The 7 key principles of Forest Bathing
I’m often asked what happens on a Forest Bathing/Forest Therapy session, and how it differs from a walk in the woods. Every single event is different, but I’ve described the key principles of an Adore Your Outdoors Forest Bathing experience below. And don’t worry, you don’t need your shower cap!
The practice of Shinrin-Yoku is new to the UK. However, it’s been popular in Asia for 40+ years. Learn more about the origins of Forest Bathing here.
Importantly, I don’t want the ‘fear of the unknown’ to hold anyone back from benefiting from all that this incredible practice has to offer. So, take a read through what happens, what to expect and what you may experience in our sessions. After that you might want to read The Beginner’s Guide to Forest Bathing Alone if you plan to practice without a guide (there’s a printable DIY guide there too).
Do just let me know if you have any further questions.
1 – A guided group experience
A guided group Forest Therapy session is different from any other experience of walking or simply being outside because it is facilitated by a certified guide (me!) who guides participants through a series of group, pair and individual nature-based mindfulness exercises (known as invitations – see point 2 below).
We end most invitations in a ‘sharing circle‘, and you all get the opportunity to share thoughts and feelings. The experience can ignite powerful connections and relationships between the guide, the group, and the forest itself. Because the sessions are always in small groups, the intimacy allows for the creation of a trusting bond that encourages release, curiosity and honesty.
When someone shares, we all listen; it isn’t a discussion. Think about it – how often are we actually listened to and heard? The inclusion of the group sharing circles ensures everyone benefits from a broader depth of experience compared to if they were alone. It’s wonderful to listen as people speak of long-forgotten childhood memories or feelings of joy and delight, as they start to reconnect with nature.
Some invitations also enable the gentle processing and release of feelings of grief, sadness or ‘stuckness’.
Although I’m also a participant in the session, as your guide, I am responsible for holding a safe space for everyone during these sharing circles. It’s completely OK if you don’t want to share anything if it doesn’t feel right for you. Equally, you might find certain invitations prompt you to share more than others.
The full 3-hour experience ends with tea brewed from foraged ingredients, which is a wonderfully fitting way to close the experience, as we take some of the forest into our bodies. We all smell and taste the tea together and give thanks to nature for the experience. This last invitation also provides the opportunity for a more casual chat, before a return to normality.
2 – Sensory immersion through invitations
The invitations are designed to activate and heighten your senses, bringing attention to the present moment and help you get in touch with sensations within your body. It’s like turning your awareness…your aliveness…your SOUL, up to maximum so that the incessant chatter in your mind can be switched off or, at the very least, turned right down. Things that you might otherwise not have noticed are suddenly mesmerising.
It’s why I encourage you to move into silence, to switch your phone to aeroplane mode, and to resist snapping away too much (I have a mindful photography course for that!), so you can let everything go for 2-3 hours. I help you to bring all of your focus to the place we are in. Focus on what you see, hear, touch, taste (yep!) and smell. You won’t get the benefits unless you do it properly, and you only have these 2-3 hours, so you might as well make the most of it.
And it really does work – it might not happen instantly but if you practice regularly you will connect to yourself, your body and your surroundings and find a growing sense of gratitude, joy, kindness towards others and even feelings of belonging coming from deep within your core, as you feel less stressed by the paraphernalia of everyday life.
3 – Nature Connection
Do you ever feel lonely without really understanding why? The more I learn about Nature Connectedness the more I believe that these feelings are a direct result of us being indoors and on technology, so much. We are simply not meant to live that way.
During a Forest Therapy session, we spend time paying attention to the little things around us that we might otherwise not notice. And this might not sound extraordinary, but for most, it’s a complete revelation. What happens on a Forest Bathing session is that you start to experience nature in a new way. You might start to feel more grounded with a sense of belonging you weren’t expecting to feel in a forest, for example.
It’s worth mentioning that we also take a break from trying to identify species; we don’t really encourage logical, left-brain thinking. It’s more about trying to build a kinship with the species that you encounter from the natural world, so what they’ve been identified as doesn’t really matter. And remember, level of nature connection has been proven to be far more beneficial to planet and humans alike, than time spent in nature.
So connecting with nature through the 5 identified pathways is key, and as we do, we move into a more reciprocal relationship with the natural environment. The more we appreciate nature, the more our wellbeing improves and the more pro-nature and pro-environment behaviour we display.
4 – Enjoyment
Everything you do in the session is intended to bring about enjoyment because with it comes deep relaxation. When you’re relaxed, you’re more likely to be able to turn off the chatter in your mind and connect with your bodies and the surroundings. It is then that the real magic can happen, and healing takes place…without you even trying.
During the 8-day residential training course, I did they used the phrase “orienting to pleasure” – which I just loved!
Some invitations, such as scrolls and gratitude alters, use props that add a mysterious element, and people often speak of connecting with pleasurable memories and a sense of carefree curiosity they haven’t felt since childhood. As adults, seldom do we express ourselves with this childlike curiosity and it can be liberating (and enjoyable!) to do so when this happens in a Forest Bathing session,
Invitations are just that – invitations – meaning they are optional, and I always explain that if you feel drawn to doing something different (as long as it’s within reason!), you absolutely can do it because your experience is personal to you and YOU will get what YOU need from the forest.
One of the key elements of any session is that I enable you to free yourself from all your responsibilities for a few hours – which is a truly immense gift – and certainly one to enjoy every moment of.
5 – Slow paced
You won’t work up a sweat on a Nature Immersion session! Other than the initial walk in and the final walk out, we move very slowly through the forest to allow sufficient time to establish, build and deepen connections to the things and beings around you.
The slow pace can be uncomfortable for some, at the start in particular, since we are so used to always rushing around. Doing everything at a frantic pace has become our new normal. So, for the first hour or so, I set the pace for the group and often we’re very still, barely moving at all. You might well be someone who struggles with this and, fret not, you will be in very good company!
Usually, after the first two invitations, I find that my participants have started to relax. Your senses will be enlivened, and you will enjoy moving so slowly, because you want to stop and connect, taking your time to be present, noticing little things you’ve never noticed before.
With all of the rushing around you do, doesn’t it sound wonderful to be asked to slow down?!
6 – Peaceful
How do you feel about silence? It can be uncomfortable for some, while others love it (I’m a lover!).
In Forest Therapy, we are often silent, because silence helps you to relax and when relaxed, you’ll find it easier to connect to nature and maybe even find answers you’ve been looking for.
The first invitation is a guided meditation (see point 7 below) which I lead, but most of the others are done individually and in silence (unless you speak to your tree, which is a distinct possibility!) and you’ll likely find that the silence is precisely what you want.
Casual chatter is discouraged as it can take you back into the thinking mind, but, of course, I would not force you not to chat. My recommendation though is to make every moment of your 2-3 hours count and to save anything you desperately need to say for the sharing circle sessions.
7 – Variety
Each Forest Therapy session is different. The location, weather, season, participants, other people, wildlife and my own gut instinct all influence which invitations I choose to facilitate.
Some involve props. Some are done alone. Some are done in pairs or as a group. Some involve movement and some are best enjoyed sitting or lying down. Some involve doing very little other than just being present.
The first invitation is almost always “Pleasures of Presence” because it starts the process of slowing down to maximise relaxation. This is a guided meditation that involves about 30 mins of sensory activation with your eyes closed. It’s one of my favourite invitations, although when I was learning, it was the one I found the scariest! As I’ve gained experience, I have learnt to trust that I’ll deliver it in the way that’s appropriate for the session, and I include things that come to me, in that moment, in that place.
And of course, the shares that come after an invitation are different every time, as they are personal to those attending the session – so you experience variety through the experiences of others, as well.
Want to know more about what happens in a Forest Bathing session?
That’s the 7 elements…but I could tell you more…and you will have your own feelings, emotions and experiences too. However, I really hope the summary has been useful and helped shine some light on exactly what happens on a Forest Bathing session.
Or let’s connect.
I hope you can join me soon.
Love Sonya x