As a former concertmaster with the Huntington University orchestra, Christy Thomson understands and appreciates the serenity of music. After all, the 42-year-old mother of four still plays the violin occasionally, plays piano, and is a vocalist. So she’s attuned to the soothing effects music provides, from Aaron Copland’s serene "Appalachian Spring" to the light touch of Chopin’s "Raindrops."
When she is not playing with the orchestra (still a passion), her full-time job is as music school coordinator at the Parkview Huntington Family YMCA.
"I teach a little bit, but mostly I coordinate, which means I have a lot of freedom, time-wise," she says. "I can do a lot of things at will."
This is where she finds serenity elsewhere. And, when she discusses it in detail, explains that she found it within herself.
When she finds the time, Thomson may be in the woods as a forest bathing instructor, including teaching two classes in April and May with Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation.
"Forest bathing," she says, "is bathing your senses in the forest. So there’s a sensory part of this which is, for me, the big draw. I am very sensory-aware, as are many, many people. It’s so effective at really reaching people – just about everybody. It gets into you; your senses. It’s so universal. It doesn’t play favorites. Everybody’s got those. So this is a wonderful therapy that isn’t intrusive, but allows everyone to take with them the medicine of the forest."
The term "forest bathing" originated in Japan, where it is known as "shinrin-yoku." It refers to spending time in wooded areas to help enhance health and happiness.
"The Japanese were doing research on this back in the 1980s after they’d been practicing this meditative walking in the forest activity, and they found so much hard evidence of its medical benefits," Thomson says. She cites studies found that forest bathing lowers the heart rate as well as blood pressure.
Because she has personally battled post traumatic stress disorder, Thomson sought avenues to find peace within herself. She has her music, as well as therapy sessions and yoga.
"I’ve got all kinds of people in my life who know all kinds of beautiful ways of coping with modern life and stress and with traumas and things like that," she says. "Part of me, after having gone through what I had to go through to recover, I’ve always wanted to give back in some way."
It was happenstance that she came across forest bathing on the internet nearly a year ago and began to read everything she could about the subject.
"I was the worst mom," she says. "I neglected everybody and everything because all I did was read and read and read. And I thought everything I read, I felt like I was coming home. It felt like all that I had done for myself – all the hiking and walking and playing in the dirt and gardening … that there’s scientific research that said this is something that is real. So I just felt very validated."
The more she read, the more she wanted to get involved in helping others uncover the benefits of forest bathing. That led to her attending a seven-day instruction clinic in Massachusetts to become a certified teacher. This spring she will help teach a class in California, and said that the nearest training session will be in Chicago this May. Anyone interested in teaching can pursue the subject at www.natureandforestherapy.org.
"There is a lot of walking in the mornings, and in the afternoon, bookwork and learning what the science is behind it so we can explain it when people ask," Thomson says.
However, it is more than a walk in the woods, she points out. It is the ability to enhance your senses one at a time and recognize the effects it has on the mind and body. Often, it is to relive nature’s experiences that were part of our childhood.
"When we lose it, we’ve really lost something and we don’t know it until somebody brings it back to us," Thomson says. "My mother was one of those; that when I took her on her first walk, we cried. I loved listening to her talk about the memories she had as a child that she never shared with me before, because she had forgotten what it felt like."
Still in the process of introducing forest bathing to mental health organizations, Thomson mostly goes on three-hour walks with friends and family, including her 17-year-old son and her three daughters of 15, 13 and 11. She has a scheduled session with representatives of ACRES, and a Mother’s Day retreat.
"This is not a verbal healing experience," Thomson says. "This is a physical sensory healing experience where you are doing something. You’re looking, you’re hearing, you’re tasting and touching and you’re smelling.
"You are focusing on something that what happens in the forest brings stuff up. You will see something that will mean something to you. Subconsciously, you will draw something out of there and it will be something that just lifts away. It happens so often, and it’s such a beautiful experience. It lightens people a lot. It lightens their souls."