The Sensual World

In The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing, Julia Plevin urges readers to spend time outdoors, activate their senses and get in touch with nature—and themselves.

 

Plevin says taking the time to listen to the sounds of nature can relieve stress. Photo © Frank Kappa

To reinvigorate your senses, practice focusing on them one by one. Focusing on each sense will help you open up to greater perception and awareness. As you meander, invite the forest in with all your senses.

Take a moment to isolate each sense; then see how many senses you can engage at once. It’s a bit like rubbing your belly in a circle with one hand while trying to pat your head with the other, and it takes practice. Senses are like muscles that we can strengthen by being in the forest.

As the calming forest enables your eyes to relax and you focus on what you hear, smell, taste and touch, you invite nature to seep in through all of your senses to provide healing. Nature is a healer; you just have to open up to her power and her healing. When all your senses are engaged at once, you are, by definition, fully present. It’s a feeling of being alive, and it is absolutely sensational.

See

Nature cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg says, “If you compare light energy to musical scales, it would only be one octave that the naked eye can see, which is right in the middle.”

In modern life, we rely a lot on our vision, but the benefits of nature are far more than what meets the eye. We take in 80 percent of our information through our eyes, and yet there’s so much that we can’t see with the naked eye.

Smell

You can smell your way to bliss. Place your nose next to a tree, plant, or the soil, and inhale deeply. Don’t try to recognize the aroma; let it dance through your nostrils as you share this connection with nature. Close your mouth and breathe in the nutrient-rich scents of the Earth.

Listen

Close your eyes and focus on what you hear. Cup your hands over your ears and listen to the sounds of the birds and insects, and the rustling of the trees. The sounds we hear in nature can relieve stress and restore us.

You can hear so much once you quiet your own thoughts and open your ears to listen. Listen to sounds that are nearby and others that are more distant. Some sounds are so constant that we forget to notice them, and other sounds, such as the music that arises from Earth herself, are so subtle that it takes a long time of being in a very quiet place before you hear them at all.

Touch

Shift your awareness to touch. If you’re standing, notice how your feet feel touching the Earth. As you sit, touch the soil, put some in your hand, and notice how it feels. Gather a handful of soil and inspect it.

What do you notice? What happens if you rub it into your skin? Get lost in the ancient processes at work in the forest.

Touch is an often overlooked but very important part of forming bonds with one another and with the Earth. Sometimes we walk through nature as though we’re strolling in an art museum, keeping our hands politely to ourselves. The more we physically touch the Earth, the more we open ourselves to her healing powers—and our touch can be healing for the plants as well.

Taste

Open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and cultivate your sense of taste. We usually associate taste with eating and drinking, but we can also taste the air. Taste the morning dew. Eat a wild berry. Notice how you merge with nature as you open to taste the world around you.

And beyond

More than 2,000 years ago, Greek philosopher Aristotle proposed that humans had five senses. Contemporary neuroscientists, however, have determined that we have a symphony of senses—from 22 to 33, in fact.

When we spend our days staring at screens and scrolling with our thumbs, we’re not engaging most of our senses and we are not fully present. As we deepen our nature connection, we reawaken our senses and discover there is a lot more to living than we ever imagined.

With all of these sensations in your awareness, what do you notice?

Do colors look a bit more vibrant? Does everything have an extra sparkle? With all our senses engaged, we experience what mythologist Joseph Campbell calls “the rapture of being alive.”

Excerpt reprinted with permission from The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing by Julia Plevin, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.