safe speed
- Call out when passing someone
That’s how I’m entering this new year: keeping to the right when I don’t want speed up; passing on the left out of respect to others; moving at a pace that is good for my mental and physical health; giving people a heads-up when I need them to look alert and move out the way.
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.
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