Rachel Gaffney’s Letter From Texas

I can remember packing sandwiches and a few biscuits and meeting my friends among the trees at the ripe old age of 11. We played for hours in the woods. We used to think we were Enid Blyton's fictitious Famous Five, solving mysteries in the woods and if there were no mysteries to be found, then we simply created our own mysteries. We sat beneath tree canopies and ate our light repast, cradled by enormous tree roots. Over the years it was among these trees, that we played and imagined. They sheltered us, held us and nurtured our childlike wonder.

The only thing better than childlike wonder is experiencing childlike wonder as an adult. Four decades later, and I am still that 11-year-old girl (in my own mind anyway!) Put simply, I feel good, when I am amongst the trees. I don't want to leave. I am at peace. A feeling of wellbeing.

Shinrin - Yoku is Japanese for Forest Bathing. Forest Bathing is the practice of reducing stress levels, boosting energy levels and giving you an overall sense of wellbeing. Dr Qing Li is an MD and immunologist in Japan. He is the world’s leading authority on Forest Medicine. He is the author of 'Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness'. Thanks to Dr Li, forest bathing is catching on and it is gaining more attention. Stress inhibits immune function. Dr Li set out to prove that forest bathing could reduce stress and thus benefit our immune systems.

Shirley Gleeson lives in Dublin and is the founder of 'Ecowellness Consultingand the co-founder of the Forest Therapy Institute, I recently learned about Shirley Gleeson while attending a virtual forest bathing experience with Gráinne Bagnall of Forest Bathing West Cork. Gráinne explained to us that this was a rapidly growing movement in Ireland.

There is no substitute for the real forest bathing experience, but during these difficult and tenuous times we all find ourselves in, connecting virtually will have to suffice. And so it was arranged.

On Sunday October 25th, I sat beneath the Oak tree in my garden here in Dallas and connected virtually with six people in Ireland and Holland. Led by Gráinne, she took us on a virtual forest bathing experience live from the Manch Estate, a private woodland estate of 320 acres in County Cork, Ireland.

Initially, we were introduced to a little background on forest bathing. Then Gráinne began her walk through this historic estate and we all watched and listened. I was present. I was engaged. She stopped and touched the bright green soft, squidgy moss. I listened as I heard the crunch of the fallen autumn leaves beneath her feet. This was not a hike. Not a race to get anywhere. It is a reminder to be where you are. To close your eyes and listen. To smell. I could hear the squirrel scamper on the fence behind me. He was not in the Manch Estate but scurrying behind my oak tree. I could hear Gráinne speaking. I could feel the light breeze on my face. I thought of the forests and trees I love so much in Ireland. Suddenly the memory of a hushed evening stroll I took while staying at Mount Juliet Estate in County Kilkenny came flooding back. Memories and more memories danced in and out of my head. I recalled the walk through the Cavan Burren Park with Jim Nolan.

I could hear water babbling. And then, I thought of the wood pigeon, oh those wood pigeons. A sound I associate with Ireland. A sound that comforts me and has been etched forever in my memory bank of sonorous sounds.

I have stayed in so many hotels throughout my life. When my friends are booked into the spa, I can be found walking the grounds, climbing stone walls and fences, paddling in the water, smelling rosemary, wandering walled gardens, caressing moss and scrunching leaves in my hands. I need a full sensory engagement to relax. An affinity to nature brings about a feeling of renewal and reconnection for me. Nature is my anodyne.

Thousands of years ago, Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine wrote about the body's ability to heal itself, he called it 'veriditas' (green life force). Our nervous systems can reset themselves. I know only all too well, as I have experienced this. I was ill for many years. I saw doctors, the best doctors in well-known clinics, and took the medications they said I needed. But when I had had enough, I saw a new doctor and embraced the fundamental science behind self-healing and the resetting of my immune system. I felt better than I had done in decades. This worked for me. I no longer took medication. This was my journey. Of course, it required time. Something we do not like to embrace in our Western culture. We want it fixed now. We want a pill, procedure or treatment to make it instantly disappear.

It has been well documented that simply being around trees, lying beneath trees and looking at trees reduces blood pressure and the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

Forest Bathing with a trained guide is an experience you will not forget. Next time you are in Ireland, may I suggest you try this.

Disconnect. Be Present. Return to childlike wonder, for this has to be wellness and wellbeing at its very best.



There are currently no comments

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment
Not a member? Register for your free membership now!
Or leave a comment by logging in with: