How to Successfully Unplug and Take Advantage of Time Off
and Take Advantage
of Time Off
I tried "forest bathing" to slow down
and get the most from being mindful
I'm not really the “digital detox” type. I don't feel compelled to pull out my phone at dinner and I've never once dropped my phone on my face while lying in bed—two indicators which, to me, point towards an intervention. But I had been really stressed with work and other commitments lately. So when the opportunity to come to Northern California for a weekend of wellness presented itself, I figured there was no harm in unplugging for a few days to reset.
The truth is, in our modern society ruled by smartphones, social media and instant communication, it's harder than ever to get away from it all. Away from the day-to-day distractions and the looming sense of falling behind. When you're over-stressed and under-slept, switching off and allowing yourself to unwind and recharge requires more than putting in a PTO request. You've got to take it seriously in order to truly escape the grind and close the multiple tabs you've got permanently open in your mind.
Thankfully, my whole weekend was set up to get the most of the boon in wellness at the moment. Including the vehicle we were loaned for traversing the area's winding roads—Buick's new Enclave, a slick SUV that's seemingly engineered for self-care. It's the first car I've driven with an air ionizer, which not only neutralizes odors to keep the cabin smelling fresh, it eliminates airborne bacteria, environmental debris and other contaminants like pollen. It also utilizes Buick's exclusive QuietTuning, which blocks sounds from entering the cabin while absorbing remaining unwanted sounds for a peaceful, distraction-free driving experience.
One of the first stops on our wellness tour was a trailhead nestled into the edge of a towering redwood forest. We were here for "forest bathing," a simple practice that's long been popular in Japan. In fact, shinrin-yoku, as it's known in Japan, became part of its national health program in 1982 as a way to reconnect with nature and unplug—long before there were addictive devices from which we needed to unplug.
Despite the name, there is no nudity and no water involved, other than the trickling of a nearby stream just out of sight. Forest bathing, I learned, is akin to a mental cleanse. A way of emptying your mind, breathing deeply and intimately taking in your surroundings. A long, restorative soak in nature, which is gaining traction in the US as a way of harnessing the health benefits of being outdoors.
It might sound a little out there and Goop-ish, but even doctors are getting hip to the benefits of forest bathing. More than 75 physicians in the Pacific Northwest have begun writing prescriptions for people to spend time walking outdoors in order to ease tension and anxiety, lower blood pressure and enhance the immune system. It's part of a growing partnership with Park Rx America, a non-profit that cites medical studies that say outdoor physical activity "stimulates the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system, hence decreasing the risk of developing chronic disease."
So how does it work? Our certified forest bathing guide, Hana Lee Goldin of The Sacred Wilds, gathers our small group into a circle and leads us through several meditative exercises. We start off by simply taking deep breathes and opening our senses—sight, scent and sound—but already, my mind starts tricking me into feeling guilty of this seemingly indulgent activity. "What am I doing out here?" I think. "Remember to return those emails before dinner." If mindfulness is a muscle, it's one that can atrophy easily and needs constant strengthening.
Slowly, I give into the process and listen as Goldin guides us into the next phase, which is moving through the woods, slowly. Very slowly. "Nature doesn't move fast," she says in a hushed, soothing tone. "So we're going to slow down and recalibrate our bodies to the speed of the natural world." We're to move through the forest, wherever our attention takes us, as slowly as possible, for 20 minutes in complete silence. Before we begin she leaves us with a quote from the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: "Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet."
This is where things get interesting. When, in your adult life, have you wandered around for 20 minutes with nowhere to go? A hike is linear. You start and move through an area and get to an end point. But here, as I move at a slug's pace under the canopy of gigantic trees that are well over two centuries old, it becomes easier and easier to observe everything. My breathing slows, perhaps to match my walk, and suddenly I'm aware of the verdant green fragrance of the moss and sweetness of dried leaves. Crouching next to a rushing waterfall, I can make out the tangy mineral aroma of the wet rock. I train my gaze out into the distance and see all the shades of green, illuminated by streaks of sunlight breaking through the trees. Time collapses, I'm unaware of anyone else in the forest and my mind is, blissfully, blank.
By the time Goldin lets out an impressive wolf howl to call us back, I'm fully into it. This is active meditation. A way of letting go and quieting the mind without feeling like you're simply sitting in the dark, afraid you'll fall asleep. As we wrap up, I'm overcome with gratitude—for the experience and the glorious nature that surrounds us and the reminder that slowing down and breathing in the world around you is anything but wasted time.
The rest of the weekend was full of healthy, locally grown food, relaxing CBD supplements and cold-pressed juice. I worked out in an open-air gym overlooking the Pacific Ocean. At a cool, new-age spa in Sausalito, I got an essential oil body massage, relaxed in an infrared sauna and took an outdoor shower—this actually was in the nude. But I don't know if I would've been mentally or spiritually prepared for any of that had I not partaken in the forest bathing. I'd come to the woods that day hoping for a great drive, a nice hike and some cool pictures, but I'd left with an understanding of how microdosing on nature can be the key to relaxing, recharging and finding new appreciation for everything around you.