What is Forest Bathing, and How Does It Connect to Lithuanian Culture?
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Well, friends, this week's words are a bit more off the cuff, but hey, you didn't just come here for the practical Let's-Move-Our-Dog-to-Lithuania posts, right? (Right!) And to be a bit more explicit: would I really be doing myself justice naming a blog Into the Forests I Go without actively participating in the forests that surround me?
I'm gonna be perfectly honest with y'all - I had never heard of forest bathing until a couple of months ago. Why? Well, I was already doing it naturally, I guess. Forest bathing is actually an English translation of shinrin-yoku, a Japanese mindfulness therapy developed in the 1980s to counteract the imbalance of daily stressors. To me, it just means: taking in the forest with all of your senses, dropping yourself into a space, making it a walking meditation. (This reminds me immediately of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh's walking meditation. "When we take mindful steps on the earth, our body and mind unite, and we unite with the earth.") And why am I so into it?
Imagine day after day of cold weather, sometimes stringing you along with minute bursts of blue skies and sunshine, sometimes decorated with crystalline ice and snow, and other times foggy, moist, quiet. But every time, it's the same meditation, the same forest spirits welcoming you back. I'm laser focused on my work in my home, but the second I enter the forest with my dog, I listen for the sounds beneath the wind, crunching snow, slippery ice, birds singing to each other. It's honestly enough to make me want to sing and praise - and forest bathing is my version of praise, similar to Cat Steven's "Morning Has Broken."
To me, this is a crucial element to thriving in the Lithuanian fall and winter seasons: listening. Participating. Noticing.
And since we're already here, some cultural basics on the place I now plant my feet: the word for forest in Lithuanian is miškas (pronounced: mish-kas), and of course, Lithuanians celebrated their own forest goddess named Medeinė. Medeinė acted more as a protector of the forest, trees (Lithuanian: medis), and animals than people, reminding me a bit of Artemis or Diana in Greek and Roman mythology. Since Winter Solstice is so close, it's worth mentioning that I've read Lithuanians used to honor her by dressing in bear skins for a Solstice ritual. But regardless, she's part of the Lithuanian pantheon, and when I think about the spirit of the forests here, she comes immediately to mind, along with Žemyna, the Earth Mother. Similar to honoring the native land I've walked on in the United States, I like to send a small daily nod of appreciation to Medeinė and show respect to the land I now walk on. Lithuanian culture easily connects to forest bathing because, well, there's ample opportunity for forest therapy - and the roots truly go back in time. All you need to do is listen and pay attention.
And here's a bonus: even if we don't have an actual forest to bathe in, I recommend this playlist to get the benefits of the forest, no matter the location or time of year. (You're welcome!)
Ah, and speaking of emerging cultural experiences, I'm heading back to the United States in a few days' time, ready to share stories with curious friends and family - so I will be out of office, so to speak, until our next opportunity to visit on January 9. If you're subscribed to my email, you can expect an email or two during that time! If you're interested in keeping up to date, subscribe at the bottom of this page, or check up on my Instagram @intotheforestsigo. Although I won't be able to participate in Lithuania's Christmas Eve celebrations, I'll be enjoying them from across a large ocean. Wishing you well as we head into 2022 - may your dark Solstice bring radiant, scintillating light in the months to come.
Until next time, with love from Vilnius - viso gero!