‘Forest Bathing’ at the UWS: Wednesday, May 22, Riverside Park

Lori Klamner. All photos courtesy of Lori Klamner.

By Bonnie Eissner

Upper West Sider Lori Klamner was terrible at meditating, she told West Side Rag in a recent interview. At the end of yoga classes, when she needed to focus on her breathing, she thought about her to-do list instead.

Then, during the pandemic, she found a way to calm her busy mind: forest bathing.

This hippie-sounding activity doesn’t involve water or nudity (at least not required). The term is instead the translation of shinrin yoku, a science-based practice that emerged in Japan in the heyday of the 1980s as a balm for burnout and a path to embracing and protecting the country’s forests. It has also been proven to be good for your health

The concept sounds simple: slow down and spend time in nature. But these things can be difficult to do, especially for busy New Yorkers who have limited access to natural landscapes, let alone forests. That’s where Klamner can help.

After leaving her job as a massage therapist and esthetician during the COVID-19 lockdown, she became a certified forest therapy guide and now leads forest bathing experiences in Riverside and Central Parks. Her The next one is on Wednesday, May 22 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM in the River Park. An offering from the Riverside Park Conservancy’s Summer on the Hudson series, it’s free; reservations are encouraged, but not required. The group meets in the park at River Run Playground on West 82nd Street.

Klamner begins her forest bathing events with a guided meditation to help people awaken their senses to their surroundings. Her goal, she said, is to get people to be present, to immerse themselves in the natural environment even for a moment, ideally for the full two hours. The rest of the experience consists of a series of ‘invitations’ to explore different areas in the park. From the start, Klamner asks people to think about the history and evolution of Manhattan, for example the striations in the rocks carved thousands of years ago as glaciers approached the island. “It’s a bit of time travel without being scientific,” she said.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit hippie-ish.

On short walks, she encourages people to not only stop and smell the plants, but also to touch them. “It’s about slowing down to notice all the details,” she said. She added that she’s really just trying to get people to stop thinking about their phones and their to-do lists, which she knows is a struggle.

Another aspect of forest bathing, according to Klamner, is thinking about the memories and feelings that nature evokes. Klamner invites people to think about how different environments make them feel. Some people may feel comfortable among dense trees; Others may be disturbed by such an environment and prefer an open field.

Some experiences can bring back childhood memories. She has invited people to lie on the grass and look at the clouds. “People were giggling,” she said. “They said, ‘I haven’t done this since I was a kid.'”

Science shows that this immersion in nature and letting go of inhibitions is healthy. Researchers have documented that forest bathing increases immunity, lowers blood pressure, and improves people’s mood and spirit. Some benefits come from biochemistry. Trees emit not only oxygen, but also phytoncides, or essential wood oils that ward off infections. Inhaling these chemical compounds has been shown to strengthen people’s immune systems. Even the colors and sounds, such as birdsong and flowing water, found in forests and natural environments soothe the body and mind.

“I tell people: the forest provides the therapy,” Klamner said.

She ends the outings by serving homemade herbal tea—no fancy ritual, just poured from her thermos into Dixie cups. “I think in the end everyone feels better and closer and wants to help more, protect the land, protect the park,” she said. “So that is a very nice result for me.”

Klamner, who has returned to her role as a massage and beautician, said forest bathing has changed her life. She has more patience with people and meditates regularly. “The claim that it helps you with your daily trials never really made sense to me,” she said. “But now that I’ve practiced this very, very often, I think breathing and slowing down has really helped me through life’s trials.”

Natural environment.

In addition to the event on May 22, Klamner will lead forest bathing experiences for Riverside Park Conservancy in June, September and October. She also leads walks in Central Park in front of the JCC Manhattan and at YMCA Camp Hi-Rock in the Berkshires.

Subscribe to West Side Rag’s FREE email newsletter here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *