We have all felt it and scientific studies have proven it - there is a healing power in being outside, especially in the forest. And at this beautiful time of year, when the foliage is at its most glorious, a local therapist and healing practitioner Laiya Domsky is bringing the healing power of the forest to the public through classes at the newly established Institute of Forest Healing Arts.

Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku as it is called in Japan (literally “forest bathing”), has its roots in the 1980s and was formally established by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982 as a nature-based therapy to enhance health and mood. But the concept of being in nature to restore one’s health has been part of many cultures for centuries. Today, studies by scientists in Japan and around the world show that the age-old concept of being in nature has numerous, quantifiable physical and psychological health benefits. It is proven to have a direct effect on the neural system, creating a sense of calm that counteracts the response that our bodies have with day-to-day stress.

“I did not know forest healing, forest medicine was a ‘thing’ until recently,” said Domsky. “As a family therapist, healer and ‘human,’ my relationship with the natural world has been as a reliable and deeply valued companion. I have been both honored and humbled throughout my life. I have both lived it and taught it to others.”

“I started the Institute of Forest Healing Arts because I want to teach others, as well as being part of the deeper process, sharing what we learn and learning from others as nature and the natural world offers new lessons in living together on mother earth. It is a work in process, as it has since the earth evolved millions of years ago.”

Domsky feels that we need this kind of healing experience now more than ever. “In Japan, this has become a part of people’s lives because it is an ‘antidote’ to the modern urban experience, especially with the constant use of technology. In the United Sates, we have the same issues and it is important to disconnect from the stresses of modern life and find ways to use nature to help us heal.”

“Forest bathing is simple and easy to practice. I help you learn how to slow down, to guide you as you immerse yourself in nature through your sense,” explained Domsky. “It is unlike hiking, as you are not focused on what you are doing for exercise, and it is not like meditation, as it is about your inner and outer life. Through the forest bathing experience, you learn to integrate the wisdom and resources of nature, bringing yourself into balance and harmony and experience healing.”

“I became a family therapist, because I believed that the life force of all family, human and ‘others,’ is in the dynamics of the relationships. I open my heart to nature because I believe that there is something so profoundly amazing, so magical. I want to help renew our human relationships with the world we live in. Personally, I have experienced the healing power of that relationship both in my healing journey with bladder cancer, an auto accident and through tough challenges of family changes.”

For health benefits, Domsky cites physiological aspects such as reduced production of stress hormones, decreased symptoms of depression, anxiety and anger, improved sleep, increased energy and better mental function. Physically, forest bathing can lead to lower blood pressure and blood sugar, improved cardiovascular health and metabolism, as well as strengthening the immune system to fight against cancer and other pathogens.

The experience of forest bathing is different for everyone, says Domsky, so it is hard to describe as each person will find what they need for healing in their own unique way.

“Forest bathing might be compared to taking a road trip while on vacation,” said Domsky. “The journey getting there is exciting and eventful, and the time you are at your destination is restful, a time to be with yourself. It is only when you get outside of your hotel room - eat at the local restaurants, exchange stories with the locals, get directions to the local swimming hole - that you start to become part of this new community. When you leave, you have connections with new people and places living in your heart even when you are home, and you leave a piece of yourself with them.”

“When you venture out for forest bathing and become part of the ‘forest community’ that lives beyond our boundaries in nature,” continued Domsky, “you become more fully part of that life force through your senses. The process is as individual as the people starting on the path looking at the trees and woods, leaves looking back. My role is to introduce you to the forest and nature, hold open the portal - and the rest is up to you.”

Recently Rev. Brian Gruhn, pastor at the First Congregational Church of Kittery at Kittery Point, took part in a forest bathing session with Domsky.

“In the span of two hours, my entire perception of the universe was changed when I made friends with a group of weeds, I discovered an energy that connects my body to the rest of creation, and two trees waved at me. That was just my first excursion with Laiya. Her openness, her empathy, her years of practice and her patience invited me to look at aspects of existence I had previously dismissed as impossibilities. In the short month since that excursion, my mind has been opened, my body made well, my emotional and spiritual life restored. It turns out, we have already been given all we need to experience the infinite and abundant grace of the cosmos ... but we need teachers like Laiya to awaken us to notice it.”

Domsky offers sessions for individuals or groups and can tailor the program to the participants’ needs. She usually recommends a three- to four-hour session, less if done individually, to take the time to slow down and learn the skills needed to begin this personal process. Her goal is for you to learn skills that you can use on your own to continue your journey.

Domsky currently practices in the Kittery area. On the horizon are classes in Acadia National Park, groups for those with or who have had Lyme Disease, weekend retreats and a women’s group.

For more information, contact her at the Institute of Forest Healing Arts at (207) 351-6824 or email foresthealingarts@gmail.com or visit foresthealingarts.wordpress.com.