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Linda Lombardo, a certified forest therapy guide, plays her flute at Downs Farm Preserve (credit: Felicia LaLomia).

I have to admit, the idea of forest bathing sounded cool. And with everything that has happened to 2020, don’t we all need a little reset? So, going on a preview walk of forest bathing events happening in September and October at Downs Farm Preserve sounded like just what I needed. 

The idea of forest bathing, or forest therapy, is a Japanese tradition, a restorative way to create a deeper connection with nature. It sounds a little abstract, but at the end of my little sample, for me, it was like yoga for the mind, quieting the thoughts and using the other senses to see what’s going on around me in nature.

It starts with a short orientation where Linda Lombardo, a certified forest therapy guide who runs the event through her business Wild Heart Nature Connection, takes you through what forest therapy is.

“Forest therapy began in the 1980s in Japan,” Lombardo said. “Shinrin-Yoku basically means bathing in the interconnectedness of the forest. What I do is open doors for connection with nature. The forest is the therapy. Most of us walk through nature. I’m here, I want to get there, but I’m not really connecting with the forest. I’m just being in that environment.”

What Lombardo’s 90 minute walk, hosted by the Group for the East End, does is focus that connection with the environment in a guided way.

The first thing she does is reciprocity breathing, where she directs me to breathe while realizing that all of nature is breathing with you. “Look at the trees to concentrate, know that they’re breathing, we’re never alone. We are all breathing together,” she said.

Then, she moves into presencing work, which feels like guided meditation. Lombardo had me close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the forest, both near and far, and focus on my breathing. Then, I opened my eyes and observed the nature around me — the shape of the trees, the color of the leaves, the movement of nature.

It was then time for the solo walk, which takes up the majority of the time. During the actual event, Lombardo plans on sending people down the walking path on their own to find a numbered spot assigned to them to sit at and just be with nature. While on our walk, she told me more about the origins of forest therapy and the studies in Japan that have been done on it.

“What they found was that being out in nature, even for short periods of time on a regular basis, lowers the body’s stress hormone, which is cortisol,” she said. “It lowers the blood pressure, lowers heart rate and boosts the immune system.” This leads to better sleep, better moods and better eating habits. 

Overall, the forest therapy session felt like meditation meets a guided nature walk. It is a great way to reset and enjoy the amazing outdoor spaces on the North Fork. 

Wild Heart Nature Connection offers public forest bathing walks at sites across Long Island, including Sands Point Preserve, Bailey Arboretum, and Gardiner County Park. You can also engage Lombardo to do a private walk, at a location you choose together, for you or as a gift to a stressed-out friend. Although the September 27 forest therapy walk at Downs Farm Preserve is full, another one is scheduled for October 18, so keep an eye on Group for the East End and for more info.