Julia Plevin

 

When I'm in the middle of the city or stuck in traffic and start to feel anxious, I look for the nature that comes through the cracks in the sidewalk or up at the sky. We are nature. Nature is everywhere.

- Julia Plevin

 
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Julia Plevin

gets grounded

 

In a world of Cloud technology, infinite digital systems, and congested cityscapes, it can feel like an impossible task to “get grounded.” 

Julia Plevin, founder of The Forest Bathing Club based in San Francisco, is familiar with that feeling. “It wasn't until I was living in NYC getting my MFA in design that I realized the mental health effects of being disconnected from nature,” she explains. “I began to understand that pretty much all of the ailments of modern life come, at some level, from a disconnection from nature. So in 2015, I asked myself, "what does it mean to reconnect to nature?" And forest bathing was a way to answer that question.” 

Forest bathing is an ancient Japanese tradition in which the participant connects deeply with the natural world around them—something we rarely have time for these days. Plevin, and her crew of forest groupies, are making nature great again, one walk through the woods at a time. 

Keep scrolling to learn more about Forest bathing, how to get the same grounding benefits if you live in a metropolitan city, and if it *actually* works. 

 

 

What's Forest Bathing, as you define it? 

Forest bathing is an evidence-based practice of going into nature as a way to heal. The term comes from the Japanese word "shinrin yoku" which literally means "bathing in the forest atmosphere." It's not about actually getting wet, but it's always good to soak up negative ions from the water!! Since the 1980s in Japan, they've been doing research on the benefits of nature and have proven that going into the forest lowers your heart rate and cortisol levels. Trees give off phytoncides which increase natural killer (NK) cells and can prevent cancer.  To date, there's been so much more research on how being in nature makes us more creative, collaborative, and content!

To me, forest bathing is a practice of remembering what it feels like to be in right relationship with nature. It's a transformational experience that happens in just a few hours. It's a way to disconnect from technology and all the noise out there so that we can reconnect with ourselves, awaken our senses, and arrive at the present moment. I believe that the work of our time is to reconnect with nature — outer nature and our inner nature — and forest bathing is a way to begin that journey. 

 

What brought you to Forest Bathing? 

I believe that the medicine you need is the medicine you have to offer. Forest bathing is definitely the medicine I need. Again and again. 

I came to forest bathing as a way to heal myself. If I'm being super honest, my journey to forest bathing started with getting a tick at Girl Scout Camp when I was 8, which turned to chronic Lyme disease and started to manifest in all sorts of strange hormonal imbalances and mood swings when I hit puberty around 16. I spent four years on an intense antibiotic protocol which totally ruined my gut. I then spent another 5 years trying to heal my gut with all sorts of supplements and healing techniques.

In some indigenous traditions, a spider bite is considered an initiation and a tick is considered to be a spider. So I've come to believe that my initiation into this work of nature reconnection began when I was 8 and I've been on a healing journey ever since then – discovering my own ways of healing until I was able to fully heal myself and offer those practices to others.

 

How does the practice of grounding benefit us? 

One of the benefits of forest bathing is grounding but there's a lot more that happens when you forest bathe! Forest bathing is a powerful way to experience the pure presence and connect to our hearts. We communicate with nature through a knowing in our hearts and this gets strengthened the more time we spend in nature — whether it's in a forest, out by the ocean, or in a desert. Forest bathing connects us to place, invites us to experience the details and miracles of life, and reconnects us to our inner child. I often say that forest bathing is not something to learn but something to remember. Forest bathing allows us to feel connected to something much bigger than ourselves and has a way of making our own stress and anxiety seem inconsequential. Nature gives us the exact right message that we need at the right time once we learn how to read the signs and signals.

As far as grounding goes — for 99.9% of human evolution, we spent our days walking, sleeping, standing, and sitting on the Earth. Now we can go weeks, months even, without connecting to the surface of the Earth. Physically touching the Earth, standing on it, lowers inflammation and chronic pain. Just looking up at a tree for one minute will increase your experience of awe — a positive emotion that is linked to collaboration and empathy. 

We've forgotten that we are nature and we are in a constant relationship with nature — whether we are drinking water or in an old-growth forest or eating a piece of fruit. Forest bathing brings awareness to this relationship so that we can learn how to be in right relationship with the Earth, our communities, and ourselves.

 

 

How does it feel when you get grounded? 

To me, being grounded feels like the opposite of being anxious.

So anxiety is something that a lot of us deal with, consciously or unconsciously. I believe that becoming aware of your anxiety is part of waking up. I've dealt with anxiety for most of my life – I think it's been passed on from previous generations and isn't even really mine – but still, it pops up and can be super debilitating. I actually wear a nameplate necklace from Ban.do that says ANXIETY as a way to bring awareness to this mental health issue. These days I see anxiety as a gift, it leads me along my journey and is also an awareness that there's a lot of work to do to save our planet.

But when I am forest bathing and really get to feel at home and connected to nature, that anxiety disappears. I always wear moccasins so that I can feel the Earth beneath my feet and get the benefits of Earthing. I feel connected to a greater source of wisdom and a higher truth. I could lose my phone and it wouldn't bother me – I would just be able to let it go. I feel expansive, playful, generous, and full of love. I see abundance everywhere. My nervous system is calm and my mind is still — I get a respite from that endless mental chatter. I know when I'm anxious that I'm disconnected — anxiety is my cue to get regrounded. 

 

 

What does a typical Forest Bathing Club event look like? 

We meet at the entrance to a park or forest. I'll share a bit about the history of the practice, the place we're standing, and how I got into leading forest baths. Then we will all go around and share our names, where we are coming from (literally or metaphorically) and an intention for the time together. Then we pair up and share with one another as we walk in — usually, there's a prompt like "Share about a time when you felt really connected to nature." Then we will circle up and move through some shamanic Earth energy practices and open our senses. We'll keep moving in the forest — taking time to walk in silence and notice what's happening around us, and then we'll move through different invitations to connect and deepen. We do an invitation and then reflect on the experience in real time, which helps build a container within the group. In the end, we'll share tea, earthy snacks and have time for council.

 

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What's your recommendation for a person who lives in a big city, like NYC or London, who might not have regular access to nature? 

Find a park or patch of greenery to walk through on your way to work. Take breaks and eat lunch outside instead of at your desk. Nurture nature — whether that's house plants, a pet, or an herb garden. Volunteer to plant trees. Go to farmers' markets and connect closer to the source that your food comes from. Eat nourishing, organic fruits and vegetables that come from nature!

I think it's a misnomer that you have to get out of a city to forest bathe — nature is all around us. You can connect to nature in a city park or your own backyard. Forest bathing is not about going into the wilderness.

Collect rocks, shells, sticks, crystals, and other sacred objects and keep them in your home, at your desk, or in your pockets to connect you to something much bigger and transport you back to nature. 

 

 

What would you say to someone who's skeptical of all this 'grounding' stuff? 

What's funny is there are some people who say, "Nah I can't meditate, or reiki is weird" but no one says, "nature is not for me." We all come from nature and I believe that connection to Earth should be a basic human right. So I don't find this very often, but if I do, I would look for a different way in. Some people need to know the scientific benefits and what's great is that science is now catching up to ancient, indigenous wisdom on the benefits of nature. I'd recommend some books — like The Nature Fix, The Hidden Life of Trees, The Nature Principle, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, or my book The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing which comes out next spring! 

 

Other than physically getting out in nature, how do you get 'grounded'? 

I have a morning routine that helps me ground — I drink hot water, write in a gratitude journal, and meditate when I wake up. I also do some Earth energy practices that I've learned from various Shamanic and Buddhist teachers over the years. 

I close my eyes and journey to nature places that are sacred to me. I imagine roots that go down from the soles of my feet deep into the Earth. I make God's Eyes with yarn and sticks I pick up in the forest. I make little altars everywhere with feathers, stones, plants, and shells, and found nature objects. I burn palo santo and sage and water my herb garden.  

I focus on engaging my senses and imagine that I'm breathing with the trees — I inhale what they exhale and I exhale what they inhale. 

When I'm in the middle of the city or stuck in traffic and start to feel anxious, I look for the nature that comes through the cracks in the sidewalk or up at the sky. We are nature. Nature is everywhere. 

 

What's a mantra you've been repeating lately? 

When I'm out in nature I say:

"Teach me, work through me, show me the way."

 

 

Can you give us an exercise we can do right now to get more grounded? 

Come into a forward fold with your knees bent and hands touch the ground (do this outside with no shoes on if possible). Close your eyes and imagine all the energy coming up from the molten core of the Earth into your fingertips. Then inhale and bring your hands to your heart center. Exhale and make a "shoo!" sound as you reach your arms up to the sky. Imagine soaking in all the energy from the sun and the other stars in the cosmos through your fingertips. Bring your hands to your heart center. Then exhale and let out another "shoo" sound as you fold forward and bring your hands back to the Earth. Repeat this about 6 times and then bring your hands to your heart center and notice how you feel. 

Look up at a tree for one minute.

Find a patch of Earth and stand on it with bare feet.

Pick up a leaf and place your worries into it. Then put the leaf down.

Make up an impromptu haiku about the weather.

 
Kiki Falconer