To say I was unsure about introducing virtual outdoor team building is an understatement.
Virtual seems to be the buzzword for 2020, doesn’t it? Or pivot! And much like most events-based businesses, I ‘pivoted’ in 2020 and began offering virtual outdoor team building. Initially, I resisted the cajoling from business owner friends who were moving to Zoom. I said it simply wasn’t possible to go Forest Bathing virtually. The mindful, sensory experience is centred around connection; connection to self, to nature and to the other participants – that couldn’t possibly work on zoom, could it?
But since 2020 is no ordinary year, when lockdown 2.0 was announced, I decided to try it.
Ordinarily, I’m all about zero-tech on Shinrin-Yoku sessions – I myself am guilty of spending too much time in the ‘scroll hole’ – so when it comes to my events, I am pretty strict. Turn phones off, or to aeroplane mode. Turn off because it is the right thing to do; even taking a photo can jolt you back into the thinking mind, as you accidentally also notice all the notifications waiting for you. You only get 3 hours of downtime, 3 hours of headspace, 3 hours of liberty. Why would I allow anything to compromise that for my customers?
So, to try the virtual experience, I asked for beta testers in my Adore Your Outdoors newsletter (always packed with useful nature info and special subscriber-only offers – subscribe here) and 5 ladies signed up for the trial.
The morning came and I was far more nervous than I am on a face-to-face session, which I hadn’t expected. My mind was in overdrive – would the phone battery last for 90 mins, will the sound quality be good enough, I tested the wifi but was I just lucky? Will it drop out today? Will the participants enjoy the experience, and will it be effective?
How Nature Heals
But I walked into the woods and as I settled at my sit-spot I felt the wind begin to blow my worries away. It was a fairly typical autumnal day in England; around 12 degrees Celsius, largely cloudy with a gentle breeze. The chattering of the birds high up in the trees above was calming.
My mind began slowing down, and I watched a spider make its way slowly along the uneven forest floor and noticed a leaf falling ever so slowly down from the branch above (and imagined it screaming as in the Monty Python sketch!). It’s hard to believe the leaves eventually disintegrate into the ground that supports us when you think about it, isn’t it?
I felt the shift in me as I focused solely on my natural surroundings and my monkey mind ceased. I remembered that worrying about something that might never happen is a great big waste of time and energy. And I let it all go.
This is why it is SO important to allow myself 30-60 minutes before every single session; not just to check the area is safe and as expected, but also to ensure I myself am sufficiently relaxed and grounded. This allows me to guide from the heart and hold a space for whatever the participants bring with them to the experience.
Soon enough it was midday and the start of the session. I logged in to zoom and breathed a massive sigh of relief as everyone else joined without technical issues, I was clearly audible, and the WIFI was great. Phew! A couple of ladies were in their own gardens, and the others in their local woods.
What is Virtual Forest Bathing?
After a brief introduction to each other and the practice, I outlined the experience. Participants could listen to me from their headphones while I was guiding the group sensory experiences (known as invitations in Shinrin-Yoku), but mute and turn their videos off for privacy.
After each solo invitation, I would call the group back gently by playing the kalimba, also known as mbira or thumb piano. It is a small African instrument, made out of a wooden board and metal tines.
Videos and microphones back on and each member of the group would get an opportunity to share something of their personal experience. Each participant was desperate to share, so being on their own actually helped as they felt less self-conscious. And as they shared, the others were nodding, understanding, supporting. This is why I am confident virtual Forest Bathing is ideal as an outdoor team building activity.
“It was lovely to hear you talk and to slow down and really connect with the space and my senses. I’m not good at ‘switching off’ so I find someone talking really helpful to stop my mind wandering off”.
I began with the group sensory activation meditation. I guided the group through a sequence of experiences such as feeling the wind on their skin, connecting with the ground beneath their feet and focusing on near and far-away sounds. Since sight is the dominant sense, I always guide this with eyes closed to allow the other senses to be ‘heightened’.
I suddenly realised that when alone in the woods many people wouldn’t feel comfortable closing their eyes for more than a few seconds at a time. I suggested lowering eyes or looking up to the sky if closing eyes didn’t feel ok, to limit what could be seen. Would the meditation work as well as it normally does? Yes, it worked perfectly, and we all felt amazing afterwards
“I enjoyed the sensory activation the most, especially hearing and sight. I loved how afterwards I felt so at home in the woods”.
Those in their own gardens were able to fully close their eyes as they felt safe in doing so. Joining from your garden is beneficial in several ways with safety and convenience right there at the top. I will be guiding the experience from my own garden at some point to see whether that’s also an option for me.
Reflections shared in our virtual sharing circles included connecting with feelings of childlike curiosity, deep gratitude, and sadness for the damage being done to the natural world. I was surprised at the depth of experience despite being on zoom.
“I enjoyed virtual Forest Bathing just as much as the in-person experience. It had the benefit of the group session (a time commitment, being led by an experienced guide, coming together to share our thoughts at intervals etc), but also the ability to shut off our cameras and microphones during the invitations meant I could follow my own instincts and not be distracted by what others were doing.”
Was it a fluke?
To check it wasn’t, I ran a second session.
One participant connected with the smell of the earth and said she felt like she was being reunited with something she’d neglected for far too long.
Another noticed the makings on a tree she was leaning on and saw the shape of two Egyptian eyes. She came to feel very attached to the tree as the invitation went on. I watched a huge flock of birds fly over my head as they migrated South.
We expressed gratitude for nature and were rewarded with woodpeckers, a treecreeper and a wild fox visited someone in her garden (really!). Everything slowed down. One participant bonded with a conifer with which she has a love/hate relationship, another engaged her sense of fun and asked a tree for support and was surprised at the emotional release that came with it.
Virtual Outdoor Team Building is a go-go!
If you’d like the 90-minute experience do please contact me to book a slot. It’s a fun and unique way to reconnect corporate teams that will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future. I also run 60-minute lunch and learn sessions, find out more here.
Looking forward to hearing from you.