Welcome to 2018, folks! I'm super excited for the new year, as I've got lots of fun things planned to keep me outdoors and active, including a thru hike and a 100-miler on the books. While 2017 was winding down, I tried to make it a point to think of some ways I could improve on myself in the new year. Some of you know I was battling some pretty bad depression last year - and it manifested well into the year. As I finally feel I'm coming out of it, I've definitely decided to make some changes. While some changes are small, like deciding to dedicate more time to gentle yoga and stretching every day, some changes are going to feel nearly impossible - like making the decision to unplug from my smartphone more.
Being that I keep a blog and spend time doing social media work and influencer, spending time online isn't just for fun and wasting time. Spending time online is what I do to keep this blog going. It's what I do to curate a feed that might inspire someone to get out and take a walk in the woods. It's how I communicate with our friends and family while I'm on an extended trip. One thing I've noticed over 2017 though is the fact that many people are no longer living in the moment while they're out there and instead they're live streaming summit views on Instagram or Snapchatting each and every object. While I definitely believe social media has a place in the outdoors (more on this in a subsequent post), I also believe that living life through the screen has become more normalized and that is what I find worrisome. While we all love to share beautiful photos and stories with each other, I think there's a fine line between enjoying the moment for yourself versus making it pretty for your followers.
We all know the restorative benefits of getting outside and experiencing nature. In fact, back in the 1990s the art of Shinrin Yoku became popular in Japan. Forest bathing, as it's known in English, is the act of getting out into nature and experiencing it through all of your senses. It's smelling a wildflower, tasting a wild edible plant, feeling the breeze on your skin, hearing the water flowing down the stream, and seeing views along the way. The benefits of forest bathing are measurable - it can improve your high blood pressure, help you focus more, and even reduce your stress or anxiety. I think it's fair to say everyone has experienced this from being outdoors at least once and you may not have even realized it! Every time you take a walk to clear your head or take a hike to your favorite waterfall, you are experiencing the benefits of Shinrin Yoku.
Notice that above I didn't list the benefits of live streaming your hike on Instagram Stories. I didn't list finishing off your audiobook on the way to the summit. I didn't even list texting your mom from the top of the mountain. While all of these things can and do happen in the woods, it isn't a part of forest bathing. This is where my resolution for 2018 begins. While I truly enjoy listening to a great podcast during a solo hike, I have found in the past year that my brain really, REALLY wants to turn off. It NEEDS to turn off. I have even stopped running with my headphones in and recently completed a 40.5-mile ultra race without once listening to any media. While I did stop to take a few photos here and there, the quiet headspace really did me some good. In fact, despite being more sore than I've ever experienced, my mind and heart were clear. And it felt really amazing.
During 2018 I will be thru hiking, and when I thru hike I do set aside time each night to write about my day and match up some photos. That will not change. I'll still be sharing stories with my Instagram and Snapchat followers as well. But one thing you won't see from me (or at least I'm going to try!) is filming while I hike or keeping my phone "in service" during my time in the woods. In such a busy society, the quiet and the calm away from the screen is something I'm craving more and more.
I want to hear from you! How do you feel about the art of Forest Bathing? Have you ever immersed yourself in nature? Would you be willing to try going out without your devices for a day or even a week? Leave me a comment below!