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When it comes to career changes, Nadine Mazzola has made some big leaps. A one-time professional pool player, she took a more traditional turn as a marketing professional. These days, her job is to take people forest bathing.
Her latest vocation raises eyebrows. And questions.
"Is it like yoga class? Is it a stroll in the woods?" Mazzola said, rattling off the questions people often ask about forest bathing. "Am I going to take a shower in the woods?"
Is it like yoga class? Is it a stroll in the woods? Am I going to take a shower in the woods?
In a quest for answers I joined a group of forest bathers at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston. We start by forming a circle in a grassy area just outside a wooded trail head.
“Just feel your feet on the ground and look around,” Mazzola urged the group. “Just kind of arrive here.”
No bathing suit or towel required — we are bathing our senses: Listening to the sounds of the meadow, feeling the breeze, and finally opening closed eyes.
“Just see what you notice,” said Mazzola.
We are ready for the woods, but this is hardly a typical hike. For starters, Mazzola has produced a flute and occasionally lets out a trill. She’s a pied piper of sorts, leading us on a slow-motion journey down the wooded path. On a still summer morning, we’re looking for movement. Taking it in at a trance-like pace, the forest appears surprisingly lively: A tree limb sways slightly, and there’s a tiny ripple of ferns.
As a group, we share our observations. It’s this connection that keeps Lisa Mediano coming back.
"You can go to yoga class and say hello and you get your exercise, but you're still within yourself and you're not sharing things," said Mediano.
You can go to yoga class and say hello and you get your exercise, but you’re still within yourself and you’re not sharing things.
Mediano, an attorney from Medford, first experienced forest bathing a few months ago. She says the experience turns a group of strangers into something else.
“No matter their educational background, their race, their ethnic group, [forest bathing] just brings out the poetry in people,” said Mediano. “By the end, you’re looking at each individual and saying what a fabulous person, what an inspiring person. You leave with this, kind of like, love. You want to do it again. And you want to be in nature, because that’s the key.”
Forest bathing isn’t exactly exercise. At one point, we sit next to a tree — hardly a rigorous undertaking. Yet in Japan, where forest bathing started, doctors discovered it lowers stress hormones and blood pressure. The benefits of being in nature are nothing new. What’s changed is how much time we spend connected to technology.
“I think that’s why forest bathing is so big right now,” said Mazzola, who is a certified forest therapy guide. “We’re feeling the pain of not being in contact with the forest or with nature. There’s really nothing mystical about it. It’s in our bones.”
Mazzola says everyone takes away something unique from forest bathing. For me, it was reminiscent of being a child, essentially playing in the woods. We ended with a tea ceremony. Mazzola laid out a pink cloth, tiny cups and a camping kettle. It could have been a child’s tea party. Even the main ingredient was something a child might choose: Pine needles, a final taste of nature.