Forest Bathing at the Shepherd’s Center
By Susan Meny
Recently an amazing research article caught the attention of the Vital Living staff of the Shepherd’s Center of Greater Winston-Salem. The article reported about a Japanese study that investigated the physiological effects of shirrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” on the mental and physical well-being of participants.
Specific physiological markers of subjects were measured before and after their walks, first in an urban controlled setting, and then in a natural forest. Compared to those walking in an urban setting, individuals who walked in the forest had significantly lower blood pressure and much healthier levels of stress and adrenal hormones. The results suggest that walking in a forest or park and enjoying the scents, the vegetation and the sounds of birds and animals, convey a multitude of benefits for one’s health and wellbeing beyond the obvious pleasure of being out in nature.
You’re probably thinking: You didn’t need a research study to tell you the obvious. Well, we agree with you!
Armed with the common sense of the Japanese study as well as a desire to provide a natural space, the Vital Living program adopted the idea of creating a walking trail to practice forest bathing. We recognized this would become the next important contribution to our program’s list of offerings for senior adults. This concept was unanimously approved by the Vital Living Committee as a very positive addition for our participants. Now we just needed a trail!
With fresh inspiration, plans for a walking trail, which was to be cultivated in the half-acre forest bordering the Shepherd’s Center property, sprang to life. Volunteers were sought and the result was swift. BB&T, WFU and Home Depot volunteers went to work. Together, they created a nature trail that begins just beyond the gazebo at the center’s upper level parking lot and meanders for about an eighth of a mile, ending at the gardens on the other side of the property, at the end of the lower parking lot. In the middle of the trail is a picnic area perfect for nature talks or perhaps some pleine aire art classes or even a picnic lunch. We are hoping to create a permanent labyrinth along the pathway soon.
Future plans for the trail include showcasing the work of local artists who create outdoor and “found art” pieces suitable for outside staging and capable of withstanding the elements. These pieces may hang from trees, be planted in the ground or be displayed in some other creative fashion for wandering “forest bathers” to discover and enjoy. Art displays may be contributed by organizations or individuals, and arrangements may be made for permanent and also temporary displays. Other plans include recruiting a trail leader and Walking Club activity leader.
Intergenerational programming is also on the Shepherd’s Center’s radar. Constantly open to new ideas and community involvement, the program directors invite your comments and suggestions for other ways to contribute and beautify the walking path.
Susan B. Meny is the Vital Living Program Director of the Shepherd’s Center of Greater Winston-Salem. For more information, visit ShepherdsCenter.org.
If you are curious about the trail, want to get involved, or would like to check out a place to try forest bathing yourself, please contact Susan Meny or Keets Taylor at the Shepherd’s Center at 336-748-0217.
The trail is open for your convenience Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. or later by appointment. We welcome artists’ contributions of outdoor art to add to the beauty and to stimulate creativity along the trail.