All too often when we’re out walking we are focused on the destination rather than the journey itself. I know it’s something I’ve been all too guilty of in the past. I‘ve wanted to get where I’m going or I’ve been focused on my step count (getting those all important 10,000 steps in a day). That all changed for me a couple of years ago though when I became a forest bathing guide.
Forest bathing is all about slowing down and connecting with the nature that is both in and around you. You are nature at the end of the day – just as much as the trees, the birds, the plants, the bugs that accompany you on your walk. Look back at indigenous languages and you’ll find many don’t have a word for nature in them. By naming something you are separating it from yourself. Why give nature a name when we are part of it? It’s something our ancestors understood but in modern day living we tend to have a disconnect with the natural world. That’s where forest bathing comes in to reconnect you. What’s more – you don’t have to be in a forest or woodland to do it. You can be anywhere – you could even do it in the comfort of your own home with either some natural objects around you or a view from a window.
But how do you forest bathe? First of all – you don’t need a swimming costume! No doubt you’ve been sunbathing before? When you’re sunbathing, what you’re doing is absorbing in the goodness from the sun’s rays. When you’re forest bathing what you’re doing is absorbing in the goodness of nature. Just by being in a natural environment can help improve your physical, mental and emotional health. The difference between walking normally through a woodland and forest bathing is, with forest bathing, you’re slowing right down, opening your senses and your heart to the environment in which you are in. It could well be that you only walk a quarter of a mile in your forest bath – you may not even make it past the first tree you encounter – and that’s absolutely fine. There’s no wrong way to forest bathe – it’s one of the reasons I love the practice so much!
So how do we open our hearts and our senses to the world around us? By following these simple steps!
First find a spot where you can safely stop for a moment – perhaps somewhere just off the main path to allow others to continue with their own journeys. Then when you’re ready close your eyes.
- Touch – notice how the air around you is touching any exposed areas of your skins. Notice how the ground beneath your feet feels – how the earth is holding you in this moment. Notice the textures you’re carrying with you in the clothing you have on and any jewellry you may be wearing. Touch the ground at your feet or any leaves/trees/branches that are within reach (keeping your eyes closed) – notice how they all feel against your skin.
- Smell – take a deep breath in. Notice the scents and fragrances that are in the air. Move your head from one side to the other – are the fragrances still the same or do new ones appear?
- Taste – what tastes are already in your mouth? Perhaps it’s something you’ve recently eaten or drunk? Purse your lips together as if sucking on a straw and take in some of that air that surrounds you. How does that air taste as it crosses your tongue and goes down into your body?
- Hearing – listen to all of the sounds you can hear. Which is closest to your body? Which is furthest away? Is there a rhythm, a melody or a beat to this place? Consider that the sounds you are hearing right now at this moment have never been heard this way before and will never be heard the same way again. Perhaps you want to elevate the sound of your own breath or make another sound, just loud enough for you to hear, to join in this symphony of now?
- Heart – place a hand over your heart, noticing what it is to have a heart – to have your heart. Breathe into your heart space. With your eyes still closed and your hand still over your heart – turn gently in a circle, whichever way feels right for you, and stop when your heart says “this is the way I want to face”.
- Sight – open your eyes slowly, like a polaroid picture developing, let everything slowly come into focus. Imagine you’re seeing everything for the first time – and that everything you are witnessing is witnessing you as well. Notice what’s in the background, what’s in the midground and what’s there right in front of you. Look left, look right, up and down – take in that scene that is unfolding in front of you.
Now your senses are open, start walking slowly – whatever slow means to you, go a little slower. And just notice all the things that are in motion around you. Notice the little things that perhaps you might otherwise have missed. Maybe something there will capture your attention – follow it. See where it leads you. Be curious. Be open. Be playful. Just be. We are human beings and not human doings.
This blog post comes from Holly Barber, aka The Eco Monkey – a certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide and wellbeing through nature connection practitioner. She runs sessions both in person (in West Sussex) and online (via Zoom) – and TOG followers can get 20% off sessions by using the promotional code TOG20. For more details and to book please see the Eco Monkey website.