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Forest Bathing: Take a green path to calm at San Diego Botanic Garden

The pause that refreshes: a forest bather sits within the towering bamboo garden at San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.
The pause that refreshes: a forest bather sits within the towering bamboo garden at San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.
(Lonnie Burstein Hewitt)

Are you feeling stressed-out or just longing for a mini-retreat from 24-hour news and jammed freeways and all the noisy, hurry-up to-do lists of everyday life? Maybe what you need is an intro to Forest Bathing, a transformative immersion in nature.

I’ve long been a believer in the soul-soothing power of nature walks, and as co-author of “Walking San Diego: Where to go to get away from it all,” I wrote about trails that made me feel better for having walked them. But until I saw a notice from San Diego Botanic Garden last month, I’d never heard of Forest Bathing (FB), which is not a way to get away from anything but a way to get back to nature and yourself.

Somehow I’d missed all the stories about FB in TIME, NPR and other national and local news outlets, not to mention the fact that it’s been popular in Japan for decades and SDBG has been offering classes for the past year.

There’s a good deal of medical evidence that shows how even short-time immersions in nature can dramatically lower your blood pressure and elevate your mood. In 2005, the Japanese government began promoting the therapeutic effects of “inhaling the forest atmosphere,” and there’s now an Association of Nature and Forest Therapy in the U.S. and around the world.

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But you don’t have to go any further than Encinitas to do your own Forest Bathing. Rhana Kozak can be your guide on Sundays from 9 to 11 a.m. July 14, Aug. 18 or Sept. 15, 2019.

Forest bathers, after a walk on June 23, 2019, at San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Their guide, Rhana Kozak, is on the far right.
Forest bathers, after a walk on June 23, 2019, at San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Their guide, Rhana Kozak, is on the far right.
(Lonnie Burstein Hewitt)

An eco-psychologist and longtime docent at SDBG, Kozak is a former La Jollan who for years had her own Floral Boutique on Wall Street and, later, the Gaia Day Spa on Prospect Street, which specialized in holistic healing. She said she was immediately drawn to the idea of Forest Therapy when she first heard about it in 2015, took the ANFT training at Chicago’s Morton Arboretum — called “The Champion of Trees” — and after months of developing her own programs, became a certified guide, introducing her wellness walks at the Garden in 2018.

“It’s a way for people to access the healing power of nature,” she said. “When you’re on screens all the time, surrounded by built environments, you’re not getting nourished, you get sensory compression. On our walks, you can stop thinking and go deeper into curiosity, paying what’s been called ‘restorative attention’ to the colors and textures around you. It’s a wonderful, calming experience, and there’s a correlation with increased creativity, too.”

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Kozak encourages participants to connect with their own favorite sights, sounds and scents on the Garden’s pathways, occasionally offering interesting tidbits of information, along with herbal teas and light, healthful snacks at beginning and end. But the main idea is taking time to get personal with some of the botanical beauties around you while inhaling their terpenes, the healing, fragrant chemicals many plants produce.

IF YOU GO: San Diego Botanic Garden is located at 230 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas. (760) 436-3036. sdbgarden.org

• The monthly two-hour walks cost $32 for members, $40 non-members, which includes Garden admission and parking, so you can continue to explore on your own afterward. To learn more, contact Kozak at (619) 847-1680 or rhanakozak@gmail.com


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