Tech Workers Turning to Japanese Practice of 'Forest Bathing' to Unplug

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 28, 2015 | Go to article overview

Tech Workers Turning to Japanese Practice of 'Forest Bathing' to Unplug


Byline: Brigid Schulte Washington Post

SEATTLE Before they were to find a "sit spot" in the forest, resisting the urge to check their phones and just pay attention to the nature around them, before they played games under soaring western red cedars like "blindfolded ninja" to sharpen their senses, a group of stressed-out workers who spend most of their days inside, tethered to their devices, faced the toughest challenge of the day.

Turning those devices off.

The group of about a dozen had signed up for the first "Unplug and Recharge in Nature" day organized by the Wilderness Awareness School on 40 acres of forested land just outside the high-tech corridor that is home to Microsoft, Amazon and a host of other high-tech companies. Theyd come to the woods, many said, because after spending so much of their time in the addictive and information-loaded virtual world, they felt a need to reconnect with the real one.

One worker said he is barraged by 10,000 emails a day. Another said he routinely spends as much as 18 hours straight online. Theyve seen technology both make their lives easier and more difficult, they said, enabling them to connect and driving a wedge between them and those they love.

The group is part of a small but growing movement seeking to counter the noise, distraction and pull of the virtual world by learning to sit still and pay attention in the natural one. Its called "forest bathing."

The practice originated in Japan the early 1980s, where its called Shinrin-yoku. And it has been gaining ground in the United States, where recent studies have found that people spend as much as five to seven hours a day in front of screens and check their smartphones several times an hour _ some almost incessantly.

A U.S. Shinrin-yoku organization is now based in Santa Rosa, California. More nature retreats, such as Earthwalk Ways in Fredericksburg, Va., offer "forest therapy." And as research is beginning to show that "bathing" in the natural world is associated with lower stress levels, a boost to natural killer cells in the immune system, better mood, self-esteem, physical fitness, memory, attention and creativity, among other benefits, some psychologists are beginning to offer "eco therapy." Doctors, among them Robert Zarr, a pediatrician at Unity Health Care in the District, and "physician champion" of DC Parks Rx, are even prescribing time outside rather than pills.

"Its kind of funny that we have to have a fad to get us to do what humans have always done go outside," said Warren Moon, executive director of the Wilderness Awareness School and leader of the days forest bathing activities. But, he readily admitted to the group, hed organized the day because he needed it, too.

The 20-year-old wilderness school caters primarily to children to stave off what some call "nature deficit disorder" as fewer and fewer children have unstructured playtime outdoors. But, Moon said, the school began hearing from parents and adults that they needed time outside, too.

"Were targeting the modern high-tech worker, or someone whos always plugged in and wants to counterbalance that fast-paced, stressed-out lifestyle," said Moon, a former mechanical engineer. "I struggle with it as well. I run a wilderness school and Im on the computer most of the day."

After joking halfheartedly about how cool it would be to post on social media about their experiences "We could use hashtag forest bathing! " said one the group headed outside to loosen their limbs and learn how to use a wider range of vision, called "owl eyes," to observe the natural world. Some removed their shoes and, on the soft forest floor strewed with pine needles, learned to slowly transfer their weight from one foot to the ball of the other in order to walk quietly, "like a fox."

Although Moon suggested wearing browns and greens to blend in, Heather Fitzpatrick headed toward her forest "sit spot" in a bright magenta jacket. …

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