Forest bathing is the practice of immersing yourself in nature by being calm and quiet between trees. Here we examine the benefits for mental health as well as some surprising, self-reflective lessons
We instinctively know that we can feel better if we go outside, even if we only have a few minutes a day. Bathing in the forest is a way to deepen our connection with nature. It has been proven to have far-reaching benefits for health and well-being and has grown as an antidote to the stress of modern life.
It’s essentially the practice of slowing down and immersing yourself in our natural environment – something we can all do, whether it’s in a forest, a park, or even a tree-lined street.
In the presence of Covid-19 and beyond, our bond with nature will continue to play an important role in healing and maintaining wellbeing. If you are thinking about developing your relationship with nature and participating in a guided forest bathing experience for the first time, you may come across some surprising benefits …
1. Slow it down
One of the first things you’ll notice is slow bathing in the forest. It is not a hike or even a walk with a goal, it is about taking a break to immerse yourself in nature. We are so used to living at a frantic pace that it can be difficult to slow down. For this reason, a forest guide will spend time relieving the participants of this transition so that you can gradually adapt to the pace of the natural environment. Learning how to pause will help you put your nervous system from fight or flight mode to rest and digestion mode, which enables relaxation and healing.
2. Elevated senses
Every time the tour guide invites you to take in more of your surroundings, your senses for the sights, sounds, touches, smells and even tastes in your area are awakened. We are used to filtering out our senses so that many people are surprised by the intensity they experience when they are fully immersed. For example, you might notice the slightest rustle of the trees, an insect protecting itself in the curls of a leaf, the smoothness of a pebble, or the earthy taste of forest berries. Things that we normally miss or ignore are becoming more visible and effective.
3. Sense of presence
When we become more aware of our senses and react immediately to them, we adjust to a different state of being that is alive up to the present moment. It can be an enlightening experience when we notice new physical and emotional sensations – an embodiment of a deeper consciousness that reminds us that we are part of nature instead of separating from it. Nature has an amazing ability to get us out of our default settings and awaken thoughts, associations and memories, which makes bathing in the forest a unique and deeply personal experience for everyone.
As adults, we rarely have the opportunity to let this natural childish curiosity lead us anywhere and to express ourselves
4. Aroused curiosity
Bathing in the forest encourages us to be curious and reconnect with our ability to freely explore and play in nature. It depends on the emotion and energy you are experiencing at the time, but you might be drawn to walking barefoot, making a pattern with branches, or just lying under a tree to see how it blows in the wind fluctuates. As adults, we rarely have the opportunity to let this natural childish curiosity lead us anywhere and to express ourselves. It can be a liberating feeling that can relieve the burden of worry, stress, pain, or trauma.
5. Build relationships
Bathing in the forest is not a lonely experience, but can create strong connections and relationships with the guide, with others and with the forest itself. In small group experiences, people come together to exchange reflections if they so wish. This creates a trusting connection that promotes courage and openness. Even if it is just an individual and the forest, people often feel a sense of mutual connection and communication. Many express the feeling of falling in love with nature, deep gratitude and the compulsion to protect the forest and the wider nature.
Bathing in the forest is open to everyone. You don’t have to have any particular fitness or knowledge of nature, and there are even virtual experiences that you can do at home. I invite you to establish a deeper connection to your natural environment – you will be surprised what this means for you.