Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is the practice of being mindfully immersed in a forest
space. On October 9th, our forest of choice was the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Led by Seth
McGee, lab manager at the Biocore Program, and Dr. Paul Williams, professor emeritus,
over 43 participants explored the concept of Forest Bathing and its health and wellbeing benefits. The large group began beside the Frautschi Point parking lot as Seth asked us what we already knew about Forest Bathing. A few of the responses included that it was a form of meditation on our natural surroundings, and that it involved the use of all of our senses.
Immersing ourselves with nature we used our senses (sight, touch, smell, hearing, and
taste). Our journey began walking into the forest and using our first sense, touch. Seth and Paul
encouraged participants to feel the soil. Paul handed out portable microscopes for participants
to observe the detailed work of nature, allowing us to use our sight to engage in a more
powerful way. These were originally based on plastic film containers (anyone remember
those?) and are designed so that a bit of moss, twig, or insect can be kept at exactly the right
distance from the lens for examination.
We moved further into the forest and took a few moments of silence to listen to the
birds, the rustling of leaves, and ever so faintly Lake Mendota. Paul also encouraged us to smell
the soil, leaves, and a few remaining flowers. Seth had brought several plants along so that we
could smell their scent, including the minty, “Earl Grey Tea-like” scent of the native prairie plant
Monarda fistulosa, also known as bee balm or wild bergamot. He introduced fragrant samples
from extracts that Biocore students provided. Using our sense of smell, we smelled Balsam fir,
Abies balsamea, which provided a rich and fruity scent, as well as other evergreens. Later on,
Paul encouraged a student participant to taste some fruits of a small tree alongside the path,
afterwards revealing that it was a crabapple.
At the conclusion of our journey, Seth showed the group several books written on Forest
Bathing, and then led us through a guided meditation. Almost magically, a light rain fell for a few
minutes near the end of the walk, giving us yet another sensory experience as we were silent to
hear and feel the raindrops; a fitting conclusion to the experience.
Report and photos by Diana Tapia Ramon and Eve Emshwiller.