Intentional Walk In The Woods
“I’ve always had this thing about trees. I don’t know where it came from. To me they’re just amazing,” said William Watson. “The concept of an oak tree coming from a little bitty acorn into this huge, massive tree. I just can’t think of anything more magical.”
As an avid outdoorsman, Watson feels most at ease surrounded by trees in the forest of Central Florida. Originally from Texas, for multiple decades he spent his free time hunting and fishing. Eventually being outside provided a respite from his demanding corporate career. Now on a mission to share his love of nature, Watson became a certified forest therapist. He believes we are all better humans when we connect with nature.
Forest Therapy originated in Japan in the early 1980s, where it is called shinrin-yoku — translated, forest bath. It began as an effort to get Japanese workers out of office buildings to reconnect with nature and lower their stress levels, something that could be useful in the U.S. as well. According to a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, employed Americans spend about 92% of their time indoors, 6% in transit and 2% outside. Perhaps it’s time for a nature-based intervention.
Watson describes forest bathing as a meaningful walk in the forest to reconnect your senses with nature. Hoping to tap into the magic, Growing Bolder’s Amy Sweezey joined William and a small group of others to forest bathe.
“Nothing fast is gonna happen with me here this morning. It’s all gonna be about slowing down,” Watson told the group as they gathered. “I’ve always found that breathing technique really helps slow things down and gives me the tools I need to kind of focus. I want you to consider taking a big inhale, and then at the top of that grab a little bit more, and then just let it all out.”
After practicing the breathing techniques, the group began the journey to reconnect with nature though all five of their senses. Watson gave everyone time to wander, then gathered the group back to a circle to share what they experienced, repeating the pattern for each sense.
Sight: “What had caught my eye was just really the pattern, the pattern on the tree and the bark,” a group member recounted.
Smell: “I smelled the part of the pinecone that’s not open and it’s Christmas,” Sweezey said.
For taste, Watson distributed cherry tomatoes and grapes to the group. “It reminded me of New Year’s Eve, because for New Year’s Eve we eat 12 grapes before midnight,” shared one member.
“Our last sense that we’re going to work on is our sense of touch,” Watson said. “The texture that you’re feeling, is it hard? Is it smooth? Is it brittle?”
After engaging all five senses in the forest, Watson had the group take one final slow walk among the trees, then invited everyone to share a ceremony of hot green tea to end the session and reflect on what they experienced.
“I spend a lot of time walking, but it feels like I’m always out there with a purpose, getting in my miles, getting in my steps, and my brain is just on overdrive the whole time,” said group member Wendy McManus. “Something I’ve learned from William is how to notice the small things, and how that just changes how your brain’s operating. It just makes me feel calm and connected.”
For Watson, his satisfaction comes from helping people be present enough to experience what’s inside of them and make a connection from that back to nature. It’s what led him to become certified in forest therapy. While working with a life coach to find a new direction and connection in his own life, the idea of forest bathing surfaced during a word play exercise. Watson learned more about the practice, eventually became certified through the Treebath forest therapy practitioner program and started his own venture, Forest Remedy.
“If you’re looking for that aha moment, first and foremost listen to your instincts. My instincts were all over this and I didn’t even know it, it just took a little bit of quiet time for them to surface,” Watson said.
“There’s something out there for everybody. I never would’ve in a million years thought that I would be a certified forest therapy practitioner, and I embrace that now. It’s a lot of fun, but I believe it’s because I leaned back and let my instincts take over.”
This article is featured in the September 2022 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.