12 concerns, barriers and misconceptions about Forest Bathing addressed
I hear so many misunderstandings about Forest Bathing! I get it…it’s a funny term. It doesn’t truly encapsulate the Japanese meaning from their term ‘Shinrin-Yoku’. But, ‘bathing your senses in the atmosphere of the forest’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
This difficulty in labelling the term leads to misconceptions around what Forest Bathing is and can result in unwarranted concerns for some. Not to mention the widely accepted belief that time outdoors involves purposeful physical activity such as gardening, counting steps or setting a new PB, so hanging about doing not a lot must surely be a ‘waste of time’, right? Wrong.
That’s why in this blog I want to address some myths, break down some barriers and explain more about what Forest Bathing is and why it’s so good for you. Have a watch of this short film first.
“Swimming in the woods sounds cold!”
Fret not. First things first…let me clarify that there is no swimming or bathing in water required! This is the most common misunderstanding about Forest Bathing.
The ‘bathing’ in Forest Bathing relates to “bathing your senses in the atmosphere of the forest”, which is a closer, more literal translation of ‘Shinrin-Yoku’, the Japanese word for this wellness technique.
I’ve often thought instead of Forest Bathing, it should be called “Forest Drenching” or “Forest Immersion” even…it’s about surrounding yourself with, and maybe even surrendering to, nature (not water!).
“It’s just a new-fangled name for a walk in the woods”
Other than the short walk into the forest to get to the location where the session is held, we don’t walk far at all, and certainly not at anything like the speed of your average fitness walk.
Think mindfulness in nature – you’re aiming to achieve a state of ‘least excitation’. It’s not about exercise in the sense of walking miles and you certainly won’t get your heart racing or get your 10000 steps in! And by the way, did you know that the 10000 steps recommendation came from a marketing campaign rather than medical advice? Read more here.
Anyway, I digress 😊 in one of my Forest Bathing sessions, you’ll spend 2-3 hours with a small group of like-minded people, being guided through a series of invitations (mindful exercises). You only move very slowly, focusing on your senses and the present moment. You are mostly silent except for the (optional) group reflection in the sharing circles, which are interspersed throughout the session.
It’s very different to your average ‘walks in the woods’. Not that there’s anything wrong with an average walk in the woods, or getting your 10000 steps in, but please take at least 30 mins to slow down, focus on your surroundings and heighten your senses while you’re out.
Learn more about what happens on a typical Forest Bathing session with Adore Your Outdoors here
“I reckon I could just do it myself”
It is certainly possible to do some of the solo invitations by yourself, and I aim to teach you those techniques so you can incorporate everyday nature-based mindfulness into your daily routine.
But being guided allows you to experience a more immersive, and therefore, beneficial journey.
My job as your guide is to be the bridge between you and the forest. I help you connect with emotions and bring your focus to the sensations in your body.
Without a guide, you can never completely relinquish all responsibilities. In the back of your mind, you are often worrying, wondering what the time is or planning your next appointment, etc. Dare I say it, you might even be tempted to start scrolling on your phone! This limits your ability to quieten the mind and move into a state of deep relaxation.
The guided session can bring joy, childlike fun and laughter. They can also bring sadness or anger. I hold a safe space for all of these emotions to be expressed in the sharing circles.
“Sounds like hippie-dippie nonsense to me “
I get it, trying something new can feel scary. The sound of standing in a forest or park meditating may sound a bit ‘new age’ or ‘woo’ for you. And it’s not for everyone. However, I wonder if you could consider your personal growth. It depends and relies on new challenges, pushing boundaries and acquiring new skills.
Forest Therapy (another name for Forest Bathing) might not be mainstream (yet!) but many now popular wellbeing practices, such a yoga, Tai Chi, reflexology and meditation, were also once new to the UK. One of the other common misunderstandings about Forest Bathing is that it’s not rooted in science, yet Japan started capturing scientific data proving the benefits of Forest Therapy over 40 years ago. So, it has a good evidence base now. Learn more about the proven benefits here.
And happily, Forest Bathing is also now prescribed on the NHS as a green prescription in Surrey. Hopefully it’s coming to an NHS Trust near you soon!
“I can’t meditate, so I can’t do it”
The great thing about including nature into your meditation and mindfulness practice is that it becomes more accessible, even to those who can struggle to quiet the mind.
Even for experienced meditators, it can sometimes take a while for the “monkey mind” to relax. It’s normal to feel some anxiety about what is coming next and whether you’re ‘doing it right’ (you can’t do it ‘wrong’, by the way).
The meditations are suitable for beginners and as the session progresses, the persistent thoughts and worries will slow and very likely cease.
“I’m too busy to spend 3 hours in the woods doing nothing”
I’d put it another way. Can you really afford not to?
There’s an old Zen saying, “You should spend 20 minutes in nature every day unless you’re too busy. In that case, spend an hour”.
Forest Bathing actually saves you time in the long run, because you’ll feel rejuvenated and able to see things more clearly after your session. When you consider Forest Bathing as part of your regular self-care routine and remember that the physiological and mental health benefits last for days and in some cases weeks, then I think that 0.5% of the month you spend in a session sounds pretty reasonable.
“I’m not really an ‘outdoorsy’ person”
I can help you change that! You undoubtedly know the phrase, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”? It’s true!
Once you get into the woods, the trees offer some protection from the elements; shade if it’s sunny, a canopy if it’s raining and protection from the wind.
I confess to once being a fair-weather girl myself and I can honestly say finding joy in all seasons is one of the best gifts you can give yourself for good mental health. I used to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), so if I can fall back in love with winter, then so can you.
“I’ve got mobility issues, I won’t be able to join in”
Aside from the 5-minute walk in, we don’t cover much ground and we move very slowly.
All the invitations can be done standing, sitting or lying down. Customers often lean against a tree, or move around gently and slowly if standing still is painful. I have had several participants with ME enjoy Forest Bathing, and many have spoken of a reduction in symptoms both during and after. For that reason, this is one of the misunderstandings about Forest Bathing that I am most keen to clear up.
If you are concerned about accessibility, please contact me to discuss.
“I can’t go without a loo for that long”
Some locations I work in have toilets and it is not unusual for participants to quietly head off for a comfort break ‘when nature calls’ 😁 But some locations do not have that luxury and I encourage you to embrace the experience fully…if you really have to go a ‘wild wee’ can be considered as part of the fun! It’s part of truly getting back to nature. There are plenty of opportunities to slip away quietly to a private location…and you won’t be the only one.
“I’m worried about getting emotional”
The most common emotion that comes up is joy. Would you like to feel more joy?
It is true that some people might also process through grief, sadness or anger, as the session goes on.
I understand emotions can be scary and it might feel too risky to allow them to be felt. However, imagine what a boost you’re giving your mental health if you were to allow those emotions to be felt, and to then process through them? You have a fair amount of alone time and if you don’t feel like sharing anything with the group, that is absolutely fine. And if you do, the group is there to listen to you. It is a huge gift – the gift of being heard.
“I’m worried about judgement from others”
This is something I do hear a fair bit, but I can honestly say you won’t see many other people and those that you do see from outside of the group…how can I put this nicely?…they just aren’t that interested in you 😁
I am there to protect us from any unwanted intrusions, plus the group of people that you do the session with, I very much hope (and often find), will be like-minded and supportive.
Another one of the misunderstandings about Forest Bathing (once we’ve established there’s no swimming or vigorous exercise involved!), is that we must spend all our time hugging trees. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, but, equally, you might hug a tree and like it! I think it shows how far we’ve stepped off the right path, that it’s considered weird to hug a tree, and instead, it’s more normal to spend 95% of our time indoors, connected to some form of technology.
“I bet it’s in the middle of nowhere and I’ll get lost on the way there”
All of my sessions are held in permitted locations, with nearby parking. Most are close by to large towns and cities, in Hampshire and Berkshire.
The country parks and woodlands I use are easy to find using any satnav. For the more remote locations, I provide a Google maps link to the car park where we meet, as well as the full address of a specific landmark nearby with directions from that landmark.
Although I can’t always account for a good signal, I will also have my phone on before the start of a session, if you need to contact me for help finding us.
Don’t let fear or misunderstandings about Forest Bathing get in the way of great mental health.
If you try Forest Bathing and find out it’s not for you, the worst thing that’s happened is you’ve spent 3 hours breathing in those immune-boosting phytoncides from the trees around you; spent time with new people and, hopefully, learnt something about stress management and the importance of a human connection to nature.
If you try it and the practice resonates, you’ll have a whole new way of engaging with the natural world around you. One that fosters emotional resilience, gratitude and brings peace, happiness, kindness and wisdom into every aspect of your life. It truly can be transformative.
I appreciate the ‘fear of the unknown’ often holds people back, and I hope this blog has helped to clear up some of the misunderstandings about Forest Bathing. Have a read of What happens on a Forest Bathing session? as well as the FAQ page if you’d like to find out more.
And if I have not adequately put your mind to rest or answered your questions, then do just contact me to discuss further.
Love Sonya x