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Our “Studio” is now on the air!

First session in our new “studio”

This is normally our seminar room in the attic of our Country Home for Mindful Living in Bavaria, Germany. We adapted it as our online content little studio.

We are using the backdrop that we had printed in London for our stand at the Mindful Living Show in early March. It works great to bring the forest into our guided meditation sessions.

What do we do exactly?

Our Forest Therapy retreats are on hold at the moment, except for the one in Japan, in October, which we are really hoping we will be able to do, so, we thought of increasing our online presence to continue offering our Mindfulness in Nature message to you all.

This is a free to enjoy service that we are offering to stay connected with our dear Mindfulness and Forest Therapy friends around the world. We also thought of using this tool to share our passion for nature and meditation as a way of helping you all, existing and new friends, in the process of managing stress that may be caused by the current global situation.

These are live, interactive, online sessions. The main component includes, short guided meditations, with breaks in between. We also include time for you all to share your thoughts and to welcome the spoken and silent support from our global community. Meditation, as well as prayer work, and so are good intentions offered by friends, family and strangers alike, where distance does not matter.

When and Where?

We started last week by offering a session every Thursday evening for our German friends. Now we are working on a schedule for our International followers. We are looking to find suitable times for the Canadian and US time zones, and then we’ll do other sessions for the English-speaking Europeans, Great Britain, and the Asian time zones. We would love to do some in Spanish as well, for the Latin Americans and Spaniards that have come to our Shinrin-yoku sessions here in Bavaria.

Look for our upcoming schedule, we hope you can join us in our live, Nature Focused Guided Meditations and enjoy our Mindfulness in Nature message.

Stay tuned for more info and dates…

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Videos and Live Presentations are here

Hi everyone, we are finally getting very close to the beginning of a new era on how to reach out to you all. These unprecedented circumstances have led us to turn up our creativity to find new ways of sharing what we have in us for you all.

Our Shinrin-yoku and Forest Therapy programs need, of course, one main ingredient, which is, being there within nature. During these times of social distancing we can’t host groups in person, so the next best thing is using our imagination and promote “being there” in mind. The brain, at times, does not differentiate between reality and imagination, if you truly feel being in a certain place. All of us, that at some point have been immersed in nature, may have a large “library” of memories that we can recall and play in our heads. If we do this in a meditative state, the imagined becomes reality to our body. Of course, no Phytoncides or any of the other wonderful natural substances found in the forest will be present, but as we said, this, we hope, is the next best thing.

We have done some trials on live, interactive, on-line presentations with our German followers and have fortunately received great feedback. Emma has put together a set of “Nature Focused Guided Meditations” with natural visual input. Next is to start scheduling some sessions in English for our international crowd, where both of us will host.

We are also making videos by our own production in our nearby forest to share with you all. These videos will have exercises which are normally part of our Shinrin-yoku program, and many of you who have already participated in our retreats will recognize and re-live.

This is our first video, “What’s in Motion”, of the Shinrin-yoku series.

Play in HD full screen when possible…. enjoy!

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Problem solving in a forest

The famous quote by Dr. Thomas Hora, “All problems are psychological, but all solutions are spiritual”, stirred up my curiosity. Considering that the “spiritual” he meant had nothing to do with established religions, it led me to believe more strongly that, a forest is the best spiritual theatre for problem solving practices.

More often than not, by spending time, mindfully, in a forest, we end up realizing there wasn’t a problem at all. Forests, as well as most natural environments, offer us a profound and most importantly secular spiritual experience. Practices like Shinrin-yoku and forest therapy, open up a portal, allowing us to cross over from a mostly “psychological”, reactive, fight of flight state to a more “spiritual”, open minded, relaxed but yet clear state. The most fecund state of mind for solutions to spontaneously present themselves.

The main factor that makes this practice so effective is that problems themselves shed their fear generating powers, the panic inducing cloak drops off, you can then see the problem for what it really is, naked and vulnerable. Therefore, often, you realize that nothing is left, so there was no real problem to begin with. In the remainder of the times, solutions just appear in front of you, and one of the recurring solutions is to, actually, continue coming back to the forest.

Like John Muir says… “And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.”

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Nature brings a sense of normalcy

Spring is still springing, birds are still building nests, new growth is showing everywhere, in peace and calmness.

In moments like right now, we need nature even more. It helps us get through crises like the one happening to most humans on earth right now, not by ignoring, looking the other way and pretending it isn’t happening, but by feeling the support of nature, that we belong to it, that we are not alone.

We have plenty of science proving why nature and forests especially are good for us, but not as an external resource which we should use as a remedy, but more like what we feel in our homes, in our mother’s arms. It is our support system because we are part of it, we belong together.
When there is a threat in a forest, trees quietly and inconspicuously react and help each member no matter the species. Natural mechanisms kick in to protect the whole. Trees don’t turn against each other, they do not compete, they collaborate. There is so much for us humans to learn from forests and nature in general. Trees practice “social distancing” as part of their nature, yet they are connected underground by roots and a vast network of, in common terms, mushroom mycelium, using it to send to other members of the forest, elements like carbon or nitrogen that are needed for their immediate survival and other natural elements for their long-term wellbeing.

No show of force necessary for this to occur. It’s just the nature of nature. We humans should remember where we come from, that we are part of that nature.

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Burnout…

We see this self-imposed affliction in our participants more and more often. It seems to be happening much earlier in life, even in their 20’s. Most people that come to us are in search of a dramatic change in their lives because of the symptoms are becoming almost unbearable. They see no lasting satisfaction in anything they do “for fun” anymore. The common escape from working more than 50% of the 168 hours available in a week normally include…

  • buying expensive stuff (Substantiating their financial success)
  • partying hard (“We work hard, and we party hard”… sound familiar?)
  • seeking adrenaline inducing activities
  • and the list goes on…

Yet, the satisfaction rendered is as short-lived as the activity itself, and many times with undesirable consequences. The mildest being a killer hangover and not even remembering how much “fun” was had. Looking for answers in all the wrong places seems to be an all too common vicious circle.

“Going back to basics” sounds like an overused phrase, yet it has an important clue hidden in plain sight. If by “basics” we mean spending time in nature, in the forest, in the mountains, by the ocean on a deserted beach, then we’re really onto something.

It sounds so simplistic an answer, unsophisticated and cheap, that most people pass it by. They rather keep searching for what the competing, energy drinker, crowd says it’s worth doing.

Spending mindful time in nature is in fact in our DNA, it is the natural way our predecessors, not only rested, but also restored the balance in their bodies and minds.

It is THAT simple!

The main problem is that most people have forgotten how to do this. How to be in nature as the part of it that we are(were). Jogging through a park, with your earbuds on doesn’t quite cut it. The true connection with nature, requires all your senses focused on it, mindfully engaged with it, fully receiving all it has to give.

The proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” is that many of those borderline burnout victims are starting to see the path back to our true selves and our true home. They again seek reconnecting with nature in a profound, mindful and healing manner. The young folks that come to us are in search of the connection they had with nature when they were kids, they remember how valuable it was to them before the definition of “valuable” was changed by the competitive, cut throat professional life the embarked on.

This movement is not a revolution, it’s just common sense. And it is backed by decades of science with measurable results as proof of the physiological benefits of mindfully immersing oneself in a forest. It’s also about time.

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Looking back at Scotland

What an amazing September!

Our Mindfulness in Nature and Forest Therapy retreat in Scotland was full of magic. Strangers who became family in just a few days. We all became so enriched by nature, mindfulness and the deep connection that we all have to this one place. A place filled with tolerance, compassion and the common ground that unites us, that makes us all one.

Our true nature is lured out of us by the invisible thread that connects us all, all we need is to jump out of the hamster wheel for a while, pause, look around with the eyes of the soul and be open to seeing past the masks and self-imposed facades. A deep re-connection with nature facilitates this change back to our true selves because it’s our home, and there is no need to pretend when we are home.

We plan our retreats with a lot of heart vision, yet we continue to be surprised by the magical connections among our participants and the instant miraculous dynamics spontaneously created within minutes. We bring people from different parts of the world together, and by the time we are done, just a few days, lifelong friendships flourish. This is our most desired wish in doing what we do. It warms my heart to see these mysterious works and makes me proud and so very grateful for being a small part in them.

Good food for the body and the soul. Lots of fun in our excursions and also moments of reflection and solitude.

Looking forward to our next one. We hope you can join us!

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What a great joy – Liguria retreat 2019

We had such an amazing time at our 7 day retreat in Italy. The venue and surrounding area were indeed spectacular, the hosting family are such heartwarming people, Italian hospitality to the core. We all felt part of a great big family.

We humbly feel that our Mindfulness in Nature program was indeed a success. We are very proud of what Emma and I have put together. Each day had a theme. We did our Shinrin-yoku sessions in different forested areas around the area. Twice right next to the farm, one in a national park a short drive away and the last one at a very special and inspiring valley just a few minutes away. Nature and Mindfulness was indeed all around us.

Some photos and feedback from this amazing week:

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Gli orti de Bertin

“A week’s retreat Forest Bathing with Carlos and Emma in Italy was a unique, enjoyable and memorable experience, one not to be missed”


“I was travelling alone, however I never felt alone as Carlos gave me step by step instructions and from the moment I enquired about the trip I felt connected, cared for and supported all the way through to arriving in the country, Carlos proved to be a very reliable and trustworthy person”


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A sundowner by the sea


“It is evident that Carlos and Emma share their passion for forest bathing and have knowledge of the benefits and research. The simple sensory practices bring new awareness and insights to an experience in the forest and can be quite profound, I look forward to repeating these when I’m back home and enjoying a more sensory and connected relationship with nature”


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The frame game

“The programme was very well thought out with a variety of forests bathing trips to different forests, visits to local places of interest and mindfulness meditation”


“I feel refreshed, renewed, relaxed and empowered to return to life after only one week away! I wish you all the best for the future and hope this one gave you a good start in many more successful retreats”


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A cloud in the forest

“Carlos shared his interest of dream yoga, which I found inspiring and couldn’t wait to go to sleep to see what happens! Emma shared her passion for creative writing which was infectious and fun, her calm and gentle presence comes across at all times, particularly through her guided meditations”

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Campo Ligure

“I found Carlos and Emma to be the warm, kind, caring and interesting to talk to. I feel forever grateful for their knowledge and well put together programme that gave me a memorable experience always to be remembered”

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Portofino

I’m interested for next year! CLICK HERE

Some more memorable times and places:

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Prep trip to Liguria, Italy

Here we are, at Gli Orti di Bertin, near Campo Ligure, Italy. This is the venue for our next Shinrin-yoku retreat the last week of May. We came to finalize the last few details and mark the trails we’ll be using during our 7 days in this beautiful land.

Today we walked along the river Gorzente which will be one of our trails in May. This conservation area is located at about 20 minutes from here, cr20190424_122130.jpgossing to the province of Alessandria in Piemonte. Everything was just bursting with that new “baby” green and multicolour flowers were making themselves shown… This park is called Parco di Capanne di Marcarolo in the extensive protected area of the Piedmont Apennines.

At this time of the year, the river swells due to melting snow and the rain that has been falling the last few days. Most of the path that we walked was in fact flooded by the small natural springs coming down with much more water than usual. It’s all part of the annual cycle, increased water supply to the increased demand as everything is blooming and bursting with life.

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Meeting my mentor – Dr. Miyazaki

After my last Shinrin-yoku private session which took place at Okutama Town near Tokyo, I traveled to a hotel near my next destination, which in fact turned out to be the highlight of my entire trip. I stayed overnight very near the Chiba University campus where Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki works has a professor and leads the Nature Therapy Laboratory at the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences.

A dream come true! Meeting the world-renowned and pioneer on Shinrin Yoku research. He started his Shinrin-yoku research as far back as 1990, focused on the physiological benefits of forest bathing. In 2003 after finding so much evidence of these benefits, backed by his research, Dr. Miyazaki coined himself the term “Forest Therapy”, now so well-known and used around the world.

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Anticipation

Dr. Miyazaki agreed to receive me in his office at 11:00 am. I had breakfast very early after almost not able to sleep much in anticipation. I checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to the same train station where I arrived the evening before. It was still very early so I had the chance to find a locker for my luggage and walk around the area for a bit.

The meeting

I was to meet with Dr. Miyasaki’s secretary at the train station’s lobby. The time finally came, it was quite easy to find me as I was probably the only westerner (again) at the station at that time.

A few minutes walk, we entered the Chiba University campus which has plenty of agriculturally workable land and open space, and you can see several fruit tree plantations around the just few buildings. I thought it was a sensible green space/concrete ratio for a campus hosting Dr. Miyazaki’s work.

I was led to a meeting room where Dr. Miyazaki and two of his staff members received me. Wow, what a moment. I wanted to pinch myself. We met for a whole hour, professor Miyazaki was very interested in our Forest Therapy center in Bavaria and I felt really proud answering all his questions. He had also prepared a binder with his published papers from the last decade to date. So very generous him.

At the end of the meeting I asked if I could take a picture, he graciously agreed and we went outside with his team, by a persimmon tree near the building where he works. Could not have been more appropriate to have a green background for our pictures.

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I placed a framed photo in our office, with his business card which is made of a very thin slice of Hinoki cypress wood.

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We highly recommend reading his book released in 2018:

Shinrin-yoku: The Japanese Way of Forest Bathing for Health and Relaxation”

It is a great introduction to the world of Forest Bathing and Forest Therapy, with much information on his research and the revealing findings regarding physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku and nature therapy.

Shinrin Yoku Book

 

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First Weekend long Shinrin Yoku Retreat

We just held our first weekend long Forest Therapy retreat in Bavaria, Germany.

The weather was absolutely amazing, sunny and relatively warm for this time of the year. Still lots of snow so we did the entire trail on snow shoes. This added a certain adventure component to it all. It was loads of fun and everyone had a great time.

Some participants selected our early arrival option, which meant coming in on Friday night, spending the extra time with us in the country and enjoying additional mindfulness meditation guided sessions in our seminar room.

On Saturday, after breakfast we welcomed the rest of the participants, 6 in total, and after lunch we headed out to the forest for 3 hours. It was a heartwarming and healing session, and we could tell how profound of an experience it was for the entire group.

In the evening, jacuzzi under the stars and a bright moon, and sauna in the forest. It was a challenge to get our guests to leave that setting and come in for dinner….

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Next morning, another 2 hour session in the forest including a picnic lunch in nature.

Our farewell out of the forest in pairs celebrating new friendships and a very meaningful time together…

A great experience for everyone and a deep sense of fulfilment for us after another successful retreat. We are very honoured and humbled to inspire this magic on people.

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Okutama Town

My next stop was the Okutama Forest Therapy base near Tokyo. At about one and a half hours by car from downtown Tokyo, we find this picturesque town by the Tama river. Thick forests on both sides of this river valley as far as the eye can see. I later learned that this area has 97% of its area covered by forests. Being closer to the ocean, you can tell that the autumn colours are far from starting to show themselves yet.

I slept in a local pension type of residence just minutes to the Oku-Tama train station, the meeting place with my guide Kenichi, and Forest Therapy Base administrator Keiko. I waited for them while having a can of cold coffee off a vending machine as I have been doing for the last few days. It is hard to find a place that sells hot coffee in the morning …

After we met, they drove me to the Forest Therapy Base about 20 minutes outside of town. The Okutama Forest Therapy base has invested almost 2 million dollars in Infrastructure and it is very apparent throughout the tour. When we arrived, we entered a single story modern building with a spacious meeting area, a modest kitchen and public bathrooms. I had the usual tests done there, blood pressure and saliva test. This being my third Shinrin Yoku walk within a week, they were quite impressed with my low initial numbers. I told them I’d had quite a large dose of Forest Therapy in the past 5 days so they were quite happy for me and for having yet more proof that Shinrin Yoku works so well.

As soon as we started the walk, you can see right away where they invested their money, lots of infrastructure along the way, not just a nicely equipped main base building. The trails are carved out of the side of the hill with smooth even paths made of natural materials, and a short wall on the mountain side which allows you to smell, touch and inspect closely all the ground cover plants and low bushes without having to bend down. A sturdy protective fence on the down side of the hill protects walkers from getting off the trails. A most impressive wheelchair lift from the main building to station 2 makes it easy for handicapped attendees to reach the heart of the forest path half way up the mountain side.

The wildlife is quite alive and well around here. Bears and wild boars are the main residents sharing their habitat with the impetuous humans. The guide was packing a canister of bear spray, so all was well.

Stations

There are buildings along the path that they called stations, concrete structures with lots of large glass windows and very comfortable inside. We stopped at one of them to have lunch. The guide kept discretely updating the base station with his radio on our progress. This way the organizer would meet us at Station 2 with lunch served. Very impressive.

Forest viewing room

After lunch, the guide showed me a special area in this building with a theater sitting style stepped benches facing a very large window. This is the forest viewing room, instead of a large screen you see the forest through a gigantic window while listening to the sound of water trickling coming from an opening in the wall. The sound is channeled through a duct system coming from a natural spring underneath the building.

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Forest viewing room from outside

Like every Forest Therapy walk I did in Japan, I could not stop looking around for unknown to me plant species and insects. I had plenty of amazing surprises.

 

Okutama Town Forest Therapy base is the closest to Tokyo. It offers a great opportunity for people in the city and surrounding areas to reach this base by public transit in a relatively short time, hence allowing a full forest bathing experience as a day trip from home. It also offers night sessions of star-gazing in the middle of the forest.

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Star gazing seating area

Next..

meeting someone who is basically one of the main figures in Shinrin Yoku research, the person that proposed to the world the use of the “Forest Therapy” name, and my mentor, Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University.

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Nagano – Temple, Shrines and giant trees – Part 2

The pilgrimage route through the Togakushi shrines is located in the forested mountains northwest of Nagano. Togakushi is considered to be a spiritual mountain with five shrines along the trail, each representing a different God character from the mythological story of Japan’s creation.
The 3 main shrines in Togakushi, a lower, a middle and upper one, are connected by a few kilometers of forested trail and steep stone stairways lined with giant Japanese cedars.

Considered to be a “power place” this area has a series of marked sacred places. These markers are called shimenawa made of a rice straw or hemp rope called nawa, and shide or gohei, origami type of figures made with white paper that are cut into strips and hung from these ropes. You find these at the entrances of holy places, they are also placed around trees to indicate the presence of kami (Shintō deity). By the way, look at the size of the Japanese Cedar in the photo below, sacred history in itself…

Traditional prayer routine

When you approach a Shinto shrine, there are no fancy decorations of gold or statues to venerate, normally you see an enclosure in the far back with closed doors. Shrines rather specialize in spirits, sacred incantations, and talismans. So, to pray to the spirits or Kami in that particular shrine, walk right up to the barrier in front of the main hall, there is normally a large wooden box with wooden slots where you can make an offering (100 yen is the typical amount offered). Then the protocol is, bow twice, clap your hands twice, now this is the time to pause and pray with your hands together, when done, bow once more.

I spent most of my time hugging these magnificent giant cedars, even though I did the water purification and prayer in each shrine too.

One of the things we do during our Forest Bathing session in Germany is to place a stone at the base of a tree as a form of an offering. I was very pleased to see that our “own” idea has been practiced in Japan for decades. Maybe the meaning is slightly different but in essence it is an offering to the tree.

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Along the way to the last or upper Shrine, Okusha, the path is lined by ancient cedar trees that radiate such a spiritual feeling from such majestic nature. You walk along in fascination and awe. This is a very healing feeling in Shinrin Yoku terms.

And finally, the last Shrine, a very beautiful place high up at the base of the sacred mountain.

The wooden tablet above, is called “ema”, the tradition is that you write down a wish and place it in a box in the Shrine to be later presented to the Shintō deity of that Shrine.

(Thank you Naoko for the pictures you took of me)