Stretched out in downward dog, I exhale deeply as I focus on a falling leaf and a bee buzzing nearby. I'm feeling especially Zen as I move through the asanas, largely due to the fact that today, instead of hopping on the subway to rush to class, I slowly hiked through untouched Tennessee forest to reach my "studio," essentially a deck in the woods.
I’m forest bathing—the Japanese tradition of immersing oneself in nature as a form of preventative medicine and therapy—on Blackberry Farm, a working farm and inn in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains.
While Blackberry Farm might be better known for its belly-filling “foothills cuisine”—a medley of fine dining and down south specialties—its recently launched Wellhouse, a spa and wellness center, provides ways to burn off those well-enjoyed calories, too. With over 9,200 acres of wooded terrain, the luxury resort has embraced the growing trend of forest bathing with its Deep Healing Woods program, which includes forest runs, endurance hikes, and in-forest yoga and meditation.
What are the benefits of practicing yoga in the woods? For starters, there is plenty of room to spread out your mat, and given that there's no signal to speak of out here, you know that no one's phone will interrupt class. Studio walls are replaced by tree trunks, so instead of focusing on a paint splotch or nail while you hold a pose, you can concentrate on a cloud puff or a ladybug landing on your arm.
But the benefits go beyond the change in setting, says my yoga teacher and Blackberry Farm wellness manager, Hope Parks (a perfect name for this job, right?). “Leaving everything behind to walk under the forest canopy means that you arrive at your mat already drawn outside of yourself by the wonder of nature.”
Out here, deep in the woods, I’m not thinking about what I should get out of my practice. Instead, my attention is drawn to what’s happening all around me: the sound of the wind rustling through the trees, the warmth of the sun on my outstretched arms. When I rush to yoga class in the city, I’m focused on squeezing “relaxation” into my day, but here in nature, I don’t have to force my mind to clear—it happens organically.
As for me? My post-class bliss lingers long after the hike out of the woods. And I swear the wild mushroom pâté tastes even better at dinner that night.