Spending so much time indoors, being separated from loved ones, and constantly attached to technology these days is leaving many of us with poor mental health feeling disconnected; disconnected from each other and even from ourselves. Do you ever feel lonely without really understanding why?
I doubt it’s news to you that your emotional wellbeing could be suffering; 2018 figures from Mental Health Org showed 74% of UK adults felt so stressed at some point over the previous year, they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. And that was before Covid19 hit.
I passionately believe there is a way of boosting both your physical and mental health that’s available to you right now. Read on to find out how nature-based mindfulness can help.
Have you heard of Forest Bathing?
What image does that term conjure up for you? I bet you’re thinking wild swimming. You are not alone! Another popular misconception is that you’re Forest Bathing when you walk the dog or take a stroll in the woods. But it’s actually nothing like that.
Forest Bathing an evidence-based therapeutic practice that connects participants to their natural surroundings. It’s new here, but it originated in Japan 40 years ago (explore the history here). Proven results include:
- a stronger immune system (thanks largely to the immune-boosting phytoncides emitted by trees)
- lowered hypertension (high blood pressure)
- reduced stress and anxiety
- improvements in sleep, concentration and memory.
These outcomes are demonstrated in those that practice Forest Bathing for 2 hours just once or twice a month (read the blog on benefits).
The best thing? These benefits last for days and sometimes weeks after the experience itself ends, they don’t cost the earth and they are available to you right now.
Forest Bathing has the potential to transform your life. To transform your mental health. Just let that sink in…..
Yet, when I say I’m a Forest Bathing guide, I hear the same misconceptions again and again and again.
1. Swimming in the woods sounds cold!
Fret not. No bathing in water is required. The ‘bathing’ in Forest Bathing relates to “bathing your senses in the atmosphere of the forest”, which is the translation of ‘Shinrin-Yoku’, the Japanese word for the wellness technique.
2. It’s just a new-fangled name for a walk in the woods
Other than the short walk into the forest, 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’. You’ll spend 2-3 hours with a small group of like-minded people, being guided through a series of invitations. 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.
3. I reckon I could do that alone
It is 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, laughter, sadness or anger, and I hold a safe space for these emotions to be expressed in the sharing circles.
4. Sounds like hippie-dippie nonsense to me
Well, you’ll never know if you don’t try it! I get it, trying something new can feel scary. But your personal growth depends on new challenges, pushing boundaries and acquiring new skills. Forest Therapy might not be mainstream (yet) but many now popular wellbeing practices originated in The East such as Tai Chi, reflexology and meditation. Japan started capturing scientific data proving the benefits 40 years ago and happily, Forest Bathing is now prescribed on the NHS as a green prescription in Surrey.
5. I can’t meditate
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.
6. I’m too busy to spend 3 hours in the woods
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 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 guess that 0.5% of the month sounds pretty reasonable.
7. 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, they 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.
8. I’ve got mobility issues
Aside from the 5-minute walk in, we don’t cover much ground and we move very slowly. All the invitations can be done sitting or lying down. I have had several participants with ME enjoy Forest Bathing, and many have spoken of a reduction in symptoms both during and after.
9. What if I need the loo?
A wild wee can be considered as part of the experience 🙂 There are plenty of opportunities to slip away quietly and you won’t be the only one.
10. I’m worried about getting emotional
The most common emotion that comes up is joy. Would you like to feel more joy? 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 them and 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 for you.
11. 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 – how can I put this nicely – they aren’t that interested in you! You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, but 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, but normal to spend 95% of our time indoors, connected to some form of technology.
12. I bet I get lost on the way there
The country parks 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.
Don’t let fear or misunderstanding 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, learnt something about stress management and the importance of 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 that fosters emotional resilience and gratitude and brings peace, happiness, kindness and wisdom into every aspect of your life. Transformative.
Here’s a video showing a typical session.
If you’re ready to include Forest Bathing into your self-care routine, check out the schedule of events.
Contact me to discuss further.