You know those days when there just aren’t enough hours to fit it all in?
You start raking and bagging the leaves in your 30-minute “break” before your next Zoom meeting, and then your kids come and tell you they need your help with homework.
Or you’re just sitting down on the couch after a long workday, and your dog decides to vomit all over both your nice couch… and your pants. Sigh.
For me, it feels like there’s been a lot of those types of days recently. Being the mother to two energetic teenagers, competing in triathlons, keeping up with the house duties, speaking at events, growing my business… the list of things to do is seemingly endless.
If you’re in need of some rest this holiday season, forest bathing might just be what you need. I talked with Kate Bast to find out more.
Darcy Luoma (00:01):
Hello and happy Thoughtfully Fit Thursday. I am here today with a dear friend and somebody who I have known professionally and then became a friend personally for a long time. As a matter of fact, when I first was launching my business, Kate Bast was right there by my side as the head, I call you the head, the editor of the leading Brava Magazine, and did amazing things. And I invited Kate to join me here today, as we are entering the holiday season and the hustle and bustle, the chaos of, not only the season, but also the continued challenges of living with a global pandemic and the new variants that are coming and just all of the crises, it feels like, that we’re dealing with. And Kate has redefined herself. And it’s fascinating. So Kate, welcome. Thank you for being here. And can you tell us how you went from your previous identity to who you are now and what you’re doing, and tell us a little bit about that.
Kate Bast (01:13):
Well, thanks for inviting me today, Darcy. And thank you, I mean, you’ve been along my side too as I was launching my business and finding this new pursuit and this new way of being. Darcy was on, I think, my second forest bathing walk. It was actually on my birthday. Yeah.
Darcy Luoma (01:29):
And it was amazing.
Kate Bast (01:30):
Thank you. It was great. Yeah. So how did I find this, was that the question? Yeah.
Darcy Luoma (01:36):
Yeah. Just Like how you got from… I mean, it’s like this huge pivot to… I could see going from that world into working for a paper. It’s just such a big pivot.
Kate Bast (01:50):
Yeah. Well, I had been in publishing at that point for 25 years and now it’s going on 30. I mean, I still dabble with editorial consulting. But it’s interesting because at Brava Magazine where I was editor in chief, our publisher and dear friend of both of us, Michelle Coleman found this article on forest bathing in the Washington post and read it and said, oh my gosh, does this exist in Madison? If it does, we should write about it. And I read it and I was like, oh my gosh, that’s what I’m doing.
Darcy Luoma (02:22):
I did not know that.
Kate Bast (02:24):
Yeah. And so I emailed my husband, Tim, and one of my best gal pals, Julian. I said, in my next life, I’m going to be a forest bathing guide. And they’re like, okay. Yeah. Whatever, Kate. Good luck. That sounds odd. But so we did a story on nature deficit disorder, talking about the disconnection we all have from nature.
Kate Bast (02:44):
We’re in our high rise buildings, our airtight homes, not a lot of natural materials in some places, we’re not connected with the ground. We’re also busy. Maybe a lot of us don’t have time to get outside, or so we think. So anyhow, as we worked on this story, it was ringing truer and truer for me and digging into the benefits of time and nature. I had realized, I was at a very, very stressful point in my career and trying to decide, am I burnt out and do I need a break or do I keep on going on? And-
Darcy Luoma (03:22):
I remember having conversations with you about that. We’d have a coffee and going for walks. Yeah.
Kate Bast (03:23):
Right. Yeah. How do you leave this career that you love and that does such important work in the community? But deadlines are brutal things and just living on deadline constantly is also hard on your family. And I just decided knowing that there was something else in me that to come out, that I wanted to be, I don’t want to say just an editor, but that I wanted to do more directly with people and came to really realize I needed to nurture this helper healer side of myself. I thought about going to nursing school right after I graduated from college and just never did because the magazine world just opened up and kept opening. So, that was great.
Kate Bast (04:00):
And so this to me was something that I saw, getting certified as a guide, it was something I was already doing for myself. I mean, I would have days where I’m like, bye, I’m going to the dog park. I’ll be back in an hour. Oh, hi. I’m at the dog park, I’ll be back in another hour, another hour, another hour, until I got to that place where it’s kind of like, probably that same, like the runner’s high when you get to that spot and then it’s like.
Kate Bast (04:26):
And anyhow, so that’s what I was doing. And the idea that I could help other people find this with the nature and the certification taught me how to lead in a very specific way into nature to receive the health and wellbeing benefits. And yeah, I haven’t looked back since. It’s been marvelous and it’s been good for me personally. I mean, I drop in every walk that I guide. It’s been good for my family. And it’s been good for people who go out and realize, yeah, this just isn’t a typical walk in the woods. It’s much different.
Darcy Luoma (05:05):
No, it’s not. And so I’d love to just hear if you can share, what is forest therapy and it’s interesting that you say nature deficit disorder, because I feel like one of the hidden silver linings of COVID is that people got out in nature more.
Kate Bast (05:21):
Yes, they did. The trails were crowded. I will tell you, and especially in the beginning when everyone’s like, is it safe? We need to go 20 feet apart from each other on the trail. And yeah. So what forest bathing is, is immersing yourself in the atmosphere of nature to open and activate your senses, find calm, find stillness, and what I call, just beingness with nature. Some guides and people, it’s easier for people to understand it as mindfulness in the woods, but I like to call it mindlessness in the woods because I find when I go and I cross this threshold to start the walk, whatever I was worried about, or all bent up about, by the end of the walk, I can’t even remember what it is.
Kate Bast (06:09):
And so when we’re activating our senses, we’re getting out of that rational thinking mind, the working planning, I got to do this, I got to do that. And we’re dropping into our bodies. And so it’s more of the felt sense of being in the woods and connecting with nature. And that creates all kind of space and for other things to bubble up, right? Creativity, if as entrepreneurs, we know we’re always constantly thinking about what about this, what about that, what’s next, create that little mental break and you’ll be surprised what comes up, creative ideas, solutions to problems. For some people it’s other things, it’s joy, it’s grief, it’s catharsis of some point. And for some people it’s just like, I never spend five minutes looking at the sky and that sky is so blue, it’s amazing. Peeking that sense of awe. So, the walk is designed itself. It has a structure, as you know.
Kate Bast (07:01):
We start silently and slowly, we do share along the way, but that’s edgy for people, so it’s only if you feel drawn to share your experience with others and we cross a threshold and then we enter what’s called the liminal space, which is really the space between our daily lives and going back to our daily lives. And some people might call it the hero’s journey too, which you’re probably familiar with, Joseph Campbell, and it’s the idea that once you enter the liminal space, you let go of daily life and the patterns of daily life. And we start out with a sense opening to really get people activating their senses and learning how to experience nature with their senses.
Kate Bast (07:44):
And then I offer several other invitations during the walk, which are prompts and invitations, a welcome way to connect with nature. And the main prompt is always, notice what you notice, right, because the forest is filled with medicine, both in terms of the plants and what they offer us, but just the atmosphere and all these amazing evidence based things that happen to us in nature without us even doing anything, those things impact you and improve your health and your healing.
Kate Bast (08:22):
And for example, I think we talked about one of the main things that forest bathing does is when you’re out in the woods in this way, moving slowly, silently, finding different ways to activate the different senses, first of all, you’re absolutely alive in the present moment because that’s the only place our senses exist. And secondly, what, what people start experiencing is the fight, flight, free state, which I feel like we’re all just dwelling in this past year and a half with the pandemic and just trying to adjust life around that, they start dropping out of that and start seeing more of the parasympathetic nervous system response happening. So heart rate, respiration slowing down, muscles relaxing. Other things that happen is, when you look at patterns in nature, for example, leaf patterns, tree patterns, branches, moss, whatever it is, clouds going by, just five minutes decreases your stress by 60%.
Kate Bast (09:25):
Yeah. So, right? We all have five minutes for that. And a lot of people report improved happiness. I mean, there is huge dopamine response happening out there, the happy hormone, there’s serotonin being activated as well helps balance our mood, people report freedom, or at least little softening of their anxiety and stress and PTSD, ADHD, rumination, people report feeling calm and focused and invigorated. And some people fall asleep during the walk because it’s one chance for them to, when we’re having a stay in place invitation to just really let go and be and sort of be calmed by nature. And I just gave you a big, long chain of things. So.
Darcy Luoma (10:14):
Which is great. I’ve been just changing the questions because you’re just going, you’re like, the benefits are exponential.
Kate Bast (10:20):
Darcy Luoma (10:21):
And the one thing I found when Michelle and I did that forest bathing with you at the very beginning of you launching this amazing business, I found it incredibly powerful to have you as the guide and to help me step into the stillness in a way that when I’m out in for a hike or a run in the woods and I love nature, I’m kind of like powering through, right? I’m trying to get my heart rate up. I’ve got a purpose. It was just a different and a powerful experience. So I’m wondering if you can share what you hear from the people who do this with you, the value that you bring.
Kate Bast (11:08):
Right. Yeah. Well, for me, it’s like going to yoga, or going to work out at the gym, like yeah, I have all kinds of routines I can do, but I’m constantly thinking about what I’m doing next and then what I should do after that and not allowing myself to just drop in and be, and do the thing. So myself, I always appreciate a guide because I can just let go and follow their directions and their prompts and just be without having to do this other background organizing. And as a guide, I’m trained in, there’s a certain language of forest bathing walks, there is this pattern to the walk and I’m trained to help people drop into nature and open up to it in certain ways where it’s deepening their connection, it’s receiving greater health and wellbeing. Yeah. And so what was the question again? I’m sorry. I get lost in my train of thought.
Darcy Luoma (12:06):
I know. I love your passion. The value that you bring and like go, you [inaudible 00:12:11] distinguishes it from just going for a hike by yourself.
Kate Bast (12:14):
Right. And I think too, what you experienced on the walk with me is that I gave you permission to leave your stuff at the threshold and the option to pick it back up if you wanted to, or to just leave it there for nature to support. And also I think going out with a guide gives people a chance to let go of their inhibitions and have permission to be in their imaginal sense or their playful sense, or climb a tree as an adult, or build a fort or imagine what kind of animal they would be and what it would be like to actually live and sleep in this forest. And I think I have told some people on walks that I did a full moon walk last year and it was the wolf moon. and first we did snow hugs and just laid in the snow, not making snow angels, just laying there.
Kate Bast (13:01):
And everyone’s like, I haven’t done that since I was a kid. And then I couldn’t get people to stand up and come back to me because they were just, it was so great. And then the moon was rising and I said, okay, now we’re going to howl at the moon. And I howled and nobody howled with me. And I tried again. And then I was like, oh, come on. You’re all adulting way too much. You got to just let go. And then we howled for three minutes. Other people in the park were howling back. And we began laughing, that gut laughing, which is also so good for you. It’s just this sense of freedom and this sense of, yeah, it’s okay, you can do this for yourself. And what you receive from nature is what you need, which is different than what I need. And there’s no right or wrong way to do it either, is the thing.
Darcy Luoma (13:47):
And that’s one of the things I loved about it was the emotional flow. I mean, there was one point where I was laying on the ground with my feet up on this big, huge oak tree that just changed the perspective. There was one point where we were going in slow motion. There was one point where we were playful. It had just such a richness of tapping into these different emotion that in the stillness of the experience was able to be magnified, that I don’t make room for in my life otherwise.
Kate Bast (14:25):
Right. And I think mentioning the stillness is so important because once you get to understanding what stillness is, I mean, there’s an Eckhart Tolle quote, I think, that says, “Once you perceive the stillness in a tree, you become still yourself.” And then it becomes about noticing what’s in the stillness, what’s in the space between the sounds or between the things that you’re seeing visually. And that’s what I think the power of stillness is about, is yeah, relax and calming down, letting that stuff go, but also letting those things rise up, your intuition. A lot of people tamp down their intuition. It’s interesting what you will find and will all different things in those moments of stillness. And the stillness itself is very, very rich as well. And that’s not something that we take time to even just notice this moment of still.
Darcy Luoma (15:21):
No. And so, stillness is one of the six practices of being thoughtfully fit. If you want to handle yourself thoughtfully in any situation, you need to create stillness. And one of the things, if there’s people who are watching and listening, who sort of fall a little bit more on the type A end like I do, I find I need to schedule stillness, and this was such a powerful experience. And so if people are listening, going like, oh my gosh, I’ve never heard of this, or I read about it. And didn’t know we had it here, if you’re located in Madison, Wisconsin. What are the possibilities to experience this, either individually or for organizations, to be able to learn more about you and experience this?
Kate Bast (16:10):
Yeah. Well, first things, you can go to my website, which I think you’re going to share that in the chat with people, you can learn a little bit about forest bathing there, what it is, the benefits, what to wear, how it works. And then I also have whole series of walks scheduled out. I do private walks for individuals. I have some people who just want to be alone in nature. Other people bring their book clubs. I take school kids out. I take professionals out for business retreats to kind of kick off the retreat and create this space, mental space, for ideas to flow. Yeah, it’s really awesome. And just as a wellbeing practice, it’s something great that everybody should do and can do, especially in Madison, we have so much green space and so many parks and state parks that you can really find a little dose of nature everywhere.
Kate Bast (17:04):
And so this year, what I am working on, the strategic plan, is to open this up to more employee wellness and workplace wellness based opportunities, and see if I can get that going, because I know how beneficial it was to me when I was in my stressful times in my career to be able to leave and go for a walk in the woods and then come back to my desk, or just look at the clouds for five minutes. And I’m also really going to be doing a lot more of retreats this year as well. And those would be extended. So a typical walk can be anywhere from, I usually like to do an hour and a half, can be shorter, anywhere from an hour and a half to four hours, but the retreats are even more deeply immersive experiences. And I’ll probably pull in other people, maybe we’ll do some foraging. And there’s a whole art and nature retreats I’m busy planning and yoga. So, there’s so many things that pair with forest bathing.
Kate Bast (18:02):
And the idea of creating these retreats is to really allow people a deeper dive into themselves, into their connection, with nature and their communities, and really give themselves the gift and take this as I’m giving permission to myself to go get this calm, the healing, whatever it is you need through nature. So, yeah, there’s lots of opportunities to connect with me. And if anyone has questions, just contact me through my website. I’m glad to answer questions or chat more about forest bathing or how it might work for you or someone else you know.
Darcy Luoma (18:37):
Yes, that’s so awesome. And the end of our, when we went, it was this just power… It was a cold day. So you can do it all year round, right?
Kate Bast (18:47):
Darcy Luoma (18:48):
And we ended with this tea and this… It was almost like a ritual at the end. It just put this beautiful closure on this powerful experience that we just had in the woods.
Kate Bast (19:04):
Right. Yeah. And that’s part of what guides from my organization do. It’s the ANFT, which is Association of Nature and Forest Therapy guides and programs. Kind of long. But we also, in our training, we learn about the web of interbeing. And that is, when you look out your window and you have an oak tree, now you have tons of squirrels, now you have tons of this and that and the other thing, and just sort of that, when something’s here, all these other things are here. And we learn about the medicinal value of plants. And we even forage on the walks when we can, when we’re on land that we can forage and then brew this tea. And the idea of that I think is kind of cool because it’s just lovely, especially on those freezing cold days when everyone’s like, oh my gosh, hot tea. But it’s a little surprise at the end. And I’m also-
Darcy Luoma (19:55):
I hope I didn’t give it away.
Kate Bast (19:57):
No. I always tell people there’s refreshment. I don’t do all the details, but it doesn’t matter because it’s so welcome at the end. And it’s just-
Darcy Luoma (20:04):
It was so welcome.
Kate Bast (20:05):
I know, I know. And it’s just another way to feel more connected to the experience, but also the land that way we’re on, right? It’s like taking in the medicines of the forest in all manner, whatever manner that is to you, but literally drinking in tea made from white pine needles or spruce needles, or all manner of things that I can brew tea from. And then you’re taking that with you and carrying it away. And plus you’re learning, oh, hey, I didn’t know I could make a tea out of that. So yeah.
Darcy Luoma (20:34):
That’s what I felt. Yeah.
Kate Bast (20:35):
Darcy Luoma (20:36):
And it just deepened the connection to the experience.
Kate Bast (20:39):
Yeah. Drink it in just one last time. Notice what’s sitting in you before we leave and cross over the threshold again. And it’s just another way to pause and share if you want, share what you noticed or what came to you.
Darcy Luoma (20:58):
Which is a beautiful way to end. So we always end Thoughtfully Fit the core, engaging your core, and for stillness, this to me is a perfect opportunity to pause and to think how can I access more stillness in my life? And going forest bathing, powerful way to do it. So anybody who’s watching and listening and thinking, you need more, you can act, you could reach out to Kate right now. And whether it is going on one of her forest walks that are public, that you can sign up for or saying, you know what, I want to have a group of girlfriends and our college reunion. I want to bring Kate into our organization to do something to increase wellness for our employees.
Kate Bast (21:45):
Darcy Luoma (21:46):
Beautiful opportunities. Thank you so much, Kate, for-
Kate Bast (21:49):
Darcy Luoma (21:51):
Being here. And just, you can tell… I mean, you were amazing in your previous role where I knew you, but it just feels like this is what you were meant to be doing.
Kate Bast (22:01):
Yeah. It totally just feels right. And we’ve talked about all the fear and uncertainty about making the leap and the idea of trust. And actually I got my answer about it during my forest bathing training, my immersion. And I started to notice the light on a tree and then the shadow. And I was really curious about what’s in the middle. And I came to realize, that’s the chaos, that’s the fear. You have to go through that from the dark side to get to the light side. And it was like, yeah, I’m never going to know unless I do it. And somehow that was just a big release. And so all kinds of things like that come to you in nature.
Kate Bast (22:40):
I’ve had people realize they’re crushing the tiny frogs on the path and that they just need to slow down. Yes. One person was really upset. I’ve had people say that it has revolutionized their lives, opened up writer’s block and all kinds of things, which is amazing for me to receive. And knowing that I’ve brought people those kinds of experiences and taught them how they can go to nature themselves, for this kind of experience is just so deeply meaningful. And you’re right, it does feel like it’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
Darcy Luoma (23:11):
I’m so glad you’re putting this gift out in the world for all of us to receive.
Kate Bast (23:14):
Thank you. Thank you.
Darcy Luoma (23:14):
Thank you for joining us, Kate.
Kate Bast (23:15):
Okay. Thanks, Darcy. Okay, I’ll see you in the woods soon.
Darcy Luoma (23:17):
I will look forward to it. Happy Thoughtfully Fit Thursday, everybody. Thank you for joining us.
Kate Bast (23:18):
2021: the year of playfulness crazy hecticness?
And if that’s the norm for me, then 2021 has been even more hectic than usual. All the corona ups and downs have been exhausting. My mom’s death was challenging, to say the least. And as things are beginning to open up again, I’ve been starting to travel amidst all the restrictions. (Just this week, I’m in San Diego with the National Speakers Association. Come and say hi!)
Now Christmas is fast approaching and my mind is racing with all the extra things I have to take care of. Buying presents for the fam, organizing where we’re meeting and who’s bringing what food, decorating the house, baking cookies… and that’s just the next two weeks. Argh!!
I’m far from alone in this respect. I’m sure that many of you reading this today are struggling to keep up with it all in the same way I am. So the question I’d like you to ponder today is: how can we deal with all these todos in a thoughtful way?
Some inspiration comes from perhaps an unlikely source: President Eisenhower!
The Eisenhower Matrix
Few people are bombarded by so punishing a schedule as Presidents of the United States. So Eisenhower devised a decision-making process called the “Eisenhower Matrix,” which allowed him to prioritize how he spent his time. Let me share it with you.
Tasks are divided into four different categories:
- Urgent and important
- Important, but not urgent
- Urgent, but not important
- Neither urgent nor important
Urgent and important
Tasks that are both urgent and important are extremely pressing. Your boss tells you she needs you to summarize actionables for a client by the end of the day. Or the low fuel light comes on in your car.
Eisenhower said that the best way to deal with tasks like these is to execute them as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Important, but not urgent
Tasks that are important but not urgent often get put to one side, but we know deep down that we should make time for them. Examples could be going for a daily walk, asking your partner and children how their day was, or starting to count calories.
The best way to address these important tasks is to schedule time for them in your calendar and then say no to anything else that gets in the way.
Urgent, but not important
Many of the tasks I was stressing about earlier in this article fall into this category. Getting Christmas organized on time, cleaning the couch after the dog vomited on it… things like this seem urgent right now but probably won’t when you’re on your deathbed looking back at your life as a whole.
Eisenhower’s approach to deal with urgent tasks was to delegate as many of them as possible. If it costs you a bit of money to get help with the cleaning, the amount of peace of mind you will gain is worth 10x that money, easily.
Neither urgent nor important
Things like video games, infinite scrolling on social media, discussing politics for hours with acquaintances, and spending coupons on underwear to save $5 fall into this category.
It’s best to eliminate these activities altogether, wherever possible.
Making time for Stillness
So where does Stillness fall into this system?
Well, it’s important, but not urgent. The type of task that often gets forgotten, but needs to be scheduled. This is why I have to schedule regular massages and floating sessions. I won’t do them otherwise!
If you’re fretting that scheduling a 30-minute break and doing literally nothing seems impossible right now, try 5 minutes. If even that seems impossible, try 30 seconds.
When you realize that Stillness is something you have the power to choose, you’ll feel both empowered and scared. Suddenly the responsibility for being stressed out of your mind over all the things to do… it was yours all the time.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed this holiday season, take a deep breath and come back to your core:
- Pause. Observe your feeling of stress and where you notice it in your body.
- Think. Which of Eisenhower’s four categories do the things that are stressing you out fall into? Write out a physical matrix on a piece of paper if you need to!
- Act. Delegate as many of the urgent things as you can, and schedule some time for Stillness.