October 20, 2017
A few months ago, I heard a story on NPR about forest bathing. Um, forest what?
Similar to how sun bathing gives your body a nice dose of vitamin D, forest bathing claims to boost immune system functionality, reduce blood pressure and stress, increase energy and improve sleep.
Developed in Japan during the 1980s, shinrin-yoku (aka “forest bathing) has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. The idea is simple: visit a natural area and walk in a relaxed way to achieve calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits.
I was intrigued and skeptical. But since it basically sounded like lazy hiking, I was down to try it.
I knew exactly where I wanted to go: Stout’s Island Lodge. A two-hour drive from Minneapolis, it’s been at the top of my weekend road trip list for years. Back in the 1950s, my grandparents would visit the “Island of Happy Days” with friends for long weekends.
Before I get into my review of forest bathing, let me tell you that Stout’s Island Lodge was magical. The 27-acre island was purchased in 1887 by lumber baron Frank D. Stout who set out constructing impressive log buildings on the island to house friends for hunting, fishing and swimming retreats.
Mr. Stout spared no expense, bringing in four-inch-thick plank floors and carved beams imported from the Black Forest in Germany. He even built a special railway station to move his family and servants north from Chicago for the summer months. By 1915, Mr. Stout had spent more than $1.5 million — that’s around $35 million in today’s dollars — in construction on the island.
Today, the island is home to a gorgeous collection of historic cabins, a restaurant, and plenty of outdoor activities and, of course, hiking trails.
Back to forest bathing.
The concept of spending time in nature is nothing new (but thanks for the reminder, Thoreau). Most of our evolutionary lives were spent out of doors, but these days we spend our time inside tethered to devices. I was feeling especially cooped up lately, so after a long weekend spending the majority of my time in the woods, I came back to civilization with an intense sense of renewal.
Next time you find yourself buying essential oils, candles or any other products designed to create serene environments at home, consider heading outside for the real stuff. It might just be what the doctor ordered.