What is forest bathing?

Ben Porchuk, head of the Canadian chapter of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, poses during a session of forest therapy at Sunnybrook Park, in Toronto, on Friday, June 3, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima

TORONTO – Forest bathing has nothing to do with water — it’s all about immersing oneself in the healing properties of trees and plants.

The nascent practice is based on the idea that a slow, deliberate, meditative walk in the woods can offer a host of mental, emotional and physical benefits.

It’s based on the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere.”

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The key goal is to alleviate stress for urban dwellers bombarded by deadlines, technology and the hectic pace of living in a concrete jungle.

Advocates are now trying to establish a group of forest bathing guides in Canada, with a training session set for July 23 north of Toronto.

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This is what it’s all about:

WHAT IT IS: Essentially, forest bathing is a slow walk in the woods. With the emphasis on slow, and without the ubiquitous accessories of urban life — no cellphones, tablets or headphones allowed.

HOW IT’S DONE: Take your time, and notice the sights, sounds, smells and forms around you. Try to relax and let the worries of the day go. Trained forest therapy guides offer walks that can last three-and-a-half hours, and include suggested exercises meant to open your mind and help connect with the natural world.

WHERE TO DO IT: You can try it on your own in a local wooded area if you’re adept at breaking from day-to-day stresses. Otherwise you might seek the support of a guide, but the practice is still pretty new to Canada. There are just five certified guides here, according to the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs, and they are all based in Ontario. But a recent training session included prospective guides in Alberta and British Columbia, so look for the practice to grow out West.

TRAINING FOR A GUIDE: Certified forest bathing guides believe the forest is the therapist, they are merely there to assist. But their training is fairly involved, and pricey, at roughly $4,000 a pop. Training involves a seven-day intensive course to nail down basic safety procedures in addition to the fundamentals of a guiding session. That’s followed by a six-month mentored practicum.

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Source: Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs

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