Forest Bathing to Help Those Impacted by Maui Fires

by | Sep 11, 2023 | Central Maui, Outings

Forest bathing comes to Maui this Fall for some special sessions.

Forest bathing.

It is not a guided hike.

It’s beyond a walk in the woods.

And it has nothing to do with taking a bath outside!

The Roots of Shinrin-Yoku

Lady sits in forest bathing session

So what IS it? This preventative self-care practice originated in Japan back in the 1980s. Known as Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing served to address the high number of stress-related diseases at that time.

“The prescription they came to — immerse yourself in a natural environment and take it in with your senses — sounds deceptively simple, but it’s amazingly effective,” says certified forest therapy guide Phyllis Look. “It can really help calm, rejuvenate and restore your sense of well-being.”

Look was so inspired, she founded Forest Bathing Hawai‘i and guides forest therapy sessions on O‘ahu, which garners rave reviews and has been named a bucket-list item for intrepid travelers by Forbes. What’s more, The New York Times included the activity in its 36-hour itinerary of recommended things to do on an O‘ahu stopover.

Forest Bathing Comes to Maui

Phyllis Look with forest bathing group on Oahu

She had long been planning a Fall trip to Maui to share the practice with those here. The walks were scheduled for Saturday, November 11th and Sunday, November 12th at Maui Nui Botanical Gardens in Kahului. When the fires struck Maui in August, Look felt called to take these forest therapy sessions one step further.

She immediately started seeking sponsorship to provide the walks for free to Maui fire survivors. Look received her certification from the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy (ANFT) and the group came on board as the first sponsor, allowing the Sunday morning walk to be offered at no charge to Maui residents affected by the fires. Leaders shared a statement on their desire to support.

“We at ANFT are deeply saddened by the tremendous loss during the Maui wildfires. Our mission is to support planetary health by nurturing heart-centered relationships between all peoples and the More-Than-Human World of Nature. Unfortunately, the devastation of wildfires often disrupts such heart-centered relationships. Fortunately, however, forest therapy sessions can help people to heal their traumas and to rebuild their nature relationships. We have trained guides in the Chico California region who are doing tremendous work supporting the healing of people traumatized by the 2018 Camp Fire there. We are grateful that our own seasoned certified forest therapy guide Phyllis Look lives in Hawai‘i and is ready to offer forest therapy sessions to the people who most need them now. We want to sponsor at least one complimentary forest therapy walk in hopes that more people can have access to this healing modality. Feel free to visit our website to learn more about nature and forest therapy.”

Give Maui Families the Gift of Forest Therapy

Forest bathing moment on Oahu

A few donors have since contributed to the cause, and Look is welcoming more donations so that 100% of the forest therapy sessions will be free for Maui residents. Walks usually cost $40 per adult and $25 per child. Tax-deductible donations can also be made directly to Maui Nui Botanical Gardens with the note “Forest Bathing.”

So what can you expect in your forest bathing experience? As Look likes to say, the forest is your therapist; the guide just opens the doors. During your session, a guide will lead you on a slow, gentle walk, invite you to sit in quiet contemplation and may offer some sensory-opening suggestions to deepen your connection to nature.

“Unlike a hike, there is no ‘destination’ and, unlike a naturalist walk, you’ll gain knowledge through your senses and self-exploration rather than through the guide’s narrative,” Look explains. “The focus is on relationship and embodiment; it starts simply with paying attention.”

How Forest Bathing Can Help

Child with Phyllis Look from Forest Bathing Hawai‘i

After starting more than 30 years ago in Japan, Shinrin-yoku is still an active part of the culture today. This wonderful wellness tradition also been around long enough to provide decades of research on its effectiveness.

“Evidence shows a gentle walk among the trees reduces stress, improves cardiovascular functions, boosts immunity, even heightens executive functioning and increases creativity and focus,’ says Look. “Time in nature just leaves you feeling better!”

If you’d like to explore a profound sense of presence, deepen your connection with nature and perhaps even pursue a path to healing, check out Forest Bathing Hawai‘i to learn more about the walks available on O‘ahu, along with these special Maui events.

Perhaps you know a family affected by the fires, or struggling business owner, a volunteer who’s given tirelessly since August or someone else in need of some self-care among the trees. If so, forest bathing registration is now open for November 11th and 12th.

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