TENDING AND KEEPING THE GREENS GREEN
An invitation to go ‘forest bathing’ in Karen in Nairobi a few months ago, with the opportunity to take beautiful photos was almost impossible to turn down. ‘What on earth is forest bathing?’ We asked. ‘You go for a walk in the indigenous forest and inhale the phytoncides that the plants release and it cleanses your whole being.’ We were told, in response. ‘Phyton-what?’
Anyway, we weren’t able to go the first time, but having had a healing experience, simply walking in Karura Forest, I was now very eager to try out this forest bathing thing out. Let me explain. Visiting Karura Forest had been something that was far out of reach for my husband and I for a very long time. Suddenly, during a visit to Nairobi, it became possible. I was in a terrible spiritual, physical and emotional state and I kept telling The Father, “I don’t want to go.” And He wasn’t having it. So I went.
As soon as I stepped into the outer fringes of the forest and inhaled the eucalyptus leaves, something in my heart just settled. Four hours later I was rejuvenated, refreshed, rested and healed internally. I cannot explain it. I just was better and I knew that The Lord had done this. So, when a fresh invitation to join the forest bathing group was sent, this time we had time, off we went to Karen. We went to a beautiful place called Entim Sidai, a wellness sanctuary with 20 acres of indigenous forest land at the base of the Ngong’ Hills.
This serene forest has over 400 species of indigenous trees that have been preserved at least as far back as 1923, and will continue to be preserved in the hands of the current owners.
The sanctuary features an old bungalow with some new extensions that have been made for accommodation; the additions are in keeping with the style of the main house. There are also discreetly positioned glass houses hidden within the trees, where clients can go to enjoy a manicure or a massage, all the while taking in the serene forest environment around them. There is a gorgeous well-manicured lawn, which attracts the attention of those seeking beautiful wedding photos and is also set up for some al fresco dining or evening drinks. The view from the front of the sanctuary also affords one a glimpse of the Ngong’ Hills. Exploring the forest, we were also shown a well, dating back to the early 1900s, which has alkaline water.
According to Amar Jonathan, the sanctuary’s Head of Sales and Marketing, Entim Sidai means ‘beautiful forest’. Their goal is for their guests to experience tranquility by being immersed in an environment that is filled with the sounds of chirping birds, the wind rustling through the leaves, all the while enjoying a spa treatment, a healthy meal or spending a night.
He explains that Entim Sidai is all about wellness and that the 400 different species all have different, unique healing properties that allow one to be healed just by taking a walk in the forest and simply breathing in.
For our forest bathing, we were joining one of the loveliest groups of ‘seniors’ I have met. Known as The Blue Zone Golden Inspiration, they are a lively group of over 65 year olds, with very interesting stories to share and questions to posit. The group was founded by a senior nicknamed ‘Mr. B’ and a young man called Paul, who runs Paul’s Tropical Fitness. They gather once a week, catch up, listen to a talk that edifies them, ask questions, engage in some ‘Green Fitness’ (or outdoor exercise in a green space) and then walk the forest, bathing themselves in those mysterious phytoncides I had hinted at earlier.
As Mr. B explains, ‘Our biggest reason for coming here is that these trees you see here, they are proper forest; we have 480 species of trees. That is huge. And what happens is that all these trees together they protect themselves also from diseases like we do. These trees produce a compound called phytoncides. Each different from the other and together they combine also, so they create a collective dawa (medicine) for raising immunity so that each tree can now defend itself from diseases. If those phytoncides raise immunity of the trees, the question is, does it affect human beings? Yes. Research conducted by Japanese doing what they are calling environmental medicine found lo and behold these phytoncides also raise immunity of human beings and in addition, treat many other conditions. They prescribe forest visits like, “visit a forest and be there for two hours every alternate day.” ‘
According to research we did online, Phyton means plant and cide means to exterminate. So these compounds are produced by plants to help them protect themselves from harmful insects and germs. They are found in forests and vegetables and fruits as well. Forest bathing has been found to lower stress, control blood sugar, improve concentration, reduce pain and improve immunity.
Mr. B added that, ‘Our bodies have lost that characteristic of breathing deeply because the body is defending itself from toxic air when you’re in town. So, when we get a place which is superoxygenated, you can renew your cells by breathing a double intake of oxygen. Many cells die because they are not oxygenated but when you come here and you have time to be in a forest, don’t be in a hurry.’ Co-founder, Paul, says that he developed outdoor fitness because he noticed a lot of people are getting tired of the gym, but when you’re exercising outside you actually get more energy than when you’re in the gym. One tip he shares with us is that 60% of people’s weight comes from what they eat, but don’t use, so the body converts it into fat (stored energy). He says that one way to cut this excess is to reduce carbohydrate intake.
The group has a different style of celebrating their birthdays from cutting cake. They tell us that Afrika and cake were not part of our traditions, we didn’t have those things. They have now taken up growing of trees in order to restore their environment. They plant seedlings according to the number of years of age of the individuals in groupings divided into three seasons per year. Mr. B speaks of a friend of his who he saw struggling with the vagaries of old age and says he started thinking very deeply and he asked himself, “Should we age like this?” He determined that we have to age gracefully, realizing that people lived longer and healthier before they were told that they had to start going to the hospital, adding that it means there is something we need to rediscover.