Wednesday, January 21, 2015

To Walk or Not to Walk, Part II Shinrin-yoku

(Sorry about the size of the font. I keep trying to make it bigger, but it doesn't change. Grrr. me)

"It is not so much for its beauty 

that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, 
as for that subtle something, 
that quality of air that emanation from old trees,
 that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit."
Robert Louis Stevenson

Unlike me, the child I care for is a creature of habit. If she does something once and likes it, she makes it a part of her day. If she doesn't like it, she puts an end to it lickety-split with a simple yet firm "no no."  We watched some squirrels one afternoon scurrying up, down and around some trees. Our afternoons now include a daily walk to "see squirrels." Every time we're together we have the same conversation.

M: What would you like to do today?

B: Outside
M: Where do you want to go?
B: See squirrels.
M: What do we have to do first?
B: Clean up. Get key.
M: Is that all?
B: Jacket. Raisins. Cat water. Mimi's water.
M: Let's put our shoes on.
B: Bella do it.
M about to push the elevator call button.
B: Bella do it.
(I tell myself that there is a diffence in being a stubborn, willful child and learning how to be a strong, independent woman. Sometimes they sound a lot alike.)

Once outside, we determine the weather conditions. Actually, it doesn't matter what the temperature is, Queen Bella makes sure the royal robe is in the seat with her. Finally, we're off to see squirrels. If the squirrels are going "lala" we keep walking to pay our respects to the big tree.

Big is kind of an understatement. This behemoth Live Oak has been standing in the same spot since before our city was founded.  Officially, though I doubt there's a measuring tape that will fit around the massive trunk, the tree stands 70 feet high, has a circumference of 25 feet, spreads over 145 feet and shades an area about 190 feet in diameter. Its bent and twisted branches make me think of an octopus ballet. Many of the tree's acorns have been collected as part of a preservation program that produces baby trees to be replanted elsewhere in the city.  

The Japanese have a practice they call shinrin-yoku. It literally means, "forest bathing." Doesn't that conjure up a lush green setting where birds sing to a tune the wind whistles through the trees? Doesn't it sound like the perfect antidote for hectic, stress-filled days? In fact scientists say a short 15 minutes spent in a forest or park can lower one's blood pressure, improve one's mental clarity, decrease one's stress level, and increase cancer-fighting white blood cells.*

The Queen doesn't need science to understand the health benefits of a forest bath. Like a woodland fairy She dances through the low lying branches in silver shoes.  She watches the others who come to the tree for photographs, or to relax in the tree's peaceful embrace.  Mostly Bella likes to sit on the steps eating raisins, drinking water and soaking it all in, as if in sumptuous, royal bath chamber. This is when I notice how the Queen covers her head with her blankie, wraps it around her arms, then leans her cheek down onto her shoulder. For the moment it lasts I could swear that Bella is in silent communion with the tree itself. Can a toddler be aware of such grandeur? Can she possibly know she's sitting in the Divine One's lap? I've come to the conclusion it is not important whether she knows or not. What's important is that she is developing a habit of daily shinrin-yoku. As her world grows more challenging and stressful, I pray the seeds of self-care have been planted. Like the great, great, great, great, grandbaby acorns of the giant tree that sits amid downtown highrises, I pray Bella will stand tall (or short as the case may be) and ground herself with daily doses of fresh air and sunshine. 

Wanna try taking a forest bath? For more about shinrin-yoku check out this website. It tells you how.
Lacing up my walking shoes,
Merry ME

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