As the world slowly shifts back to normal, traveling is a high priority for many of us. Whether you’re the type to get off the grid and connect with nature on your getaway, or you prefer the modern luxuries of cities and resorts, there are a few ways you can make the most of your travels. We talked to Brooke Mellen, forest-bathing expert and founder of Cultured Forest, to enlighten us on ways to stay connected with nature as we reconnect with the world around us.
What are some ways we can stay mindfully connected with nature, wherever we wander?
Practicing Japanese Shinrin-Yoku or “Forest Bathing” emphasizes engaging the senses, slowing down and connecting with our natural environment. So as people begin to travel to natural spaces, I encourage them to slow down and “be” wherever they are in the Outdoors. This means if you are trekking to some majestic mountain, forest, or beach location, take time to enjoy the journey. Notice the details of the space around you and pay attention to what you see, smell, hear, feel and even taste. Savor wherever you travel to. As many of us haven’t traveled much since COVID, be mindful and fully grateful for the opportunity to travel and appreciate time in nature. In return, be gentle with the environment wherever you wander.
What are some rituals you practice to stay connected, wherever you are?
During the pandemic, I found myself indoors quite often, so I tried to make my space more nature-inspired, displaying my nature photography and rocks, and using nature scented products like I’m Outside. So even if I can’t be outdoors, or I am working at the computer, I will use aromatherapy. Studies in Japan suggest that phytoncides in plants boost immunity—even those in essential oils, so I try to diffuse scents that are foresty to help me feel grounded.
What ways can we stay connected with nature, even if we are in a big city or away from nature-dense areas?
I am based in New York City, so every time I go for a walk in the city, I pay attention to plantings and street trees. I will touch trees as I pass to bring me back to the present moment. I admire small gardens and flower patches when I find them. I try to feel grateful for the people who put effort into planting street trees, which boosts my mood.
Cities are often full of green spaces, so I take advantage of time spent even in the smallest park observing and appreciating the details of flowers, leaves and tree bark. This practice allows me to be more aware of my surroundings and mindful of being in the moment rather than worrying or being disengaged from my environment.
How do you recommend getting the most benefits from your surroundings?
My first recommendation would be to turn your phone on airplane mode whenever you are outside, this way you can fully be present when in nature. Also, slow down the pace and choose a trail or location with a variety of natural features such as trees, water, and rocks where you can spend time observing. Pretend you are a photographer looking for the perfect shot is one way to be observant of details.
As the world returns back to normal, what are some of the practices from a year of solitude you hope to keep in your wellness toolkit?
I will continue to hold social meetups with friends outdoors like I did during the pandemic. Central Park in NYC was one of the best places to see friends and socially distance. I will continue to try to get outside every day and make spending time in nature for wellness a priority.
During the pandemic I conducted Virtual Nature Therapy sessions through my company Cultured Forest since I couldn’t lead Forest Bathing walks outdoors. I advised participants to make their indoor environments more nature-inspired through art and aromatherapy, so I will continue to emphasize this practice, as well.
One good thing to come out of the Pandemic is that people realized how healing and stress relieving it can be to connect with nature, especially as they weren’t able to attend events indoors. So many publications wrote about Forest Bathing, so I am hopeful that people will continue to incorporate time outdoors into wellness practices and take time for self-care in nature as a priority.
Brooke Mellen founded Cultured Forest to share and merge her passion for culture, art, and the outdoors. She advises individuals and corporations on how to have enriching and healing experiences through nature and art through guided Forest Bathing experiences and sustainable, nature-inspired art collection. Brooke is Certified in Forest Medicine by the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM) and holds a Certificate in Forest Therapy from the International Nature and Forest Therapy Alliance (INFTA).