After a talk on Forest Bathing in February, a young man came up to me and thanked me for the talk. He asked if I would be interested in leading his Boy Scout Troop in a Forest Bathing experience. Of course, I’d be interested. I had guided adults and my grandchildren in Forest Bathing and the idea of offering the experience to groups of children and adolescents was both intriguing and exciting. A month after the talk I received an email with a date for spending a Sunday morning with a Boy Scout Troop. They would be on their first campout weekend and I would spend their last morning with them.
I arrived to the camp and was introduced to a group of adolescent Boy Scouts and two Scout leaders. We were gathered in an open area in the woods around a fire pit. After introductions, I spoke briefly about Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing), its history, and its benefits. I invited them to spend the next couple of hours wandering slowly as we interacted with the forest.
We began by stretching, breathing, slowing down, and beginning a mandala of nature finds as a gateway into our time together. I gave them a group invitation — standing in a comfortable spot, slowly turn in one direction, then in the opposite direction. A third turn and instructed them to stop when they felt a sense of ‘right direction’. Open your eyes and for the next ten minutes, wander in that direction, notice what you notice with your senses. Take time to listen, touch, smell, and observe. I also mentioned that they might feel an urge to sit at some point. If you sit, continue to observe with your senses. After ten minutes, we gathered in our circle around the mandala to share our experiences as well as to add to our mandala.
We continued with another group invite to walk even slower and notice what you wouldn’t notice if you were going faster. Again, we gathered to share our experience. Gradually our group mandala began to grow.
Then we each chose invites from a deck I’ve made when I lead groups in Forest Bathing. For the next hour, each boy had his own invites. I watched them slowly wander into the forest. What a beautiful sight to witness! I watched them settling into slowing down as they considered and pursued their individual invites.
The deck of invitations I’ve made are suggestions for interacting in the woods in a positive way. I’ve created invitations that blend interacting in the forest as well as practices from the field of Positive Psychology. The range of invites suggest simply noticing, finding a friend in a tree or rock, to exploring in gratitude, kindness, and awe. After each invite, we added to our mandala and shared our experience.
After a couple of hours, we gathered to close our time together. I asked them what went well as a summary of their morning of Forest Bathing. I heard words like relaxed, calm, focused, and how they noticed many things they had overlooked during their weekend camping in the area. They noticed bugs, leaves decomposing into soil, the taste of dirt, the feel of tree trunks, interesting twigs & stones, bird songs, and an abundance of acorns everywhere. They praised the experience and how they felt better than when they began.
We ended by clearing our mandala as our gateway to completion. I finished in gratitude and encouraging them to continue taking time to befriend trees and noticing with open senses to what’s around them.
I came away with a deeper appreciation of the woods and what happens when we slow down and simply notice. Forest bathing is a rich and mindful experience. Everyone comes away changed in positive ways — even (and especially) youth.