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Back to nature with shinrin-yoku

Posted 1:28 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, 2022

UWL student Paige Coleman does a yoga pose on a wooden structure that students in a recreation management course added for quiet time and meditation among the pines on the Hickory Trail. This designated area for forest therapy is less than 1 mile into the woods on the Hixon Forest trail.

UW-La Crosse students prepare La Crosse trail for community forest bathing

Go for a walk in the woods.

Leave your cell phone behind.

Close your eyes and open your senses — one at a time.

Disengaging from a hectic lifestyle and engaging in a slow, silent and mindful walk using the senses is called forest bathing or shinrin-yoku in Japanese.

The practice, originating in Japan in the 1980s, is proven to reduce stress and improve overall health. It’s a chance to reconnect to the present moment and truly notice what is happening in the physical world.

Forest bathing is becoming more visible in La Crosse, thanks to UW-La Crosse students in the Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation programs.

Students, along with La Crosse Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department and the Outdoor Recreation Alliance, spent several days this fall outfitting trails in Hixon Forest for forest therapy awareness and practice. The students in a recreation facilities maintenance course added quiet zones for meditation, forest therapy, and more along the Hickory Trail. A forest therapy class created forest therapy engagement messages to go on interpretive signs for the zones for trail users.

UW-La Crosse Associate Professor Dan Plunkett’s students in Recreation Facilities Maintenance worked with representatives from La Crosse Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department and the Outdoor Recreation Alliance to build quiet zones for meditation, forest therapy and other educational purposes at Hickory Trail in Hixon Forest in October. The class assists the Outdoor Recreation Alliance with trail maintenance every year to help students better understand the process of maintaining facilities. A strong component of the Recreation Management program is hands-on community work.

The outdoor trail additions came after Assistant Professor Namyun Kil's Nature and Forest Therapy class completed a community trail assessment project in fall 2020 and 2021 in collaboration with La Crosse Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department and the Outdoor Recreation Alliance. The project aimed to determine the suitability of Hickory Trail in Hixon Forest for positive forest therapy experiences.

UWL Senior and Therapeutic Recreation Major Paige Coleman says the practice allows you to connect with the Earth for your own self-care or the care of others. You learn P.O.P., she says, or pleasure of the present moment.

Kil’s classes are working to spread the practice beyond UWL students. They’ve coordinated programming in forest bathing for children at Chileda and Aptiv, centers dedicated to serving children and adults with disabilities, cognitive and behavioral challenges.

Coleman plans to earn her master’s in therapeutic recreation at UWL and wants to eventually work with children and people with physical disabilities. Forest bathing could be a great tool, she says.

“This is something everyone needs in life whether they are disabled or not,” says Coleman.

For more information about forest bathing and how to do it, read this FAQ on Forest bathing.


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