Forest Bathing and Espacio
Annie Koning, Middle School Faculty

There is a term that was popularized in the mid-1980s in Japan called Shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”). The essence of this movement is that we benefit by taking a break in our routine to get out into nature - to breathe clean air, to listen to the sounds of nature and to reset our focus. 

We can experience this shinrin-yoku and find our “forest” anywhere. A walk down the street with the dog, a stroll to a nearby park to have lunch or even just opening a window to watch the clouds and listen for birds. Even a small shift in our regular routines can give us a reset. Add in nature, and it is an extra bonus.  

We are blessed here in the Seattle area to have access to incredible nature; forests and mountains, water and beaches. I have found that I can gain peace in my world when I head into the woods (a park a block away from my house) or walk along the water. If I have more time, I can go for a longer hike or an excursion out on the water in my very old plastic kayak.

How does this connect to my teaching? It is so easy to stay comfortable in our cozy classrooms and to teach using all of our incredible technology. Our students are skilled at being students in a classroom. My challenge to them is to incorporate intentional self-awareness and quiet of Shinrin-yoku into their day.  

We, as teachers, can offer small opportunities to model finding the “forest” that is all around us. On our campus, the “forest” can be as simple as a scavenger hunt around campus or setting up a class in a different location outside. We can also notice more of our surroundings. On the walk to lunch look up and listen for the various soaring birds that use our Somerset hill for the updrafts. While traveling to the Forest Ridge field and tennis courts notice the different smells offered by pine, fir and cedar trees or take one of my favorite walks to our garden at the very southern edge of campus. Bees hum from their busy pollinating work while Mount Rainier looms in the distance. I feel renewed and refreshed each time I can make this walk.

We can also gain this feeling of renewal through our Sacred Heart practice of Espacio. Espacio (meaning space) is a practice of taking time to be silent, reflective and still. We often practice this as a Forest Ridge community in a moment of reflection at the start of gatherings. I have begun to challenge myself to find times when I can plug in a moment or two of Espacio in my day - my internal forest bathing. When I stop at the store, can I take a few extra minutes to myself for reflection before I head inside with my shopping list? On my way to school can I drive silently and allow for reflection time instead of singing to the radio?

When can we find quiet times for reflection in our crazy day? Being in nature is a step in that direction, but not our only option. Small moments can be equally as powerful. We can find our “forests” anywhere. We just need to be open and willing to set aside the time to notice the peacefulness around us.