I love running my group Forest Bathing sessions and creating a ‘togetherness’ within the group, but there are times when one just wants or needs to go Forest Bathing alone.
My mission is to ensure as many people as possible benefit from this nature-based practice, so here are 5 simple steps to going Forest Bathing session alone…guiding you through the process and showing you what to do, without me being there.
Sonya Dibbin xx
Before you set off…
Before you go Forest Bathing alone, here are some practicalities to consider:
I cannot overstate the importance of wrapping up warm. If you are cold, you won’t be able to relax into the experience. Wear comfortable clothes suitable for the weather and take two extra layers.
Ensure you also have a good rucksack or backpack and take with you:
· a sketchbook and/or journal
· a small, waterproof picnic mat (or a camping chair if getting down to ground level isn’t easy)
· a snack
· drinking water
· some tissues
Whilst I recommend turning your phone to aeroplane mode, you may feel comfortable leaving your phone at home. If you decide to do this, please be sensible. Plot your route in advance and tell friends or family exactly where you’re planning to go, what time and for how long. Even with a phone, it is not a bad idea to tell someone else your plans before you leave. More so if you are “heading off the beaten track” and signal may be an issue.
REMEMBER… if you don’t want to go to the woods alone, visiting your local park or even your own garden will do perfectly!
When you arrive…
Once you arrive in the forest or park, walk into a quiet part, ideally an area that you are already somewhat familiar with, so that you feel safe, relaxed and at ease. Remember, Shinrin-Yoku (the Japanese term for Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy) is designed to be a pleasurable experience, so invite as much enjoyment into your practice as you can.
Now, if you haven’t done so already, turn your phone off or to aeroplane mode, so that you won’t receive notifications. Silent mode isn’t good enough in case you want to take photos and as you look at your phone and you see messages and notifications waiting for you. On seeing these, you’ll be jolted back immediately into the ‘thinking mind’.
The aim of Shinrin-Yoku is to quieten the mind and reconnect with the body, emotions and breath. So do everything you can to help this happen, even when you are alone.
STEP 1 – Settle in with a sit spot
Bring your focus to the breath. Begin inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. I recommend breathing in for a count of 3 or 4 and out for 5 or 6.
Longer exhales activate the parasympathetic nervous system which aids relaxation. Wander slowly around the area until you feel you’d like to stop and sit for a while. I’d suggest sitting by a tree. Put a mat down if you like, and I like to pull my hood up so when I lean back, I don’t worry about creepy crawlies getting into my hair. Perhaps you prefer a camping chair and that’s also ok; you want to maximise your comfort and minimise unhelpful distraction.
Spend some time becoming acquainted with the area. Breathe deeply and slowly. Look up to the sky. Spend some time really noticing the colour of the sky and the appearance of the clouds. Bring your awareness to how the clouds move and their different layers and colours. Notice the branches and leaves in the canopy. Also notice any bodily sensations, feelings and emotions as they come.
We don’t often look up in this way, and it can be a very soothing experience. Looking at fractals (patterns that repeat smaller and smaller copies of themselves) such as branching trees are known to aid relaxation. And then slowly bring your gaze lower and lower, until you get to the forest floor. Look at the ground and really notice it, pay attention to what you see. Feel your physical connection to the earth beneath you, feel grounded, feel rooted, feel supported. Allow 20 minutes for this sit spot invitation.
STEP 2 – Focus on your sense of touch
Spend at least 20 minutes exploring your sense of touch with openness and curiosity.
Feel the breeze on your bare skin, as it blows across your face, your hands, and in your hair. Move your hands to face different directions and see how the experience changes for you. Feel free to remain seated or stand up and engage with your natural surroundings in this spot you’ve chosen. Touch the ground beneath you, the texture of the forest floor and the bark of the trunk you’re leaning on. Pay attention to how the different surfaces feel and notice whether it’s pleasant or not. Stay with it if it’s enjoyable.
I am often amazed at how smooth to the touch tree roots are, and how utterly sumptuous and squishy the moss is. Feel how it is for you to be supported by the tree and the ground. Feel connected and grounded and enjoy the sense of belonging. By going Forest Bathing alone, you have complete freedom to explore whatever you are called to explore.
If you feel drawn to sketch or journal, go ahead. I like to use the prompt, “Here in the natural world, I feel connected to…” and write, but sometimes I just like to doodle. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the breath and the present moment, acknowledge and thank the thoughts, and let them go. There are more sensory prompts in this beginner’s guide to Forest Bathing here...
STEP 3 – Take a slow walk noticing movement
Another Forest Bathing exercise you can do alone is to wander through the forest at a snail’s pace engaging all your senses. Focus on the movement around you for this invitation. Align your rhythms with the rhythms of the forest and return to your natural way of being (instead of rushing about or juggling multiple tasks). When you become aware of a particular sensory experience, stay with it there and see if you can connect with it more deeply. This could be noticing a dangling leaf spinning in the breeze and watching it for some time, with awareness of how you feel as you watch, or perhaps you become aware of the sound of the breeze blowing through the leaves, so stop awhile and listen. When you feel ready to move on, continue wandering very, very slowly.
Aim to cover no more than 100 metres in a 20-minute period noticing the movement and aliveness of the forest as you wander. This is v.e.r.y s.l.o.w so if it feels like you are dawdling and this brings up some discomfort, you are doing it ‘right’.
STEP 4 – Connect with gratitude when Forest Bathing alone
Wander again slowly, breathing deeply, noticing your surroundings. Using your body radar (your gut instinct), stop at a place where you’d like to spend some time. Using the natural materials around you build a gratitude gift (nature art) for someone or something in your life you feel thankful for. Take only what will help you and try to do minimal damage to any living beings. Feel into the feelings of gratitude as you create and allow any emotions or sensations in the body to be felt. Go ahead if you’d like to journal or sketch, and I often photograph my creation (but make sure your phone is on aeroplane mode, so you don’t see all the queued-up notifications as you open the camera app). Leave this gift in place when you finish, as a gift to the forest and anyone or anything else that passes.
STEP 5 – Take a Forest Bathing ‘Walk of Praise’
As you leave the forest, walk slowly and stop each time you notice something you are drawn to. It could be a moment of visual beauty, a scent, the support of the earth beneath you….When you do stop, find a way to acknowledge the moment through gratitude; some words, a touch, a bow or simply staying with that feeling of thanks for a while.
When you are ready, continue walking until you connect with the next thing that captures your attention, repeating the steps until you reach the edge of the forest.