Forest Bathing – How Talking To Trees Helped Me Heal

Mental Health, Physical Health, Self Awareness, Women Empowerment
12/04/18 - Elyssa Whaley
Someone in a hammock forest bathing

2017 should have been an amazing year. After a variety of exciting professional experiences, I set a goal to go back to school. I was achieving that goal, graduating from college and on the honor roll.

But it turned out to be a terrible year. I was assaulted a few weeks before my final semester. On the surface, it didn’t seem like a big deal (to me). I had been hurt before, and my motto was, “Just buck up babe.” Because that had been my experience. I started taking care of myself at 6 years old. I have a strong will. I am a fearless woman, but I have never been able to obtain for myself what I have provided for others; nurturing love and protection.

Things got dark.

The level of stress resulting from the attack took its toll. And it wasn’t even that particular experience, but that event surfaced for me other abuses I had previously had to endure that I avoided acknowledging for many years. I turned into girl who couldn’t leave her apartment. I didn’t feel safe. I wouldn’t sleep for days. I was plagued with headaches, vomiting, infections, cold sores, while psoriasis took over my scalp, back, and arms. I even went a few days without food multiple times.

I didn’t tell anyone for a while. My therapist, my boyfriend, and two others were it. I was determined to keep being “perfect.”  I didn’t want the label of a victim and the inevitable badge of shame that comes with it. I wanted to be normal and to be treated normally. I didn’t want the unbearable awkward moments of sharing and watching someone stumble for words. There are few people in this world who can truly empathize with what I have experienced. So most of the time I avoided sharing.

How I started healing

My therapist, Tami, suggested that I go on a camping trip in West Texas surrounded by bison and canyons. And she wanted me to talk to a tree. I asked her if she was on drugs. She laughed, said no and preceded to tell me about all the benefits and blah blah blah. Resolved, I said I would do the trip, but I wasn’t going to do tree talking. I felt this was a ridiculous request at the time and completely stupid. Fueling my refusal to talk to a tree was the fear of allowing myself to experience imagination. Something I felt I lost a long time ago.

Finding my tree

There was a hike Tami made me lead from our campsite. I found a spot in an empty river bed to take a break. She read a poem to me while we soaked up warmth from the sunbaked rocks. After that, she sent me off alone. She said go find your tree. As I was packing up my gear, I told her no. Tami responded, “You’ll find one.” I walked off and a few 100 feet away I yelled, “I’m not talking to any fucking trees!” I looked back with a half-smile and she watched me walk off.

I walked along the riverbed looking at trees wondering how one talks to a tree. Like how would I know which of these is my tree?

And finally, it happened. I was looking up the side of a steep cactus covered incline when I saw her, my tree. I remember saying, “Oh, you’re pretty.” It was nearly impossible to get to her, but I eventually did and sat down next to my tree.  

It was awkward. I looked over the horizon as I was sulking with the assignment. I told the tree, “Tami said I had to talk to you, and I think this is stupid.” My tree and I chatted for a while, and the moments that followed were transformational.

I had unlocked the sway of Forest Bathing.

What is Forest Bathing?

Well, it’s not a spa treatment and it also doesn’t require water or suds.

The practice originated in Japan in the 1980s. There it is called shinrin-yoku and translates to you guessed it…Forest Bathing! Forest bathing is simply being in nature. This practice evolved as a Japanese work culture led to an abundance of stress and health issues from being overworked and constantly indoors.

What I love about this practice is the simplicity of it, walking amongst nature allowing my body and mind to wander. The only thing this practice requires is time and maybe a small commute to a public garden or park (at minimum). The only intention you set is to be in nature; the rest of it is letting yourself follow your senses.

Your practice of Forest Bathing should be a reflection of you. How I reap the benefits of Forest Bathing may not be the way you do. I particularly have an affinity for our beautiful hill country here in Texas, where you may prefer a lush manicured garden or forest. In my practice, I roam with the intention of seeing the moment as a child would. Curiosity takes over, I’ll follow a butterfly, talk to a turtle, birds, trees. There is a rhythm, and you will develop yours.

If my way doesn’t resonate with you there are other ways you can enjoy your practice in nature:

  •     Write in a journal
  •     Do something artistic like sketch the scene in front of you
  •     Practice meditation or yoga
  •     Do some breathing exercises
  •     Even take a nice nap

How forest bathing helped me

At first, I didn’t know if it was working. I rambled aimlessly, but what stood out was my realization that I’m always rushing to get somewhere, rushing to please someone, rushing to be happy, rushing to accomplish something. In talking to my tree, I finally slowed down.

I started reflecting on the dynamic I needed in relationships, and I realized that I needed to become my own person. I needed to stop being the chameleon that transformed into what my partner, agents, or employers wanted. I wasn’t being authentic to me, myself, or I. Tears brimmed my eyes with the pain of introspection.

I told the tree I wanted female friends. It didn’t matter what age. I just wanted them to be beautiful and talented in their own ways. I wanted to learn from them love, independence, and acceptance. I told her that I wanted to surround myself with women who were passionately developing and pursuing their purposes. It felt great to set this intention out loud, even if it was just to a tree.

I acknowledged all my trauma and began to appreciate the strength it bore me. It made me realize the value of a relationship with my future significant other. I wanted to provide for myself and my future family. I want to be able to create a beautiful home with expansive views of red rocks and mesquite trees. I envisioned my future as a wife, mother, and most importantly my future me.

Talking to a tree allowed me to connect with my soul. Allowed me to reconnect with our earth and her energy.  I walked down that canyon back to the path that lead to my tree. In complete serenity, I took in the details of the sand, cactuses, rocks that lined the banks. I felt weightless walking back as the sunset. My purpose surfaced in my heart; my purpose’s focal point is love.

From my love, I can show others how to find the beauty and strength that grows from pain and loss.

How forest bathing can help you

The beauty of Forest Bathing is that it aids all individuals at any activity level from any background or experience of trauma. Experiences like mine are not an indicator of what you need to go through to reap benefits from this long-established practice. In fact, I pose the question, if Forest Bathing helped me on my journey, do you think it could help you?

The benefits from Forest Bathing are plenty and have an array of applications. If you’re overwhelmed at work, you want a fresh start, you want to close a life chapter or you want to celebrate one Forest Bathing is an experience for everyone to gift themselves. No matter what walk of life, town, city or topography,  you can benefit from a visit with nature.

So how does Forrest Bathing benefit you and your life? Here are just some of the benefits of Forest Bathing proven by scientific research:

  •      Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
  •      Reduced blood pressure
  •      Reduced stress
  •      Improved mood
  •      Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  •      Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  •      Increased energy level
  •      Improved sleep

How to get started

Forest Bathing doesn’t have to be a solo experience. You can take a friend or family member if you’d like. It’s totally up to you. You don’t need any fancy camping wear or gear. All you need is you, some time, and a place you enjoy being when you’re outside. A place that facilitates contemplation.

If you’re venturing out alone into nature, inform someone to check in on you and make sure you’re safe later that day. If you’re heading into a state park check in at the office and grab a souvenir. If you live in a city, you can check out your local botanic garden to dip your toes into nature. They usually have open to the public spaces as well as purchased tickets for more exotic features.

Where I am now

I made it back to our campsite and shared with Tami that I actually did talk to a tree. I shared with her my new journey. The next time she gave me a crazy sounding assignment, I didn’t question her.

So where am I now? I am still doing my work in healing and have flourished significantly. When I came into alignment with my purpose and accepted my path, the universe has provided everything that has been needed and wanted in its appropriate time.

Today, I work with an amazing growing company, I’m surrounded by brilliant women, and my boyfriend and I are looking for our first home. I still go to nature retreats and meet people who are also going through life-changing chapters. I’ve made some great friends there as well.  The Earth has become a big part of my everyday life through Forest Bathing. I take care of her in ways I can, and she takes care of me. A part of that is sharing the lessons I’ve learned in life with others. So here is my wish for you – that you find your own tree and are just crazy enough to talk to her too.


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Elyssa Whaley

My name is Elyssa, and I am Ama La Vida’s Marketing Director. I work to build Ama La Vida’s brand and help more people know about the remarkable work we do. On a typical day, you can find me pinning our resources on Pinterest, interacting with our clients on LinkedIn, supporting our brilliant friends in the press who look to ALV for expert commentary or planning out our marketing strategy.

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