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I Tried It: Nature Bathing at the San Diego Botanic Garden

An editor with a wandering mind attempts this meditative practice


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Photo by Rachel Cobb

I have a confession. I don’t really get mindfulness, maybe because slowing down isn’t my style. I’m a fast walker and a fast talker who finds comfort in a jam-packed agenda. If I want to relax, I’ll take a nap.

But I’ll also try anything once, so when San Diego Botanic Garden’s “nature bathing” class came on my radar, I thought, Why not? I’ve been to a Korean bathhouse.

Not the same. Nature bathing, or shinrin-yoku in Japanese, is a meditative therapy meant to get participants to tap into their senses and soak up nature’s ambient cures. Translation: Turn off your phone and walk outside.

At my two-hour class, the instructor encouraged us to pick three senses. I went with sight, sound, and touch. “Wander off for 20 minutes and attempt to tap into each,” she said. She’d ring a bell when the time was up.

My first jaunt ended on a bench, listening to birds chirping, cars parking, gravel crunching under feet… and then the bell.

Like cows returning home from pasture, we followed the noise to our instructor, now waiting with “the talking stick.” She handed it to each of us to recount what we embraced. At first I was still out of my element, unable to offer a metaphor or reason why I meandered back to the same flower three times to watch a bee pollinate it. So, I shared just that. Perhaps it was trust that drew me there, the instructor suggested. Point taken.

We did this exercise two more times. Then, my bath ended with a savasana in the bamboo garden. I’m no yogi, but I knew this was the best part: the nap.

This time, though, there was no sleep. Maybe it was the sound of visitors walking by, or that I was totally taken by what seemed like 100-foot bamboo stalks swaying overhead and the soothing sound of their ruffling leaves. At some point my fingers drifted off my yoga mat and onto the ground, swaying back and forth in the dirt just like the stalks. Sight, sound, and touch; right then, I succumbed to all three—and was calm as could be.

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I Tried It: Nature Bathing at the San Diego Botanic Garden

An editor with a wandering mind attempts this meditative practice
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