Episode 2 of Season 2 — Hosted by Emily Harwitz.
About this Episode
What is forest bathing, really? Originating as a mindfulness practice in Japan called shinrin-yoku, it involves activities that help heighten your senses to experience nature on another level and improve overall well being. It’s a vibe. Certified forest bathing guide Juan Lazo Bautista takes us into the redwoods and explains this immersive nature experience, including a meditation, tools, and practices to help guide you on your journey. Hope you emerge from this episode like a happy little tree (shoutout to Bob Ross).
Music and sound design by Nhu Nguyen and Anni Feng.
Read Episode Transcript
Follow Save the Redwoods League on Instagram @savetheredwoods
About our Guest
Juan Lazo Bautista (he/him) currently resides with his family on Kizh/Tonga lands in what is today known as Tustin, CA. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and has experience in labor organizing, youth empowerment, facilitation and immigrant rights work. He is proud to sit on the board of Defensores de la Cuenca (Watershed Defenders), a non-profit dedicated to helping the Latinx community connect with the natural world. Among his favorite things to do is catching last minute flights with friends, watching saturday soccer, bike riding, writing poetry and visiting his extended family in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Episode 2: Nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend
[Theme song intro]
Emily: Welcome to Season Two of I’ll Go If You Go, a Save the Redwoods League podcast. We’re building community and illuminating how Californians from all walks of life think about and experience nature and conservation, in the redwoods and beyond. I’ll go if you go, because when we explore together in community, the experience is all the more powerful
Emily: This episode may trigger intense relaxation. Hey everyone, Emily Harwitz here, and I’m really excited for today’s episode because we’re going to do something a little unconventional. We’re going to go forest bathing! We’ll go into the forest of Purisma Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, ancestral land of the Ramaytush, Ohlone, and Muwekma people, with a guide and a group of friends. Before I get into what forest bathing is and whether or not you’ll need a bathing suit, I thought I’d start this episode by sharing a little about myself so you know where I’m coming from.
I spent my early childhood in Miami, Florida, running around after lizards, squawking at seagulls, and climbing the seagrape tree in my grandparents’ yard. It was easy for me to feel connected with nature because it was everywhere. And I had my grandmother to guide me. My grandmother was active in South Florida’s conservation scene working to protect places like Biscayne Bay and Key Largo. She spent a lot of time outdoors with me and my sister, shaking tiny crabs out of Sargassum weed and watching Monarch caterpillars munching on milkweed. I’m so grateful for my early exposure to nature and my grandmother who helped me feel like a part of it.
Fast forward to now and I call San Francisco home, with its towering redwoods, rolling hills of oak trees, and majestic views of the Pacific Ocean. I’m a science writer, photographer, and now podcaster — thanks everyone for tuning in — and one of my favorite subjects to explore isn’t just our connection to nature, but our place within nature. Nature isn’t just the great outdoors, but also the weedy things in sidewalk cracks. Living in a city. It can be hard to feel connected to it sometimes, but that’s where something like forest bathing comes in. It’s called forest bathing, but you can do it anywhere. There’s a bit of life around you. We’ll get into that a bit later. But for now, what is forest bathing anyways?
Juan: Forest bathing is, in a nutshell, a series of invitations that are presented by the guide, in this case myself, that offer you, the participant, an opportunity to explore nature in a slightly different way—to connect to your surroundings, and perhaps even to yourself.
Emily: That was the voice of Juan Lazo Bautista, certified forest bathing guide and our guide into the forest today.
Juan: Forest bathing began, or was created as a term, in the Japanese government back in the 1980s, termed shinrin-yoku, which translates roughly to forest bathing. At the time, the Japanese people were suffering from many chronic illnesses related to stress, burnout, and so the Japanese government offered this as an incentive for folks to go into natural spaces to rest and recover. Since then, the practice has grown in that particular way and in Japan and has really allowed for their forest service to create locations and trails that are unique for forest bathing.
This particular practice that we will be doing today is based off of the Japanese interpretation of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku. However, there are some, I would say, key differences in that this is more going to be about how you feel, what are you perceiving, rather than what your health outcomes are. There is no right or wrong way of doing forest bathing. It is merely a way to engage with something that is here and has always been here.
I want to also acknowledge that peoples long before me and before folks who aren’t currently inhabiting this land have tended to this land. And as such, I want to make sure that we also offer the utmost respect for this particular land that we’re on and that includes looking out for any particular plants or animals that may be amongst us and allowing them to also continue with their days that we may also do the same.
Emily: Going into this, I did not know what to expect. To be honest, I thought I was already pretty good at being mindful in nature, but by the end of the guided session, I was amazed by how present and alert and alive I felt. Having a guide was really nice because, as Juan explains it., a guide gives you permission to be totally present and not have to think about what time it is or what to do next, or make any decisions for yourself other than whether or not to participate in whatever activity the guide gives you. That being said you can definitely go forest bathing by yourself, or go out with your family or group of friends, and maybe take turns being guides for each other. In the show notes, we’ll include a list of some of Juan’s favorite forest bathing activities that you can try on your own. But today, we have Juan to guide us and by us, I mean—
Emily J.: Hi, I’m Emily Joyner, and I came to this forest bathing experience because my friend Emily introduced me to it and I’m really excited. I’ve never done it before.
Sheyda: Hi, I’m Sheyda Esnaashari, and I came to this forest bathing experience because my friend Juan invited me on my trip to California. And it’s my first time being in the redwoods.
Emily: Leslie Parra, who you already know and love, and me. So now, without further ado, let’s head into the forest.
Juan: I’ll share a little bit about my own journey into forest bathing and how it’s been, in itself, an exploration of myself and how I view myself within the context of the world, my surroundings, the environment. So a couple of years ago I was working at the Forest Service. I was interning for the Office of Conservation Education, and having learned about the practice of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku from the Japanese Forest Service, we as a staff decided that it might be something good to look into. I volunteered to train up. At the time, I had very little knowledge of it, but as soon as I became aware of what the purpose was, I was really intrigued —in part because of my own background.
I was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico, and my family has long standing connections to the land based on textile weaving and using natural dyes. And as such, I found myself asking a lot of questions, even before this opportunity came about, as to how I could myself begin to deepen my relationship with nature. And so this was a kind of a natural way for me to do that. Maybe to begin to ask, but also answer some of those questions.
Emily: So what is it that we’re bathing in?
Juan: I genuinely believe — again, this is my interpretation of it — that you are bathing in that relationship. So forest bathing perhaps is the setting. I do think it might be a misnomer for some folks because not everyone has a forest that they can go into, and not everyone has a location that is green on all sides. But I do think that if there is a plant or a location that offers you a bit of relaxation, access to nature, I think that’s funny as far as what it is that I intend to do when I forest, which is to connect and relate to. I invite folks to bring in curiosity and play and wonder.
Emily: At this point, we’re sitting in a clearing a little off to the side of the trail. After introductions, Juan leads us in a grounding meditation and body scan, and invites us to share what we’re feeling. Feel free to follow along and practice this five minute meditation now, wherever you are, or save it for later and skip ahead five minutes to learn more about forest bathing activities.
Juan: Continue to take deep breaths and notice where your hips may be, how they may be feeling. Move through your spine and into your shoulders. Notice how your arms are resting. How are your roots connecting to the rest of your body?
Juan: If you were to imagine them as branches, how are these limbs receiving the forest? Moving in towards your neck and your head, taking note of the sound that you may be receiving, of the smells you may be smelling, and have a taste you may be tasting. I invite you to open your mouth and take a big gulp
What does that tastes like? The forest loves to play. What playfulness will you bring into this experience today.? As you notice your body settling into this particular space, I invite you to bring in an intention that you may want to bring for yourself for today.
Juan: This [intention] may look like a question. This may look like an image in your mind. This may look like an embodied movement. Give yourself permission to ask, and don’t feel as though you have to only do one question.
Juan: There’s lots of room and lots of time for all of your questions. Let’s take three breaths at your own pace as deep as you can.
Juan: Notice your breath interacting with the noises around you—the sounds. What does it feel like to be part of the symphony? How are you reciprocating what the forest is already giving you?
Juan: In just a second, I’ll ask folks, if you have your eyes closed, to open them. Before then, I want to offer one last question. I’d like us to imagine as though we are arriving to this location for the very first time. We may have traveled from another location—perhaps far, perhaps closer. And I wonder what it is that you might see when you open your eyes. Something maybe that you haven’t seen before. I ask that you hold things loosely, meaning that you just notice.
Juan: Avoid assigning meaning. When you’re ready, feel free to open your eyes.
Emily: Over the next few hours, Juan invites us to participate in some activities. The first one is a slow walk to our next sitting spot. On this walk, Juan asks us to pay attention to things in motion and notice any movement in the landscape.
Juan: We’ve walked a little bit and we asked the question what is in motion? So I invite any folks who would like to share what was in motion, or what did you perceive was emotion on the short journey?
Emily [to group]: Something I noticed when I’m walking and stand still for a moment, just looking around me surrounded by trees is how there’s constant motion all around us like even just now looking at these trees seeing the the way the leaves are just blowing in the breeze.
Leslie: I was thinking scents, like the scents that you pick up, the forest smells—like those good scents, they must be in motion. Either I’m cutting through, or they [are], and that’s creating a motion. But like even here when we got here, there’s like a totally different smell than when we were on the path.
Juan: I was walking towards the beginning of the path and I noticed that spider webs as you, kind of like, shift your body a little bit, the reflection changes and a little bit of the color changes as well. So it was interesting how, like, my different location was affecting the colors that I was seeing. And that made me feel kind of special. [Juan chuckles, and the group shares in the laughter].
Juan: Thank you all for sharing. I wanted to bring in a little bit of playfulness for this next invitation. And I would like to do this in a bit of like a partner invitation. So what we will be doing is something called “Camera.” So this particular invitation does not involve a real camera. It involves a camera that is your eyes and your body and your perception of the area around. So this will take a little bit of trust.
But throughout this period, I ask that each one of you take turns guiding one another to a location that you would like to share with this person. So they will have your partner their eyes closed. And you as a guide will lead them. You can use your hand on their shoulder to lead them, if they feel comfortable, or you can kind of find an arrangement that works for both of you. When you arrive at the location, you will have time to describe what it is that you are seeing. You can describe it with different words or adjectives. You may even choose to reference things that they may know. And then when you are ready, you can say “camera” and they will open their eyes.
Emily: We pair up, and first Leslie leads me to a special spot along the trail and gives me the gift of a scene to imagine. Then it’s my turn to lead Leslie somewhere.
Leslie: All right.
Emily [to Leslie]: Okay.
[Sounds of footsteps as they walk along a trail]
Leslie: I will have my hands in my pockets. That’s how much I fully trust you.
Emily [to Leslie]: My eyes are fully open.
Leslie: The sun—I can see it, or feel it.
Emily [to Leslie]: Do you feel warmer?
Leslie: With your eyes closed, you feel the sun. You see red, right, like your eyelids.
Emily [to Leslie]: Okay, so we’re walking—
Leslie: —and I feel mounds. Maybe this is where the little voles were.
Emily [to Leslie]: Okay, we’re gonna stop here. Okay. We are in a clearing. Facing us is, to the right in front of us—we have some second growth redwoods interspersed with Bay laurel trees. We’ve got a nice little diverse stand of hardwoods. And to the front center, we’re seeing the last rays of the day’s sun streaming through the trees. From the angle it’s at, it’s lighting some of the leaves from the back, so you have these patches of bright green leaves. And then you also have the other branches that are in the shade, so there’s some nice contrasts of greens. And there’s also the trail in front of us that is winding through a little clearing, so there’s some grass on both sides and it goes into these second growth redwoods. Alright.
Leslie: That’s a good job by the way, and before I open my eyes, I think Bob Ross couldn’t have done describe it any better.
Emily [to Leslie]: [laughs] Bob Ross! I’m honored.
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Emily: For the final activity, Juan invites us each to go off on our own and choose somewhere to sit and reflect. After 15 minutes or so, he calls us back to sit in a clearing—which was comfy and fluffy with redwood duff—and to share our thoughts.
Emily J: I felt like, in that last invitation of sitting and pausing, I can almost feel the difference of when I was closing myself off and when I was, like, allowing myself to connect with what’s around, and realizing how un-separate I am; we are. And that feeling of closing off feels like narrow and tight and kind of, like, not super pleasant. And then the opening maybe feels a little scarier and more new but also it puts it puts things in perspective. There’s this feeling like ‘Oh, my worries, my individual worries or this conflict or that, in tracking and seeing all the like nooks and crannies and, like, just vastness. I feel like ‘oh, we’re all—it’s all kind of swirling. It maybe isn’t so important in that individual kind of way.’
Emily [to group]: Does anyone feel physically different now than at the beginning of our forest bathing adventure today?
Leslie: Mentally, I’m extremely stimulated. Like there’s tons of stuff going through my mind right now. Like even just focusing on the ground floor for a little bit and you can see so much activity going on. I just saw one insect walk by—like we, you know—I noticed so much and things that we take for granted sometimes. We’re just being out here. We don’t get to—I mean, just even all the different calls that we heard. Like if we didn’t have those moments to just sit with our thoughts, we would—I would have missed out on that, probably.
Emily [to group]: Right, like there’s so much sound, so much life around us, and activity that, if we’re just out here and not really present, I feel like the brain could easily filter out into background noise. But being here and intentionally forest bathing is allowing the background to come into the foreground. Like there’s, like as Emily [J.], as you were saying earlier, it’s like not a separation of me with the surroundings. It’s—I’m a part of what’s here now.
[Crows begin to squawk]
Emily J: Just feeling a lot of gratitude and just the, like, fun. That there’s also, there’s something that’s just fun and childlike—Leslie like you were saying. It’s really just special, so I’m grateful and just feel glowy feelings.
[Crows still cawing in the background]
Juan: So just to close this out, I want to extend my appreciation to all of you. I want to just say that this experience has allowed me to reconnect with, I think, a practice that maybe I had let go of a little bit, in part because of the pandemic because it was difficult to bring people together. And also something that I can do on my own and so, for folks listening, I invite you to bring in some curiosity into your experience outdoors, whether that be through forest bathing or other practices. I find it’s really stimulating, fulfilling, to continue asking questions of myself and the place that I am. Because that’s what that’s what makes life, in my particular perspective and my experience, really, really enjoyable.
Emily [to Juan]: Alright Juan, now it’s my turn to give you an invitation—which is to a lightning round of questions about some fun things you’ve been up to lately. So—can you name one thing right now that’s getting you excited?
Juan: Your answers [reflecting on the forest bathing experience]
Emily [to Juan]: What’s a recent book you’ve read and enjoyed?
Juan: I recently finished “The Parable of the Sower” by Octavia Butler.
Emily [to Juan]: What is your current go-to comfort food?
Emily [to Juan]: Nice. What’s your favorite Redwood Park, and why?
Juan: Simply because I just visited this week, I would say the Henry Cowell State Park in Santa Cruz.
Emily [to Juan]: That’s a beautiful one. Was the river running this time of year?
Juan: It was.
Emily [to Juan]: Gorgeous. And what’s one thing you hope listeners takeaway from this episode?
Juan: That there is more than one way of being outdoors
Emily [to Juan]: Awesome. Well thank you so much!
[Sounds of “Woo!” and Yay!” and clapping]
Emily [to group]: [laughing] Collective sounds of joy! We have been bathed.
Sheyda: I feel clean!
[Another round of woo’s!]
Emily: Thanks everyone for tuning in. And remember to check out the show notes for Juan’s list of five forest bathing activities you can do on your own or with your group of friends.
[Theme song fading out]
I’ll Go If You Go, a Save the Redwoods League podcast.
Through conversations with Black, Indigenous, and people of color who explore and work in the outdoors, we’re building community and illuminating how Californians from all walks of life think about and experience nature and conservation, in the redwoods and beyond.
About the host of Season 2
Emily Harwitz (she/her) is a multimedia science writer and photographer whose work focuses on the environment and our connection to it. She tells stories that foster community, provoke curiosity, and inspire a sense of deeper connection with the natural world around us.
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