Posted in Blogging Marin on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by MCVB Staff
By Joe Kukura
Turns out that nature may be the best medicine, according to a wellness trend that’s sweeping the United States. It’s called forest bathing, and it’s not really new. In Japan, the treatment, called shinrin-yoku (“immersing in the forest atmosphere”), was even certified and made a part of the national health program in the 1980s.
Forest bathing is a version of meditation that takes place in the great outdoors, and there’s no better place for outdoor meditation than northern California’s Marin County—home to mighty redwood trees taller than 100 feet and spectacular wildflower blooms.
Forest bathing is sort of like a nature hike, with an emphasis on moving very slowly, breathing deeply, and engaging all five senses in a natural environment that allows you to relax in a deep, unique way. Call it eco-therapy, if you will.
This natural form of therapy is not just the latest California fad. Medical research has shown that within 15 minutes of heading into nature, your blood pressure goes down, your heart rate improves, and your stress level is reduced. Spending time in the forest decreases depression and anxiety, and physicians believe that time outdoors can lower your risk of heart disease and increase your longevity.
Marin County even has a special place in the U.S. forest bathing community. The region is home to a group called the Forest Bathing Club that was recently profiled on CNN, and features many pioneers of the forest bathing movement. And the region is also home to some of the best forest bathing woodlands in the country. These are just a few:
There’s an inimitable, timeless beauty to the Marin County national monument known as Muir Woods. Old-growth coastal redwood trees more than 1,000 years old are Muir Woods’ signature backdrop for miles of hiking trails ideal for nature walks and bird watching. The park is kept free from dogs, bicycles and camping, making it a terrific, quiet spot for meditation and contemplation.
Note: Parking and shuttle reservations are now required at Muir Woods.
Bear Valley Trail
The Point Reyes National Seashore is a lot more than just seashore, and you won’t find any bears on the Bear Valley Trail. But you will find wildflowers, warblers, butterflies and much more on the seashore’s easy-going meadow trails. This sanctuary for many plant and animal species is a protected wilderness area, and you can hike to scenic bluffs that wash panoramic ocean views into your forest bathing.
You can see Mount Tamalpais from miles away—heck, it’s so majestic that you can see it from a few counties away—but an up-close look at Mount Tam will reveal all manner of canyons, hillsides and grasslands that you can’t see from a distance. The mountain is full of beginner-level hiking trails well-suited for a forest bath, and you don’t even need to hike to the 2,571-foot peak of Mount Tam to enjoy panoramic views of the whole San Francisco Bay Area.
While the Marin Headlands is a haven for deer and wildlife species and a hotbed for sea cliffs and unique geological formations, it also features something you don’t expect to see in such a remote natural setting. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge don’t get any better than from the Marin Headlands, and this vast and diverse wilderness gives you a new perspective on life when watching the hustle and bustle of the city from remote, elevated peaks.
Audubon Canyon Ranch
You know that a ranch named Audubon will have dozens of exotic bird species on hand, but Audubon Canyon also lets you commune with the freshwater reptiles and amphibians near the idyllic Bolinas Lagoon. Evergreen forests, lakes, ponds and wildflowers as far as the eye can see complete an unspoiled forest bathing experience, and trained naturalists can provide insights into the wonderful birds, beasts and fauna.
Forest bathing is a great way to recharge your batteries and unplug, and we’re not talking about just unplugging your smartphone. We’re talking about the fresh air, mountains and timberlands of Marin County, where a forest bathing trip will wash the stress right out of your life.