Into the Woods: The Practice of Forest Bathing and DBT Skills

By Julia Suklevski, LMSW

As a therapist and social worker, I interact with dozens of people throughout my day.  In order to replenish my energy, attend to my own physical and mental needs, and connect with my own emotions, I engage in mindfulness practices, many of which I have developed throughout my training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and over the course of my life.  One of my favorite mindfulness practices incorporates the DBT “WHAT” Skills of observing, describing, and participating, in particular as it relates to engaging in my favorite leisure activity of shinrin-yoku, otherwise known as the Japanese practice of “forest bathing.” 

The DBT “WHAT” Skills outline what you need to do when practicing mindfulness.  Observe what is happening to your body using the five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell), and focus your attention on the external world in addition to the internal experience.  Notice your body in space, notice the thoughts that float through the mind.  Additionally, describe or place words to your experience, labeling exactly what you are observing.  And finally, actively participate in the present moment, fully immersing yourself into whatever it is that you are doing. 

To draw a parallel to the practice of shinrin-yoku, one engages in mindful walking through nature, observing with the fives senses being immersed in greenery, flora and fauna.  Research completed on this practice yields findings that forest bathing can reduce stress, improve mental clarity, and promote one’s health and overall functioning. 

Here are some of my tips for integrating the DBT “WHAT” Skills with shinrin-yoku:

  1. Wear comfortable clothing that you are able to move easily in, and wear supportive shoes that allow you to walk with ease. Notice how your body feels moving through nature. Observe the shifting of your center of balance as you navigate over rocks, branches, grass, and dirt if you are on a hiking trail, or how you can shift your weight from one foot to another if on a walking pathway.

  2. Leave behind any distracting tech devices (yes, you can silence your cellphones, remove your earphones). Observe the sounds of birds and insects, leaves blowing in the wind, and the sound of running water (if a stream is nearby). Describe the sights you can see on your excursion. Describe the sounds, and label what you hear.

  3. Take deep belly breaths, inhaling in through your nose and exhaling out through your mouth. Observe whether breathing becomes labored when you are climbing an incline, or becomes smoother when you are walking on even terrain.

  4. Forget about what you were doing before the experience, and put aside any thoughts about what you will have to do after. Participate fully in the present moment. Become one with nature, mindfully and nonjudgmentally.

  5. For your first time experiencing forest bathing, pick a familiar place to go, perhaps a location you have encountered often. Describe what the experience is like to try this new practice in a familiar territory. Do you notice anything different? Observe how you feel about this familiar place now that you have formed a new association with it.

The wonderful thing about this practice is that there is no “wrong” or “right” way of practicing mindfulness.  Set an intention to try something different, and perhaps you will find it a meaningful exercise to incorporate into your self-care regimen

Source:

Hansen, M. M., Jones, R., & Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. International journal of environmental research and public health14(8), 851. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080851

Julia Suklevski is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing reception@cobbpsychotherapy.com, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb