Submitted by Robin McGeough, Settlement Youth Worker
“You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” Alan Watts, English Philosopher.
You may have gone for a walk in the woods, but have you ever taken a forest bath? While taking time to heal in nature has roots in many cultures, forest bathing as a form of therapy became an intentional practice in Japan in the 1980s. Known in Japanese as “Shinrin-Yoku” (森林浴), forest bathing involves setting intentional time to immerse oneself in nature, focus on the senses and appreciate the surroundings. Researchers began noting positive changes to immune markers, stress hormones, blood pressure, energy and focus in people who took regular visits to the forest. Forest bathing can also increase our exposure to air-born essential oils given off by trees (called phytoncides), which offer anti-microbial benefits and essential boosts to our immune system.
Beyond the benefits to our body, taking time to recharge in our forests can also benefit our community connections. Particularly for newcomers and refugees, outdoor activities like forest bathing can help develop a sense of community, boost self-esteem and relieve some of the stresses of settlement. Beyond interpersonal connections, it can be gateway to getting involved in some quintessential Canadian activities such as hiking, camping and running.
For the Youth Services team, we are keen to use the outdoors as a common thread through our programming. This past August, we took a group of Syrian youth to East Sooke Park for a day of outdoor adventure and seaside picnicking. We met with a local Sc’ianew elder who told us about the forest as it is today, but the power of nature to support their community in the past through ceremony, stories and daily life. Seeing our youth take an interest and relate to his stories underlined the importance of nature in many different cultures.
As a facilitator, it was incredible to witness their experience walking through a West Coast rainforest for the first time. The crunch of wet leaves and the snapping of twigs under our feet soothed our spirits and gave us a moment of calm despite being a stone’s throw from the turbulence of the concrete jungle. Taking the time to engage our senses through the smells, sounds and sights of an old growth forest quickly moved our minds from fearing the future to staying calm in the present moment.
Talking with participants afterwards, many of them expressed feelings of relief, happiness, connectedness and excitement after spending a day talking to the trees. There is incredible value in emphasizing wellness and self-care within the settlement process. While our urban centres offer so much opportunity to establish ourselves (newcomers and Settlement Workers alike!), it is equally important to soothe our minds, bodies and spirits outside of the concrete jungle now and again.
So, are you ready for a forest bath? Here are a few easy to moderate hikes around Victoria to commune with the trees, breathe in the freshness and quiet the mind.
- If you like waterfalls and spawning salmon, why not try Goldstream Provincial Park (http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/goldstream/)
- If you like your forests with a side of mountain vistas, why not try walking through East Sooke Park (http://www.eastsookepark.com/)
- If you like to take a dip in the ocean after a leisurely stroll, try Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park (https://www.crd.bc.ca/parks-recreation-culture/parks-trails/find-park-trail/wittys-lagoon)
- For some beautiful forests right in the city, you could try Elk Lake Park and walk around the lake (https://www.crd.bc.ca/parks-recreation-culture/parks-trails/find-park-trail/elk-beaver-lake)
- If you are looking for user-friendly and mobility-inclusive trails that are easy to learn, use and understand, check out this online brochure from the Capital Regional District (https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/parks-pdf/userfriendly-trails.pdf)
And, to learn more about our day in the forest with the Syrian youth this summer, the Times Colonist wrote a lovely article about our trip: http://www.timescolonist.com/life/islander/syrian-refugees-learn-about-first-nation-history-and-find-connections-1.22387331