Spiritual practice can take many forms. Often, when people think about spiritual practices the first things that come to mind are mediation or prayer. Indeed, these are very valuable practices. However, if you’re looking for some ideas for adding variety to your own practice you might want to consider some of these options.
This is the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” and can be as simple to practice as going for a walk in the woods. To get the full benefits of this practice, take your time and use all your senses. As Dr. Qing Li points out in his book titled Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, “Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.”
Forest bathing is an excellent way to bring more mindfulness into your daily life as you slow down and truly observe the natural surroundings. In addition to improving mindfulness, forest bathing is also good for your health.
Dr. Qing Li has found that forest bathing can “boost the immune system, increase energy, decrease anxiety, depression, and anger and recuse stress and bring about a state of relaxation.”
While forest bathing requires nothing more than getting out in nature, a labyrinth walk can only be done if you have access to a labyrinth. Fortunately, labyrinths are becoming more common and are easy to find thanks to the work of Dr. Lauren Artress. Her Labyrinth locator website (https://labyrinthlocator.com) can be used to find labyrinths in the United States. A quick check of my state found 83 labyrinths so it is likely that there is a labyrinth near you.
As Dr. Artress puts it in her book Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice, the labyrinth has “reemerged today as a metaphor for the spiritual journey and as a powerful tool for transformation.” The path of the labyrinth provides a guide for the practitioner to follow. The labyrinth is not a maze, rather it is a unicursal path with one way in and one way out. Walking the path allows for deep spiritual contemplation and renewal.
The labyrinth walk is a good example of a ritual with structured steps, literally a specific singular path to follow. As Sasha Sagan writes in her book For creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, there is “something deeply reassuring about performing the specific steps” of a ritual. It can also be deeply meaningful and reassuring to perform rituals at specific times of the year. Smudging with sage offers a good way to add an element of spiritual ritual to specific points in time.
Burning sage can be part of a ritual celebration of the seasons. Many people practice smudging on the solstices and equinoxes. Smudging could also be practiced to welcome each new month, the new year, or the new moon.
Like forest bathing, there may also be health benefits to burning sage which include reducing stress, improving the quality of your sleep, and boosting your cognition. It may also help purify the air in your home and reduce allergens (https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-burning-sage#release-negativity).
The practice of silence is usually connected with monks or nuns who take a vow of silence for an extended period. But, the practice can be beneficial when used intermittently and for shorter periods. Anne LeClaire writes about her own experience of making each Monday a day of silence and the benefits of this practice in her book Listening Below the Noise: The Transformative Power of Silence.
Silence is a perfect addition to any spiritual practice including the ones listed above. Forest bathing in silence can heighten your mindfulness and allow you to experience nature with a whole new depth that can be missed when you are talking. Many people walk a labyrinth in silence as well to fully connect with the spiritual journey. While often accompanied by a chant or prayer, smudging can also be done in mindful silence.
Each of these practices offers unique benefits and it is possible to combine them or use them in conjunction with other practices you already follow. They can be rewarding additions to your practice as well as provide you with possible health benefits.