This is your Brain on Nature - Julia Plevin Founder of the Forest Bathing Club

Julia Plevin is an author and entrepreneur. She is the founder of the Forest Bathing Club in San Francisco. She started studying the mental health consequences that people suffer from when they don't get enough time in nature. After this she decided to dedicate her life to getting people back to a state of nature and thus the Forest Bathing Club was born.

(0-10 minutes)


What is Forest Bathing?
She explains how it comes from a Japanese practice called Shinren Roku which literally means luxuriating in nature. It is essentially a practice where you go into nature and do nothing but attend to the present moment. It comes from a period where the Japanese started doing lots of research in the 1980s into the health effects of being in nature and how it lowers the heart rate, levels of cortisol and stress.
 

When did you first start Forest Bathing?
Julia says she has always loved being in nature, but it was only when she started living in New York that she became aware of the lack of nature and how that would affect her mental health. She started doing her graduate work on the mental health effects of being disconnected from nature in 2015. The forest bathing club was born out of this research.

Is the Forest Bathing club a business?
Forest Bathing is a community organization. They usually do an event that is a co-creative event where people bring something to share with the whole group, an offering back to nature. Sometimes they do charge, but usually it is to ensure that they can afford to make the experience a supportive one for all participants.

When did you first start getting into mindfulness and how does that relate to your love of nature?
Julia says she has been doing yoga since she was 15 years old and was aware of mindfulness, but didn't really know what was. She never wanted to do the meditation at the end of the class. She loved being in nature but she would always be running through. She then started to realize the importance of slowing down and finding that more mindful state of being.

How does it feel to go from spending a lot of time in nature and then back into the city with all its frantic energy?
Julia explains a story of how one day she was running through Sutro park in San Francisco and a guy stopped her and asked her "Do you know why there all these ribbons around the trees here?"She was like "I'm just trying to run here. Don't bother me". He responded by saying that "These ribbons mean they are about to cut down these trees". She became aware of what was going on and realized that someone had to shout at her in order to really pay attention. She says that this man told her about how they planted Eucalyptus in the park 140 years ago and now UCSF (who owns the land) is trying to cut them down. It is feared that they might be looking to build more housing there under the guise of reforestation. She talks about how in order to write her book about Forest Bathing she found a small cabin by Stinson beach and spent time deep in nature every day.

As new communities form new cities or we restore old cities, how do we ensure proper access to nature as a byproduct of living in cities?
Julia says that its important to make space in new cities for nature, but Forest Bathing is actually practiced where the city meets nature. Its the integration of urban and wilderness areas. She brings up an important point that as humans we usually separate nature from urban environments, but we forget that human beings are a part of nature and so is everything we create.

The streets and buildings are all part of nature as well. While in your cabin in Stinson beach, how long would you spend in between times in nature and time spent with other people?Stinson Beach is a beach town in the summer, but Julia was living there during the winter so she didn't have much contact with other people except for a friend who lived up the road. Its also only 45 minutes away from San Francisco so she could also come back pretty quickly.Stewart mentions that the most difficult thing for him when practicing in nature for long periods of time was coming back into an urban environment and being hit by the wave of frantic energy that most people spend their lives in. Most people who live in cities are always on, always under a sympathetic nervous system response.

How do you deal with coming back into the city and the hustle and bustle?
Whenever Julia would find herself coming back to the city and getting stuck in traffic she would look at a tree on the side of the road and this would remind her that she still can find an avenue of relaxation when surrounded by urban chaos.She also mentions that when humans look at nature we go into a soft focus which calms us down as opposed to a hard focus when scanning the environment for danger which many of us are doing all the time. Just looking at nature lowers stress. She would reminder herself that every breath she is taking is nature and all the people surrounding her are part of nature. In times of stress she would continuously repeat this.

(10-20 minutes)

In your meditation practice do you use mantra?
Yes she has picked up various practices like this over the years studying with various teachers. One in particular she picked up from Llyn Roberts  when working with her for five days in the Hoh rainforest which is the largest temperate rainforest in the world. Llyn wrote a book with Sandra Ingerman. Julia was called to live in the Hoh forest with llyn. She reached out to Llyn about research for the book. There was a synchronicity where Llyn had reserved the dates that Julia wanted to come see her in the Hoh for another client, but that client couldn't actually make it so it worked out perfectly. While in the Hoh rainforest, Llyn gave Julia a few simple mantras. One is "Out of my head, into my body, my heart and the earth". This can be done while putting your forehead into the ground and letting go of thoughts. She has another one that she uses.

She went to Japan and lived with a shegendu monk. Shegendu buddhism is a lineage of Buddhism that holds that nature holds the ultimate truth. If you want to learn you have to go out into nature. The monk asked her "do you feel a connection with the universe?"She said "somedays, but somedays not". This guy also gave her a mantra that she uses with certain hand positions. She says her name out loud and says the date. She says "I'm grateful to be born in a human body. Today I connect to the universe and I aim to use my connection to serve the highest good."This reminds Stewart about the traditional understanding of mantra and how many teachers will argue that you need a mantra in Sanskrit because Sanskrit is a holy language that is able to make all the sounds that a human is capable of making which other languages cannot. Stewart says he doesn't buy into this, but the idea behind mantra was that you connect to a deity through Mantra and Julia's mantra fits this purpose.

Can you describe the feeling you get when you are in nature?
She says she can try and will do so through a story. When she first started writing the book, she was really stressed out about the process of writing and deadlines. She started getting imposter syndrome and questioned who she was to be writing a book about nature when stress was still a constant struggle for her. This feeling of stress became a sort of bullshit meter. She started to use it as a trigger to practice all the techniques she was learning from these people. She learned that its great to learn all these techniques but there is no point where the anxiety will somehow stop for good. It always comes back. Even today when she has a big decision to make she had to go to a redwood grove and just sit on the earth and let it take all the stress. When she uses the practices and techniques they seem to work for what she needs them for.There seem to be two trends for a certain part of millennials: a move back to nature and a tendency to live out of vans.

How do you see both of these trends playing out and connecting together over the next five years?
Julia says that she sees a lot of awakening around the benefits of nature. People are in such a grind all the time. They have stressful jobs and then in order to mask the stress they start drinking or shopping. When people start to spend more time in nature, they realize that they need way less to be happy. All of a sudden instead of stressing out about the job, they find way more joy in what's growing in their backyard. People are starting to wake up and ask themselves the question: What am I doing with my life and why? As people start to move into nature more, Julia questions what will happen to cities.Stewart explains how cities evolved because they centralize knowledge and talent in one geographical location and idea exchange almost happens by osmosis. People are stimulated to innovate in cities. Now with the internet this process is becoming more decentralized. This couldn't happen really with older people because they are used to transmitting ideas person to person, but with people who are younger they are more able to do this on the internet almost naturally. So the necessity of living in a city might change and young people might end up living in nature more. This could be a positive change but might also put stress on natural ecosystems.Julia brings up the point that when people are living in a city they have a much smaller ecological footprint. Stewart explains how self driving cars will also started

(30-40 minutes)

What is the main practice or technique you have used the most over the past 30 days?
She says that she does the sun salutation described above pretty much every day.Julia also asks people "What do you get from nature?" People start with saying food, water, and then they eventually realize that they get everything from nature. Then Julia asks people "What do you give to nature?" People usually realize that they never really thought about this.

What do people do when they go forest bathing?
Julia starts by saying that its easier to describe what forest bathing is not. It is not a hike and it isn't being lead in the forest by a naturalist. Some people come regularly, others come just once. Basically on a forest bathing trip they start off with describing where people are geographically. If they are in the Presidio, Julia starts off by explaining what is the cultural, historical and natural environment and its significance. She also talks about where they are cosmically, for example talking about whether we are in a full or new moon. Everyone has an opportunity to share their name, where they are coming from, and an intention for the experience. Throughout the forest bath there is nothing you have to do. You can sit underneath a tree and thats it. As a group, Julia leads different meditations. She leads people into connection with their five senses. There are games and shamanic journeying. It depends on what is going on in the environment. At the end, there is a council where people can share their truth. After this there is a tea ceremony where people drink something from the forest around them. The next one is on the 29th of April with an organization called Kismet.

How did you find your voice on your journey to create Forest Bathing?
Julia says that it has been difficult to find her voice. When you start to share things like mindfulness and meditation, there is no way to do it in without authenticity. There is no other option besides practicing what you preach. Its really hard to find your voice.In the beginning, she would speak one way with someone and then another way with a different person. Part of finding her voice was to speak from a place of authenticity all the time. This is scary.

What is your definition of yoga?
The union of breath, body and movement. Julia says that Yoga is a really powerful way to move energy through her body. She says that Forest Bathing is just one part of the pie. The forest is very grounding and contains an earth energy. She found out that she was actually too grounded and she needed a different energy. She started going to Hot yoga classes to find some more fire energy. This reminds Stewart about the original form of yoga which changed once pictures started to enter the technological milieu. It's pretty clear from the historical record that the yoga we practice today in studios has very little connection with the practice of yoga as it has traditionally practiced. Many people think that the movement side of yoga was actually more of a dance. There was little to no thought put to how the poses looked to an external observer. Julia explains how she is leaving for Guatemala tonight and the retreat she is about to go on.

What will you do on the retreat?
Its a group of reiki healers and there will be a lot of Mayan astrology.

If you have one piece of advice for someone picking up a meditation practice?
Find something that works for you. Its important to find your own voice. When Julia first started training to become a yoga teacher she found that she tried to copy what the instructor said, but instead she realized its important to live the practice so that it comes through you without trying or efforting. That it flows out of you.

squarespace.jpeg