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Destination spa retreats, a long-time sanctuary for those seeking to relax and recharge, are finding new ways to sooth the anxiety-riddled among us. Along with an expanding menu of massages, facials, scrubs and yoga comes a new offering: forest bathing.

First, shake whatever woo-woo image this might conjure in the mind. It doesn’t involve water, nor does it involve getting naked. Forest bathing has roots in Shinrin-yoku, a practice in Japan that translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere.”

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Forest bathing is not your average walk through the woods. It’s an extremely mindful walk at an extremely slow pace, led by a guide who helps to elevate the sensory immersion, much the same way a yoga or meditation teacher might facilitate those respective practices.

“We focus on being here instead of trying to get there,” says Amos Clifford, founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, which trains forest therapy guides around the world. “It’s a kind of coming home; our body recognizes [the forest] as a place to relax.”

ALSO: Here’s how to tour a city via an experienced local—for free

In fact, there is a growing body of scientific research that proves the benefits of spending time in nature, including boosted immune function, lower stress levels, enhanced creativity and elevated mood. In Japan, the practice has become a fixture in preventative medicine. So it’s no surprise that spas, always trying to attract new guests with unique and useful stress-busting options, are offering their own variations of Shinrin-yoku.

“We encourage guests to go slow and connect with things,” says Clifford of his approach, adding that most participants want to lie down 30 minutes into the slow-moving, guided walks, which can last anywhere from 60 minutes to three hours. “That’s the body signaling us to stop and enjoy the setting,” he says.

If you’re curious to experience forest bathing, here are several spa resorts—each bookable on Orbitz—offering forest bathing.

Photo courtesy of The Lodge at Woodloch

The Lodge at Woodloch: Pennsylvania

One of the mantras at this luxurious all-inclusive destination resort in the Poconos is “Let nature nurture.” It should come as no surprise that The Lodge at Woodloch embraces its forest bathing program.

The 90-minute guided experience, complimentary for resort guests, takes place on its private 500-acre property, a serene setting boasting a lake and bog surrounded by pines, evergreens and oaks. Three of its guides have been certified by Clifford’s team, including Josh Heath, a longtime outdoor program manager who “burst out laughing” when he first heard of forest bathing—but is now one of its biggest evangelists.

“Most guests have never heard of it but try it because it looks funny, it looks interesting,” he says of the experience in which he encourages guests to breath, smell, feel and notice with an elevated mindfulness—and slow down.

“By the end of this contemplative walk, most have had a transformative experience,” Heath adds. “My goal is for them to experience nature in a way they’ve never experienced it before, and hopefully take some part of that back to their everyday life.”

Photo courtesy of L’Auberge View

L’Auberge de Sedona: Arizona

Sedona has long welcomed healing modalities of all colors, but L’Auberge de Sedona is the first resort in this progressive town to be certified in forest bathing by Clifford’s team.

The practice takes place on the hotel’s 11 acres of creekside forested grounds, a setting framed by Sedona’s dramatic red rock formations. With the soft, rushing sounds of Oak Creek providing a background melody, guides prompt guests to sink into the nature experience with activity prompts and open-ended questions meant to inspire reflection, stillness and play.

“The usual response is about how the [forest bathing] experience awakens their senses and allows them to notice things they might otherwise have missed,” says spa director Catherine Powers.

The 60- to 90-minute weekly experience is complimentary for resort guests; private sessions (for guests or non-guests) start at $150.

ALSO: A forest walk is free, but a hotel stay isn’t. Save more money by joining Orbitz Rewards today!

Photo courtesy of Stowe Mountain Lodge

Stowe Mountain Lodge: Vermont

During the summer months, Stowe Mountain Lodge offers forest bathing as part of its regularly scheduled spa classes. The guided walks run 50 to 75 minutes into the woods surrounding this retreat nestled amid the Green Mountains.

“It’s more than a quiet walk,” says Jessica Swartley, assistant spa director. “It’s about getting guests to step outside, beyond the four walls of the spa, for wellness and reflection. We even encourage them [at some points during the walk] to take their shoes off and let their toes sink into the earth.”

Participation costs $20 per person, per class; or guests can purchase a spa pass and get access to spa facilities and all classes for the day.

Find a guide Near You 

If you can’t make it to one of the resorts named above and want a guided forest bathing experience, don’t fret. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy has an interactive map highlighting where its trained guides are based. There are more than 100 around the world, and that number is growing. Many reside near major parks across the United States, as well as in Europe.

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Tagged: Feature

Erica Bray

Erica Bray

Erica is a practical free spirit who loves travel, yoga and ice cream. A Northwestern University-trained journalist with more than 15 years of experience straddling digital and broadcast media, Erica can be found doing handstands everywhere she travels -- even risking arrest in some cases. Learn about her at www.erica.media.

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