Blending Positive Psychology, Forest Bathing, and Boy Scouts

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.  

Choice, Every Moment, Everyday

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What choice can you make today to be 5% happier? This is a question I ask on those gray days— whether gray outside or inside. Sounds so easy to make different choices and, yet, not always so easy. Today happens to be one of those days for me. I woke up to snow and wind (and, yes, it was forecast) which, surprisingly, I was disappointed that the forecast was correct in early April. I decided to finish a book I’d been reading. Once I finished the book, I found myself wandering around the house with little that interested me in doing. After about an hour of wandering, I decided to ask myself, “What can I do to be 5% happier right now?”

Making choices to be just 5% happier takes practice, mindfulness, and commitment with each choice. How do we begin? It is as simple as asking the question and waiting for an answer. Within minutes, I did decide to cook (which always makes me happy). Doing one simple thing changed my mood from OK to feeling satisfied and looking forward to dinner.

Through studying Positive Psychology, I have learned to ask questions, such as, what can I do to feel 5% happier. Other questions I ask help re-direct my focus from what I think isn’t working to focusing on what is going well and what is good. So I will ask myself, what is going well right now?; what can I do or say to feel differently?; who can I be that is more positive, mindful or present?; what can I appreciate more in this moment?.

One of my favorite questions, ‘Who do I want to be today?’, is a question I ask myself most mornings as I finish my journal writing before heading off to my day. My answers set a positive tone and intention to my day which has made my life more meaningful. It has become a positive anchor that I create each morning for myself and am, then, better prepared for the curve balls that life throws my way (most days there is at least one unexpected curve ball).

At the end of my day, in my evening meditation, I answer another question, ‘What am I grateful for?’. Gratitude has been proven to have lasting benefit toward a positive life and better health. For me, I remind myself of those experiences, things, people, animals, and family that make my life richer (even a good meal or a great movie find their way to my lists). Sometimes on my list are experiences that weren’t so positive but I learned from them. Acknowledging my gratitude keeps me from taking my life for granted. When I end my meditation and tuck in for the night I go to sleep with a full and open heart.

Each day we make choices — what to wear, what to eat, when to exercise, what to pay attention to, read, learn and do. I like knowing that I have choice. We also have choice around how to react, how to be present, and how we want to feel. Mostly, my choices have become much more mindful and positively focused. As a result, I am overall, happier doing what I love and living with purpose.

So, I’ll end here with how I began…

“What choices can you make today to be 5% happier?”

New Experiences, New Neural Pathways, And Lot’s of Fun!

Spent the weekend with my grandchildren which always feeds my happy & healthy with play, adventures, and fun. This weekend was filled with ‘first’s’ which I am grateful to participate in and witness.

My 5 1/2 year old learned to tie her new shoes! Version 2To be sure a new neural pathway was formed in her brain, she tied & untied, tied & untied, over and over again. Each time she was ever so proud of her accomplishment!

For my 14 month old, he participated in his first Easter egg hunt. After the first two finds with the help of his Dad, he was off and running to keep up with his sister.

Version 2 The day before Easter, the sun was shining so we headed outdoors with sidewalk chalk on the driveway — nothing like fresh air, creativity, and keeping up with a toddler learning to run with his new shoes to feed the soul with joy!Version 2 For me, my fun was photographing the events when I wasn’t dying eggs, filling eggs, working on puzzles, or joining the fun with sidewalk chalk!

My return home is full of memories, appreciating my family, and looking forward to our next adventures!

An Important Book Review: A Short Course in Happiness after Loss by Maria Sirois

Maria Sirois
Maria Sirois is an elegant and graceful storyteller with a wealth of stories from her own life and work. In her new book, A Short Course in Happiness After Loss, she reminds us that loss is an inevitable part of life which none of us is spared. Through her writing about loss, and I mean the kind of loss involving abrupt change to the core of our being and the way we think life is or should be. Losses such as death, divorce, and illness. These are kinds of loss that alter our reality (and often instantly) where we are taken out of our day-to-day normal and brought into the depths of raw and consuming emotion. All of these losses involve grieving and require time to heal.

Maria leads us through the journey with full permission to be in all the mess and emotion for as long as it takes. She leads us on an upward spiral through grief, hope, courage and onto the possibility of happiness with baby steps of awareness to rise up and see life as it is — a co-existing of good and bad, of up and down, of messy and orderly, sadness and joy. Maria’s authentic and raw honesty goes right to the heart and opens the door to moving forward into a life of meaning and pleasure. She is not talking at us about loss. She leads us, through real experiences, onto the path to healing.

Slowly, with tenderness and respect, Maria shows us that happiness — a life of meaning and joy — is possible when we begin to notice what is good, what is beauty, and onto what can be a new normal with joy as well as loss.

I was reminded of the morning my mother died and I went for a hike in the woods to cry, to remember, and to be cradled in the arms of nature. It was there I found a robin’s egg, newly hatched. I saw that coexisting was the metaphor of the release of my mother from this life for which I felt enormous grief and a glimmer of beauty and life continuing on in spite of the empty well I felt knowing my mother was gone.

Yes! I highly recommend Maria’s book for everyone, since loss does not discriminate who will or won’t experience loss. We all will, at some point. This book is an important guide through loss to the other side. A great short course to be, perhaps, better prepared when loss finds itself into our life. If you are in the midst of loss and wanting to find your own way to a new normal, this book is a beacon to find your own courage, awareness, and bravery on your journey.

Living in Strength


Mountain Goat Utah

“Curious people pursue experiential novelty, variety, and challenge.”

I thought I would be writing about mindfulness in this post. However, what I am full with this morning are my strengths — love of learning and curiosity. So I am going with the flow and will write about mindfulness at another time.

I have spent too much time in my life in judgement and self-criticism around what I thought were my faults. I have worked hard to try to fix them with all the New Age approaches and therapies I could use — affirmations, visualizations, energy healing, journaling, and reading every self-help book I could lay my hands on. I also spent years in therapy through my 20’s and 30’s trying to understand and looking at my past as the focus of blame and trying to repair my faults. All of my efforts provided few lasting results. I still struggle with forgiveness and teamwork. Sound familiar?

Then, several years ago I found the Certificate in Positive Psychology course through The Whole Being Institute and offered at Kripalu. I became immersed in Positive Psychology which is grounded in the science of what is good and what is working in life. Rather than looking only at what needs fixing, Positive Psychology looks at successful, happy people and looks at what they do that makes a difference regardless of their past (or present circumstances). What a game changer this has been for me!

Note: if you want to shed light on your life and begin living from what is working, go to Whole Being Institute ( and consider investing positively in yourself.

One area of Positive Psychology that has had a tremendous impact on my day-to-day life has been the study of strengths and learning to live more from my character strengths while nurturing some of the strengths that are not at the top of my being in the world.

Learning about virtues and strengths that are universal opened my eyes to a whole new world and a positive focus in my life as well as those I work with. Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson (two top psychologists in Positive Psychology research) wanted to know about the strengths that are inherent in people worldwide. Through their research and work, they found there were six virtues — wisdom, temperance, transcendence, courage, justice, and humanity — that are commonly valued across cultures. Within those six virtues are twenty-four strengths that are also commonly valued worldwide. They are: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, love, kindness, social intelligence, teamwork, fairness, leadership, forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality. These strengths exist in everyone to varying degrees. Seligman and Peterson found that everyone has strengths that are used more than others and that through questioning we can learn what strengths make up who we are as individuals (a personal blueprint of strengths) in our lives. Our top five to seven strengths are used most and are referred to as our character strengths or those that make up who we are in our day-to-day.

Note: Go to to learn your personal ranking of the 24 strengths. There are, also, other organizations that offer strengths questionnaires for you to learn yours. A simple Google search will lead you to several.

When I took the VIA (Virtues in Action) questionnaire I saw my personal blueprint showing my ranking of the twenty four universal strengths. I had an ‘aha!’ moment! I was pleased and sat with a clearer understanding of who I am in my life to myself and others.Though my most used strengths were no surprise, they were a relief to know, and my understanding of myself expanded.

My character strengths (or my top 5 – 7) shed light on how I think, act, and present myself in my daily life. What was even more enlightening were the strengths, though present, that are not my most used. The two at the bottom of my list of twenty-four are the ones I’ve judged (and been judged for) myself for not expressing easily. I felt ‘off the hook’ for my life-long struggles to be different than I am and more like others.

Fun for me has been identifying when I am using my strengths, being mindful of using them in new ways (there, I am writing about mindfulness), and when I am spotting strengths in others. I am also learning to use my top strengths to nurture those strengths I use less, yet would like to use more.

“Teamwork is a strong sense of duty, works for the good of the group rather than for personal gain…”

Teamwork is not a top strength for me which explains why I work so much better being self-employed and in a solo healthcare practice. Now, I’ve been on many teams in my life (as an athlete in my youth, teamwork was important), however, teamwork isn’t something I often seek out now that I am older.

Last fall I was accepted to work as part of a team of teaching assistants for the current year-long course in Positive Psychology. I realized it as an opportunity to use the year to strengthen my skills of teamwork. I thought it would, at times, be a challenge to be communicating, working with and sharing responsibilities to guide a group of new students into and through a year of Positive Psychology study.

I must admit that there have been times in my adult life where I would not have even begun such a journey. There have also been times when I would excuse myself (yes, quit) to return to my solitary and comfortable way of being.

This time, however, my commitment is to continue and learn all I can while immersing myself fully in a team. My two top strengths — love of learning and curiosity — I am using to bolster teamwork in myself. I like to look at it as tethering my top strengths to one that I want to develop and master more. I am using my love of learning (learning all I can about myself and the team I am part of) and curiosity (my natural tendency to explore) to become a better team player.

What fun I am having!! I love the journey and am making new life-long friends in the process. I am even more passionate about Positive Psychology and working with others to extend the outreach of happiness in the world. I am appreciating my team and grateful for this opportunity (two of my other character strengths). I know I will continue to look for more teamwork possibilities in my life and will do it again and again!

I highly recommend you find out what your top/character strengths are and find ways to consciously live from them. I know you will be happier, healthier, and experience a more fulfilling life. For yours, go to

Smile, Look Up & Expand Your Body


These are three simple adjustments we can make anytime, anywhere, to change our mood, lift our spirits, inspire self-confidence, and communicate our strength and positivity. They are smile, look up (yes, that’s right, look up to the sky), and expand your body or as Amy Cuddy in her book, Presence, calls stand in a power pose (more from Amy Cuddy later).

  1. Look Up:

Looking up is a simple action with powerful results. If we are worrying, feeling blue, or stressing about something, our eye gaze tends to be down — anywhere below eye level. A simple adjustment to our mood is to look up. Lifting our eyes and head to look up changes our posture — we stand taller, open our chest & heart, breathe deeper, and feel lighter and more joyful.

I remember working with young children who were mostly from troubled families. They would come to Day Care each day with their feelings on their sleeves or in their fists. When they walked, they often looked down toward the ground. When someone approached them, they would startle or duck down. When sitting, they would wrap their arms around themselves as if protecting their hearts from harm. On walks or even indoors, I would have them look up toward the tree tops or the sky and tell me what they saw. This simple shift in their gaze lightened their mood almost immediately with laughter and open dialogue soon after.

This simple practice of looking up is something I do on all of my walks. If I am feeling down or out of sorts, I will walk outside and look up to the sky. I’ve known for many years that looking up changes my outlook, lifts my spirits, and I go about my day in a more positive frame of mind. I am even convinced that on long hikes or runs, when I look down at my feet I feel more pain in my body and when I look up, my pain diminishes and often releases entirely.

This has been my little secret awareness for many years until reading Amy Cuddy’s work on how we hold our bodies, I now know there have been studies done that support what I’ve known all along! When we change our posture to a powerful pose (expanding, looking up, and becoming bigger) rather than a powerless pose (folded in on ourselves, looking down, shoulders rounded) we benefit by feeling more self-confident, self-assured, less anxiety and depression, and less physical pain.

Looking up! How simple is that!

2. Smile:

Another simple practice I use is to smile. My Positive Psychology instructor, Tal Ben-Shahar, teaches that it isn’t just any smile, but an authentic smile which includes smiling with our eyes. We all know the fake smiles. We’ve seen them in photo’s of people who are told to smile for the camera but aren’t really feeling it — they are smiling only with their mouths. An authentic smile is one where we smile with our eyes as well as our mouths!

When you look at someone or a group of people and they are smiling or even laughing, what do you naturally do? Of course, you smile or laugh with them even if you don’t know what they are happy about! Laughter and smiles are contagious and they feel good because they communicate to the brain to release ‘feel good’ chemicals (hormones).
My first Qi Gong class always ended with the instructor saying, “Put a smile on your face and then open your eyes.” With a smile, I breathed deeper, stood taller, and moved onto the rest of my day in a more positive mood.

Research now shows that the posture we hold triggers our brain to release different hormones that match our posture. A simple act of changing our physical posture with a smile directs our feelings and our actions. When I wake in the morning, I stretch, pet my dog & cat, and put a smile on my face — all before getting out of bed. This daily ritual sets the tone for my day.

I challenge you to practice waking each morning and, before tossing back the covers, put a smile on your face first and then see how you feel and act. Imagine everyone in your family or circle of friends beginning the day with putting a smile on their face!

3. Expand Your Posture into One of Power:

Amy Cuddy, in her book, Presence, talks at length about how we carry ourselves — our posture. She says, “The way you carry yourself is a source of personal power – the kind of power that is the key to presence.” Her research and that of many others sited in her book, substantiate that expanding our body by standing taller, opening our chest, looking up, and arms open (not wrapped around ourselves) has many benefits. When we stand in a powerful pose we communicate presence, self-confidence, and self-assurance. We are more creative, courageous, generous, resilient, and open. In her words, “It doesn’t change who you are; it allows you to be who you are.”

When we stand or sit with our posture open, powerful, and head held high, we communicate and feel very differently than when we sit or stand in a powerless position with head bowed, arms wrapped around ourselves, and our shoulders rounded.

Try it. Walk around the room in a powerful, open posture. How do you feel? Then, change to a powerless posture and notice how you feel. When we stand in a more powerful way we feel happier, more optimistic, confident, and less stressed or anxious. We can more easily access positive memories and positive outlooks when we stand in a powerful way.

These are three simple practices that communicate to our brains to feel better by releasing positive hormones. I encourage you to try them out and then share them with those in your family and circle of friends. If everyone did that, we would find ourselves living in a better world with happier people!

Lastly, I highly recommend reading Presence by Amy Cuddy. She also has done research on the not so positive effects of technology (head bowed over a cell phone, texting, playing games, watching the news) and the posture that is being expressed worldwide…

What is Healing?

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Healing is so much more than getting rid of a disease or condition we are living with. True healing is finding a sense of well-being and peace within our lives as a whole — spiritual, emotional, mental, relational, and physical — and learning to live fully with or without a condition or disease.

I remember working in an AIDS clinic before the current cocktail of medications were available. At the time, AIDS was thought to be incurable, a certain death. Each day I saw a steady client list of both men and women, most of whom are no longer alive. It was in that clinic where I began to ask, “What is healing?”

These men and women were some of the most cheerful, loving, and kind people I’ve worked with. They were choosing to continue living, fully engaged. They told stories of places they’d been, family and friends they’d made peace with, and the parties and gatherings they attended or hosted. Each week, they would come for their acupuncture, herbs, and shiatsu. They continued to go to the gym or their yoga classes. They were generous with compliments, gifts, and lively conversation. They were always gracious, kind, and grateful. At first glance, no one would guess that they were living with an incurable disease.

In conversation with many of them, I learned that healing on the deepest level is an inner experience. Even though their disease wasn’t going away and their death was imminent, they healed on many other levels of living. It was through them that I learned the true meaning of healing as a state of being fully engaged and present in life. They taught me about reaching out to community, making amends, being grateful for another day, and keeping dreams alive as long as there is breath.

When we find ourselves challenged, finding a new normal is a first step. A new normal is one in which life continues to be a fulfilling journey with a chronic condition, disease, or even disability. I see a client who is disabled from an accident several years ago. He is severely limited in the use of the left side of his body. He comes to see me regularly and is eager to continue his healing journey with a team of practitioners that work toward continued healing. It is likely that he will never have full use of his arm and his leg may always need a brace to walk, yet he is on a healing journey and learning what a new normal looks like. He has said many times that he feels healthier than he has ever been in his life because of his disability. He talks about his lifestyle changes ranging from healthy food, regular exercise with a fitness specialist, massage, acupuncture, a positive attitude, and mindfulness as he learns to navigate his new way of being. He makes choices every day to view life as a positive experience. He now feels his disability is a source of strength and resilience.

In Oriental Medicine, I use the term right relationship as the goal for healing. The body is seen as a series of energy channels (meridians), each with its specific functions that help to maintain homeostasis. As we live life through the seasons, through our work, family, emotional and physical stresses, our body falls out of right relationship with one or more channels of energy falling out of balance with the others. Acupuncture, with its function of moving energy, and herbal formulas aim to re-calibrate and invite the meridians back into right relationship with each other. Once back in right relationship within, we feel better, more resilient, and we experience more energy. We can then better manage our particular challenges with a sense of being on course.

Our health and healing are much like flying an airplane or driving a vehicle. We are never totally on course, we make progress to our destination by making continuous corrections with the steering wheel until we reach our destination. So it is with our inner balance or right relationship. Living life pulls us in different directions, by making ongoing corrections in our self-care, practicing those activities that feed our well-being, and knowing that our health is a fluctuating experience we find our way.

We can be involved in deep healing right now, today. We don’t need to be sick or in pain to be healing. For today, we can begin to discover what healing is for us and be better prepared when challenges do arise.

As a healthcare practitioner with a passion for finding happiness, meaning, and purpose, I believe healing is an experience along a continuum of well-being and living life fully. My wish for myself and those I work with is that we all find healing now. I am committed to continuing to ask the questions, “What is healing?” and “How do you find your own healing, with or without a disease or chronic condition?”

Some practices that, for me are foundational for my own inner healing are gratitude, kindness, and appreciation. I, also, choose to live my life feeding my soul, my emotional self, and my physical self through exercise, meditation, and writing daily in a journal. I attempt to live fully engaged and doing those things that allow me to experience flow and aliveness. I nurture my relationships and reach out to community. I feed my intellect with ongoing learning and asking important questions. Consider which practices you could begin to do to encourage your own healing, even if your health is not currently challenged.