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Walden Monterey – The Science Behind a Walk in the Woods

At Walden Monterey, we may be a bit bias, but we certainly are not the only ones who feel compelled to get outside and be in Nature.

So, why are we so drawn to walking in the woods, seeing green leaves swaying overhead, to feeling the soft ground yielding underneath our feet, to hearing the birds call and respond, to smelling the damp earth and the sweet wildflowers?

Strolling through Walden Monterey

If you’re like many people, you often yearn to be out in nature, especially if you spend most of your time inside.

It turns out there are some amazing scientific reasons why a walk in the forest feels so good. Trees contain essential oils that get released into the forest air. When we walk under and among trees, we breathe in these near-magical oils, and that does a world of good for our health. Right away, our energy levels increase by more than 30 percent. We sleep better and longer too; a two-hour walk among trees increases the amount of sleep by an average of 15 percent.

It’s not just a coincidence that being in the forest puts you into such a good mood — feeling less stressed, less anxious, less depressed, and less angry; studies show that being near trees significantly reduces the amount of stress hormones in our bodies. As if that’s not enough, inhaling these tree oils is good for the heart, the circulation, and the immune system.

The Japanese Practice of Forest Bathing

Walden’s emphasis on Nature may have appeared to be unique for its time, but these practices have been encouraged for centuries. The Japanese have taken this idea of gaining health benefits from being near trees and turned it into an art form. Instead of these benefits being a side effect of spending time in nature, they have become the reason to go to the forest in the first place. The Japanese call these health-seeking experiences in nature shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing.” 

Shinrin-yoku is an ancient practice in Japan, but it has become wildly popular with the recent publication of the bestselling book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li, a leading expert in the science of forest medicine. 

Hiking through nature on one of Walden Monterey's trails.
Walden Monterey Hiking Paths

How to be a Forest Bather

Dr. Li has specific advice about how you can gain the benefits of a forest bathing practice. Before you start, leave your phone and your camera behind (that alone can be both highly challenging and very beneficial for many people!). Start walking into the woods without any plan. Move slowly. Let your body go where it wants to go, and let it guide you to a spot that is just right for you, a place that you love, one that feels special.

Experience nature with all of your senses. Notice the different colors around you. Listen to the leaves rustling in the wind. Inhale deeply, and taste the air. Feel the texture of a tree trunk with your fingertips or the cold rushing water of a stream with your toes. Use your sixth sense too — the feeling of joy and calmness that you experience when you connect fully with nature.

Katie Dutcher, founding teacher of Monterey Bay Meditation Studio, shares the practice of “Sit Spot”, at Walden Monterey. Find a spot in nature where you can go often… and go there! Sit and notice what is occurring within you and around you. Notice what changes each time you return to this spot. Join us for our annual Nature Meditation Retreat Series, “Waking Up in the Wild”

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