Just 25 minutes from Knoxville and yet deep within Eastern Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain foothills, a new wellness initiative is bringing groups together in an unusually intimate way: to forest bathe.
It’s typical to walk 2-3 hours and cover less than a mile of Blackberry Farm’s 9,200 acres during shinrin-yoku, or Japanese ‘forest bathing.’ The practice uses the senses to connect with nature in a deliberate way. At the farm, groups delve into shinrin-yoku under a thick green forest canopy through deep woods hikes, yoga and forest meditations. And although the positive health benefits of communing with nature are already well documented, those unique to shinrin-yoku are steadily coming to light.
“Ground-breaking studies have proven numerous psychological and physiological benefits of spending time in the forest,” says Amanda Anderson, director of wellness. “Currently, Japan leads research efforts with some of the most significant studies measuring the benefits of shinrin-yoku.”
Anderson refers to the work of Tokyo-based researcher Qing Li, MD, whose 2009 study found a link between phytoncides, the chemicals emitted by trees and plants, and an increase in the production of cancer fighting cells in those who breathe them in. Other proven health benefits of shinrin-yoku include a boost to the immunity system, accelerated recovery from illness and decreases in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
For a luxury estate accommodating 116 guests, Blackberry Farm takes a down-to-earth approach to wellness, with a creative repertoire of nature-infused activities—from pillaging the forest with Lagotto Romagnolos dogs, an Italian breed trained to hunt truffles, to guided mountain discoveries where attendees forage their way across the Smoky Mountain landscape. Groups can also “bathe” outside of the forest during kayaking, paddleboarding and cycling excursions. The point, Anderson says, is “to motivate and inspire attendees to make positive changes toward a healthier and happier lifestyle.”
Supporting this agenda is a band of multi-talented artisans: a master gardener, baker, beekeeper, cheese maker, forger, butcher, jam maker, chocolatier and sommelier, many with dual roles and most with their own experiential offerings for groups that personalize the farm experience. Master gardener John Coykendall’s passion for heirloom seeds extends to the “Day in the Life of the Master Gardener” immersion program where he says groups will experience “first-hand planting of the heritage seeds that our pioneer ancestors planted here in Millers Cove and just across the mountains in Cades Cove, beginning in the early 1800s.”
Bonding with animals is also high on the wellness list—an on-site equestrian team utilizes horses to teach groups non-verbal communication skills via horsemanship, horse psychology, grooming and riding techniques. Other competitive teambuilding options include geocaching, fly fishing on nearby Hesse Creek and sporting clay shooting tournaments on the farm’s private shooting grounds. Planning a themed event could really be as easy as closing your eyes and pointing to a month on the calendar. The farm regularly hosts events and workshops, whether music, photography or even “Wine on the Fly” events, an interesting blend of fly fishing, wine tasting and cooking demonstrations.
The farm-to-table theme is so prevalent on the farm that even the Wellhouse spa’s signature Blackberry Time Experience uses seasonal plants, flowers, herbs, fresh fruits and vegetables and other healing ingredients. Groups can also partake in whiskey, beer and wine tastings from an on-site brewery and the 180,000-bottle wine cellar, dine on refined yet rugged ‘foothills cuisine’ within an 18th century Amish bank barn, or forage with experts for ramps, morels, chanterelle mushrooms and through the bramble for wild berries.