5 Ways to Explore the Forest:
A Practice for Woods Therapy
5 Ways to Explore the Forest: A Practice for Woods Therapy
One of the most momentous activities of my childhood camping trips was a day-long hike in the campground. I remember numerous hikes through Peninsula State Park to find the tower at the end. It was the greatest reward. I felt like the captain of a mission, always hiking at the front of the family, leading us to wonder.
My younger sister, on the other hand, would trail behind on a mission of her own. To find any and every slug on the trail. I’d get so frustrated with her as she’d stop and stare at every, single slug she saw. She was fascinated by them.
I wanted to plow through the forest, get to the tower, and celebrate the finish. Rush. She would slow us all down as she’d readjust her backpack, which she insisted on bringing, filled to the brim with snacks. She’d stop, gaze at a slug, pull out a gummy bear for everyone, then move on until she saw another slug and repeat the whole dance. It drove me nuts, do you know how many slugs are in the woods? (Ask her, she took pictures of all of them too!) Stopping and starting our hike for a little bug seemed like such an inhibitor to the greater goal at the finish!
As I grew up, I retained my incredibly focused style of hiking. I had a goal and I wanted to accomplish it as fast and successfully as possible. I always would succeed and I enjoyed the experience. But, what I realized as I started to learn a more yogic lifestyle, was how much I was missing out on during the journey - and how right my sister’s style of hiking was.
5 Ways to Explore the Forest - Use Your 5 Senses
Being outside is a gift. As adults we barely get enough exposure, especially as the seasons start to chill. We need to grant ourselves more time to explore. To pack our backpack filled with gummy bears and go in search of slugs. To experience the woods with every sense; to fully enjoy what a blessing we’re surrounded with. No goal in mind.
So, naturally, I recommend these five ways to explore the forest:
There are noticeable scents to each season. If you take time to focus on the smells you catch wind of, you will be surprised how much they can vary as you move through a woods or prairie. There are the pungent autumn scents of amber, musk, and spice. The cold, fresh pines of winter. Sweet, sassy aromas screaming from buds and animals in spring. Vibrant, energetic scents in summer.
One of my favorite practices in mindfulness is to focus on grounding. The connection of your feet to the ground; feeling the roots of your soul extruding through your feet and into the Earth. It’s a very powerful feeling to experience this connectivity.
Pay attention to the outer boundaries of your vision. Often, I find myself focused sternly on the trail while hiking, barely seeing anything but dusty dirt. Walking more slowly, taking care to mind your step, allows you to broaden your vision beyond the floor. Look for different types of mushrooms and fungi, creativity of trees with their leaf color and varieties, or the samples of wildlife that may scuttle past your feet.
Don’t be afraid to taste the woods! If you pay attention to it, you will find a unique flavor in being surrounded by nature. It’s pure and fresh. Famous chefs and sommeliers have been known to taste the flavors of the forest, you can too. Too much for you? Try an apple, fiddlehead, or morel to experience these natural flavors.
Notice the variation in sounds of the terrain as you step forward. Hear the obvious sounds of natures with the birds, breeze and critters. Deepen your listening by sensing the movement and vibrations of the forest with your heart.
Put all of these senses together and you’ll find yourself in an uplifted state, a meditation. This has come to be known as “Woods Therapy.” People are actually being prescribed to get away from the daily stressors to step into the outdoors and enjoy the presence of nature that encompasses them.
Crazy to think something we intrinsically enjoy so much is now being ordered by a doctor's note, but you can see how beneficial exposing yourself to nature can be.
Many of us have lost our connection. How often are we allowing ourselves the chance to escape with no agenda, no mission, no purpose. Just to venture out to the woods, the beach, to sip nature’s blessings of peace, truth, and acceptance.
There’s something you can do in the forest during every season. In Wisconsin, we’re blessed with four, full seasons. This year, challenge yourself to step into the woods during each one. Don’t hide away in the winter, step out and ski, snowshoe, or trudge through the thick snow.
Frolic in the spring, smell the daisies. Indulge in summer, exercise by running or biking and feed off of the forest’s energy. Gaze, and gaze, and gaze in the fall - enjoy every last second of the fall colors Door County is blessed with.
For as long as I’ve been visiting Door County, I’ve been able to experience a release in its landscape. I’m sure many of you have as well - it’s almost too easy to get lost in the beauty of the Peninsula’s wildlife. We’re blessed with gorgeous state parks, trails, beaches and waterfronts, that all encapsulate a sense of well-being and contentment. It’s refreshing to take in the sights. Even more so to allow ourselves enough time to release into full awareness of all our senses.
Breathe in, open your eyes, feel the energy of the Earth, taste that earthy flavor, and listen for that incredible connection to the wonder of our Door County nature.