A "forest bath" may sound like it requires a towel and rubber ducky, but, in fact, all one needs to take part in this increasingly popular practice is a pair of comfortable shoes and an open mind. The activity, which is being offered at a number of nature-oriented resorts and properties, involves mindful walking through the woods, generally accompanied by a guide who helps participants put their focus on the wildlife and vegetation, and off of the stresses of the office or meeting room.
The therapeutic power of a nature stroll is hardly a new idea, but this specific concept comes from the translation of the Japanese expression shinrin-yoku, introduced by the Japanese government in 1982. And as technology invades more of workers' lives, and work extends beyond the nine-to-five parameters, forest bathing is proving an ideal way for attendees to unplug and enjoy the outside world.
Blackberry Farm, in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains, recently opened Wellhouse, which includes "Deep Healing Woods" yoga and meditation treatments. The Vermont ski-and-spa property Stowe Mountain Lodge has added a "Wei to Wellness" package, which includes a "Mindful Snowshoe Tour" that follows the same forest bathing principles.
The specific forest bathing experience can vary depending on the property and its natural surroundings, but Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa, on the Emerald Coast of Nicaragua, offers a representative example.
There, a guide takes groups out into the Nicaraguan rainforest, walking slowly and taking many stops along the way to encourage guests to focus on a particular tree, gaze on the stones, or listen to the sounds of the birds.
"It's not like a hike -- it's a really slow walk through nature," says Vivian Lopez, spa director for the property, adding that the experience takes about an hour, but that participants will walk for a mile, at most. "It's a time to get very comfortable with the environment, weather, and sun, and to have a spiritual moment. The instructor will say, 'have a seat here, sit on the grass, close your eyes for a second, think about your life and what good things you want.'"
It is available once a day to any guests of the resort, but groups can schedule a special outing just for their meeting. The large property of Mukul Beach offers a number of trails for groups to explore, through the forest as well as near the beach, giving participants the chance to meditate to the crashing waves. It's generally offered from May to November, though availability can obviously change depending on the weather.
Lopez points to the many mental and physical health benefits of such calming efforts.
"It relieves stress and improves a person's mood, increasing their energy level and helps them sleep better," she says. It can also improve one's focus, making it a worthwhile break in the middle of a long day of meetings, or an energizing way to begin the day.
A "bather" might see any sort of insect, plant, or animal while on an outing. At Mukul Beach, monkeys or sloths are not unusual to spot. But while this may add to the experience, the ultimate point of a forest bath is not about the excitement of the forest, but about coming to a calming place in oneself.
"It's for people trying to connect with nature," says Lopez. "We try to get you to disconnect your mind from your problems and bring good energy into your life."
This article appears in the June 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.