Q: Hmmm, I've never heard of Forest Bathing, do we have to go swimming?
A: No! Although some call the practice of Forest Therapy 'Forest Bathing', no bathing in water is required! The bathing relates to "bathing your senses in the atmosphere of the forest" which is the translation of the Japanese word for the practice, Shinrin-Yoku.
Q: What is Forest Bathing?
A: Forest Bathing is an evidence-based, transformative, therapeutic practice that connects people to their natural surroundings, using gentle, sensory-based 'invitations' (exercises). I sometimes call it sensory mindfulness. You'll spend 2-3 hours with a small group of like-minded people, being guided through a series of meditations and mindfulness exercises, moving very slowly, focusing on the present moment and in silence except for the group reflection (optional) in the sharing circles. I help you notice the extraordinary in the ordinary, and reach a state of 'least excitation'. As you relax deeply you will connect to nature in a new way, leaving you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. It is possible to do some of the solo invitations by yourself after you know how, so I aim to teach you those techniques. However many participants find it much easier to relax into the experience on the group session, and they enjoy the social(ly distanced) interaction. I am now also running virtual sessions.
Q: How does the virtual experience on zoom differ from the in-person session?
A: Sessions are shorter, around 90 minutes. You join from your phone either in local woods or a park or even your garden. Make sure your phone is fully charged. After a brief introduction to the practice, you'll be guided through a sensory activation meditation and then there's some time for you to share your noticings with the group. There's time for 2 or 3 other invitations and a final round of group reflection.
Q: Can you go Forest Bathing in the winter?
A: Forest Therapy will go ahead in most weathers because the different seasons offer an opportunity for a different experience. But it is important to wrap up warm because we are often stationary or moving incredibly slowly. The first time you immerse yourself in a forest during the rain I have no doubt you will be mesmerised. A rainy Forest Therapy session during my training is still one of the best experiences I've ever had. That said, in the event of very high winds, lightning or heavy, persistent rain, the session will be postponed.
Q: Can I come along if I have health or mobility issues?
A: Probably. The walk into the area of the woods that you'll spend your time in is no longer than 10 mins and it's done at a regular walking pace. Once you're in the forest, if it's uncomfortable for you to stand for longer than 15 mins there are numerous opportunities to sit or lie down, and when moving you don't cover much ground at all, and you always walk very slowly. If you use a walking aid and that sounds doable to you, please do come along. The second half of the session can be adapted to suit personal mobility requirements. If you suffer from hay fever or asthma then it might be worth checking out the venue beforehand to see how you feel. Contact me with any questions regarding health and mobility. Note: Queen Elizabeth Country Park does not suit those with health and mobility issues as the site is on a slope and it's quite a long walk into the woods.
Q: Are there toilets available?
A: Probably not, but maybe. A nature pee can be considered as part of the experience; think of it as 'giving something back' as the nutrients are good for the soil and plants! The country parks all have toilets available on site but they might be some way from your location.
Q: What's the difference between Forest Therapy and Forest Bathing?
A: They are both terms used to describe Shinrin-Yoku which is a Japanese term that translates to "bathing your senses in the atmosphere of the forest".
Q: Why should I come to your walk when access to the forest is free?
A: I give you permission to leave all of your responsibilities behind. Do you remember the last time you felt truly free from responsibilities? I help you slow down, engage your senses, move out of your heads and into your bodies so that you can let the forest do its therapeutic work. My job is to bridge the gap between the forest and the people I guide. Without a guide, you can never completely relinquish all responsibilities; you're often thinking about safety, your next appointment, the children or the dog, etc. This limits your ability to quieten the mind and enliven the senses needed to get the most from the session. I enable you to leave all your responsibilities behind for 3 hours - it's an immense gift! The session can be joyous, curious and emotional, and I hold a safe space for these emotions to be expressed in the sharing circles. I also adapt the session, if needed, and always ensure we finish on time. Being guided allows you to experience a more immersive, and therefore beneficial, journey. It’s also a way to prioritise and schedule in your nature time, similarly to scheduling other self-care practices.
Q: I like the sound of it but I have anxiety, do I have to speak in front of the group?
A: No. If you don’t want to share anything when we’re in the circle, it is absolutely fine. If it helps, you are probably not the only one in the group feeling anxious; anxiety is the most common condition of all my customers, and I suffer with it myself too. You’re likely to enjoy listening to whatever is shared by the others, and you might even find that as the session progresses and your anxiety lessens, you feel more inclined to share something of your experience. But it’s also completely fine if you share nothing all session. Forest Bathing has the potential to be transformative - please don’t let anxiety stop you from trying Forest Bathing. It’s proven to considerably reduce anxiety and because some of the techniques I teach you can be done by yourself, later on, you not only get the deep relaxation in the session itself and for days and possibly weeks afterwards, you also get a couple of tools that you can use when you feel your anxiety levels creeping back up
Q: What is mindfulness?
A: Mindfulness is a state of being. It can be described as paying attention to the present moment without judgement. My mindfulness teacher describes it as, "moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness of the internal and external factors". The external factors being our senses and internal factors our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Mindfulness can help you process and ultimately let go of harmful thoughts and behaviours, allowing you to live a happier life. Some mindfulness practices include meditation, yoga, qi gong and tai chi. On a Forest Therapy walk, you will gradually move into a mindful state as you relax, slow down and connect with the forest.
Q: What is meditation?
A: Meditation is the practice of training your mind to achieve a state of mindfulness. Meditation can transform the mind and reduce stress, increase feelings of calm and clarity and promote happiness. On a Forest Therapy walk, you will be guided through at least one meditation to help you activate your senses. If you do my meditation and mindfulness course (coming soon!), there are of course many more guided meditations to sample (and build into your self-care routine!).
Q: What is an invitation?
A: On a Shinrin-Yoku Forest Therapy experience you will be guided through several 'invitations'. An invitation is a mindfulness activity or meditation. They are referred to as invitations because they are optional and open to personal interpretation.
Q: Will I be able to find the meeting point?
A: I include a precise Google maps link in the joining information that you'll receive in advance of the event. I often won't be able to include a postcode (there are no postcodes in the forest) so in that case, you'll also receive a nearby postcode instead.
Q: Do you provide counselling on the walk?
A: No. You'll be in silence for much of the experience and although I am a therapeutic counsellor, it is actually the forest providing the healing in the session rather than me. I am only the facilitator for the forest to do its healing work with you. Please contact me if you wish to speak on a 1:1 basis, which can be arranged separately.
Q: Will I have to do anything I don't want to do?
A: No. The whole ethos of Forest Therapy is that everything is designed to be pleasurable and is also entirely optional. There is no right or wrong way to experience the session and although you gather as a group from time to time to share experiences, you can be as - verbally or otherwise - involved as you like.
Q: Why should I come to a Forest Therapy session?
A: Because we are now spending more time than ever before indoors and attached to tech, we have become disconnected from who we truly are, and our mental health is suffering. Practising Forest Therapy reduces stress, anxiety and high blood pressure while increasing disease-fighting blood cells and improving sleep and mood. See the benefits page for more. I believe that everyone urgently needs to reconnect with nature for your own health and as this reconnection deepens, so too will your respect and love for your planet. Because of the Climate Emergency, there has never been a better time to make this change.
Q: I feel self-conscious about hugging a tree!
A: Don't worry :) You'll rarely see many others and those who you do encounter are usually walking their dogs and/or talking on their phones, so they don't pay any attention to you. Your group will be made up of like-minded people who usually come on their own, and who are open-minded to getting the most from the experience. You are likely to find that you become too engrossed in your own experience to notice others around you, so I don't think you will feel self-conscious. If you do, then I wonder what it would be like to notice that, feel into it and then let it go, bringing your attention back to your senses.
Q: Is it a bit like Forest School?
A: No, it's nothing like it really. The only similarity is that both activities are done in groups in woodland.
Q: Is it a bit like walking the dog?
A: When you're walking the dog, walking alone or with friends, you can never truly leave your responsibilities behind, never truly clear your head of worries and never truly reach a state of pure relaxation. Being guided, together with a group of like-minded participants, leads to a deeper connection to nature and a broader depth of experience, none of which you can achieve on your average walk in the woods, especially if you are responsible for your dog.
Q: What should I wear/bring?
A: Dress for the weather and bring 2 spare layers in your bag. As we move at such a slow pace it is always chillier than expected. A mat or chair to sit/lie on can be useful if the forest is damp/cold. Good, sturdy footwear such as walking boots, wellies or trainers and long trousers are advised and wear double socks if you get cold feet. You don't get particularly dirty as a rule (although if you fancy jumping in, I would encourage it). Bring any meds you might need and some drinking water.
Q: Can I use my mobile phone?
A: This might be a horrifying thought but I invite you to turn your phone to airplane mode and leave it in your bag. Even simply checking it really does jolt you back into reality and before you know it, the mind-wandering starts up again. If you really need to have your phone on, I ask that you put it to silent and vibrate. I find there is usually reception where I guide, however, do bear in mind that in some places the signal is patchy.
Q: Is there a minimum/maximum number of participants?
A: Walks usually need 4 participants to run, and numbers are limited to around 10 as more than that can lead to a loss of intimacy within the group. For the tots and family sessions, that means 10 children with 1 adult each. Please contact me if you are interested in a more personal experience, such as a private family group.
Q: Is there parking available?
A: Yes, there is always adequate parking at all locations I work in and it's usually free. I'll let you know in advance if parking is paid.
Q: What if I need to cancel?
A: In most cases, you can book onto a different session of your choice. If not possible, my cancellation policy is a full refund if cancelled earlier than 7 days before the event, 75% refund between 4-7 days and 50% for 1-3 days. I cannot offer refunds for cancellations occurring on the day of the event.
Q: Do you provide refreshments?
A: Tea and snacks will be provided at the end of the 3-hour experience. Please advise of allergies, especially nuts. Bringing your own drinking water and snacks for little ones is advisable. In country parks, there is usually a cafe or restaurant on-site where you may purchase drinks and food before or after the experience.
Q: Will we learn to identify plants and trees?
A: I often recall this nugget I learnt while on the Forest Therapy residential training course, “the naming is not the true knowing”. It's fine to label your surroundings, especially if this helps you to connect to them, but I wonder what it would be like to allow the left side of the brain to have a rest and to simply ‘be nature’ for a little while.
Q: Do I need to come regularly to get the benefits?
A: The scientific evidence shows that the benefits of Forest Therapy last for 2-4 weeks and you will benefit the most by coming at least once a month.
Q: Are you Ofsted registered?
A: I am not, because sessions of 2 hours or less are not eligible for Ofsted registration. If I move into offering a summer holiday club then this will be reassessed.
Q: Can I bring my child?
Q: Are dogs allowed?
A: You'll usually meet a couple of friendly (and muddy!) dogs with their owners during a session, but I want you to completely relax so for that reason your own dogs are best left tucked up at home. The only exception to this would be in the case of an emotional support dog. Please contact me to discuss any further requirements.
Q: Where can I read more about the proven benefits of Forest Therapy?
A: Articles and reports:
Can Forest Bathing reduce stress?
'Forest Bathing' Really May Be Good For Health
Forest Bathing: a green prescription for a healthy mind
Nature: A New Paradigm for Workplace Wellbeing
Effects of Short Forest Bathing Programme
Contact me if you have a question that is not answered on this page.
"It was great to have some time to breathe.... ground.... relax.... and appreciate the beauty that’s around us".Hayley, Andover
"A chance to relax and get away from it all by being guided to focus on nature and the 'simple things'".Kate, Overton
"The session was very calming and I believe Forest Bathing allowed me to slow right down and clear my mind in a way that I would/could never do on my own".Louise, Basingstoke
"Forest Bathing is just an amazing healing experience!".Nicla, Reading
"The course of monthly sessions allowed me to become increasingly open and take the experience to a deeper level each time. The benefits radiate through my mind and body, long after the session iteself has finished".Annie, Upham
"Committing to a 3 month series of forest bathing sessions allows you to revisit your chosen site and receive something new each time. I also loved connecting with the group through our shared experience over a number of weeks/months".Oonagh, Winchester
"The guided auditory meditations provided symptom relief that I hadn’t felt in over a year!
The heightened sensory experience in a relaxed calm environment of the forest, with a professional, kind, welcoming instructor who adapted the session to enable me to participate with a hidden disability, was fantastic"Shelly, Winchester
"You helped us so much - V went to see you know who and made the vital work call, both things she has been putting off for weeks! I have also had a v good night’s sleep! Must be six months since that has happened with no night sweats.
We will be in touch for the next episode soon!”.ES, Basingstoke
"I did a three hour session with Sonya, it is genuinely the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Value for money, I can highly recommend."George, Winchester
"Enjoyed my Forest Therapy experience with Adore Your Outdoors. To stop and savour nature, slow down and disconnect for a couple of hours was very liberating. Highly recommend!"Tilly, Birmingham
“After the first meditation it was as though my eye balls had been washed!”.Jon, Southampton.