Forest bathing is the practice of immersing yourself in nature, by being quiet and still amongst trees. Here we explore the mental health benefits, as well as some surprising, self-reflective lessons

We instinctively know that getting outside can make us feel better, even if we only have a few minutes a day. Forest bathing is a way of deepening our connection with nature, it’s shown to have widespread benefits for health and wellbeing, and has grown as an antidote to the stresses of modern-day living.

It’s essentially the practice of slowing down and immersing ourselves in our natural surroundings – something that we can all do, no matter whether it’s in a forest, a park, or even a tree-lined street.

In the presence of Covid-19 and beyond, our bond with nature will continue to play an important role in healing and sustaining wellbeing. If you’re thinking about developing your relationship with nature and joining a guided forest bathing experience for the first time, you may encounter some surprising benefits...

1. Slowing it down

One of the first things you’ll notice is the slow pace of forest bathing. It’s not a hike, or even a walk with a destination, it’s about pausing to fully immerse yourself in nature. We’re so used to living life at a frantic pace, it can be challenging to decelerate. That’s why a forest guide will spend time easing participants through that transition, so you can gradually adjust to the pace of the natural environment. When you learn how to pause, it helps switch your nervous system from fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest mode, which allows for relaxation and healing.

2. Heightened senses

With each invitation from the guide to take in more of your surroundings, your senses become awakened to the sights, sounds, touches, smells, and even tastes around you. We’re accustomed to filtering out our senses, so many people are surprised by the intensity they experience once they’ve allowed themselves to be fully immersed. For example, you might begin to notice the faintest rustle of the trees, an insect sheltering in the curls of a leaf, the smoothness of a pebble, or the earthy flavour of woodland fruit. Things we normally miss or ignore, become more visible and potent.

3. Feeling of presence

When we become more aware of our senses and respond to them immediately, we adjust into a different state of being that’s alive to the present moment. It can be an enlightening experience when we start to notice new physical and emotional sensations – an embodiment of a deeper sense of awareness where we remember we’re part of nature, rather than separate from it. Nature has an amazing capacity to take us out of our default settings and reawaken thoughts, associations and memories, which is why forest bathing is a unique and deeply personal experience for everyone.

As adults, seldom do we have an opportunity to allow that natural childlike curiosity to lead us somewhere and express ourselves

4. Awakened curiosity

Forest bathing encourages us to be curious, and reconnect with our ability to freely explore and play in nature. It depends on the emotion and energy you experience at the time, but you might be drawn to walking barefoot, creating a pattern with twigs, or simply lying under a tree to watch it swaying in the breeze. As adults, seldom do we have an opportunity to allow that natural childlike curiosity to lead us somewhere and express ourselves. It can be a liberating feeling that can lighten the burden of worry, stress, pain, or trauma.

5. Building relationships

Far from a solitary experience, forest bathing can spark powerful connections and relationships with the guide, others, and the forest itself. In small group experiences, people come together to share reflections if they wish to, which creates a trusting bond that encourages bravery and openness. Even when it’s just an individual and the forest, people often feel a sense of reciprocal connection and communication. Many express a sense of falling back in love with nature, deeper gratitude, and a compulsion to protect the forest and the wider natural world.

Forest bathing is open to everyone. You don’t need to have any particular fitness or knowledge of nature, and there are even virtual experiences you can do at home. I invite you to start building a deeper connection with your natural surroundings – you might be surprised what that brings for you.