Nature catches on in 'The Joy of Forest Bathing'

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BRATTLEBORO — Melanie Choukas-Bradley is, for the first time, part of a trend.

"I write about nature, so sometimes my books are a little esoteric; you need to really love nature to enjoy them," the naturalist and author of "The Joy of Forest Bathing —- Reconnect with Wild Places and Rejuvenate Your Life" said via telephone while walking the Appalachian Trail. "But it's really pretty exciting that people all around the world, you know, are just spending quiet time in nature. It really has just caught on."

"Forest bathing" is translated from the Japanese term "Shinrin-yoku," which was developed in the 1980s and has been looked at as a form of healing and preventive health care.

"It's really just immersing yourself in the beauty and wonder of nature," Choukas-Bradley said. "You know, slowing down, breathing deeply and tuning into all your senses."

She will be guest speaker at the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Auxiliary's annual meeting happening 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $20 and attendees need to RSVP by contacting Barb Henry at 802-257-0688 or barb-dave.henry@comcast.net. Choukas-Bradley will be available to sign copies of her book after her talk.

Choukas-Bradley's book was published in August 2018 and has been translated into Spanish and Finnish. Choukas-Bradley said the book is already in its third printing. She was inspired by an article in Oprah Winfrey's O Magazine about "Shinrin-yoku."

One of Choukas-Bradley's favorite parts of leading nature walks is "when everyone just gets quiet and totally takes in the beauty of the moment and feels that sense of awe when you're really in the presence of natural beauty."

She lives in Washington, D.C. but grew up in Saxtons River. Her father had been headmaster at Vermont Academy.

"Growing up in Vermont and at Vermont Academy — where there are all those trails, all those cross-country trails in the woods — I just started wandering through the woods at a young age," Choukas-Bradley said. "It always brought me great joy."

She compared forest bathing to other mindfulness trends to come out of Asia such as Tai chi and meditation.

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"It's really spread around the world in similar fashion," she said. "When I read about it, I knew what it meant right away because it was something I was doing all my life without really having a name for it."

Choukas-Bradley became a certified forest therapy guide via the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy before going on a three-week trip to Japan. She had been thinking about her next book. When she returned, she was approached by a publisher and agent, and had her idea.

It's one that's spreading all over.

"There are doctors now that are prescribing nature to their patients," said Choukas-Bradley, whose pediatrician friend launched Park Rx America.

The nonprofit says its mission is "to decrease the burden of chronic disease, increase health and happiness, and foster environmental stewardship, by virtue of prescribing nature during the routine delivery of healthcare by a diverse group of health care professionals."

Choukas-Bradley is also a long-time contributor to The Washington Post and other publications, and she has appeared as an author and guest expert on NPR's "All Things Considered," "Morning Edition," "The Diane Rehm Show," and WAMU's "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

Her next book will be called "Finding Solace at Theodore Roosevelt Island." Its subject is an approximately 88.5-acre island on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

On her trip to Brattleboro, Choukas-Bradley plans to visit her father in Hanover, N.H., and her siblings in Vermont and New Hampshire. She attended a memorial service for her mother at Vermont Academy last June.

"My parents, they really loved that school," she said. "A lot of their adult years were devoted to VA."

Family members are still involved at the school.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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