The Art of Forest Bathing

WILD-21 tree lean webLife is intense. Beautiful, scary, heartbreaking, mundane, devastating. In constant flux. From an early age I understood on some deep level that I required regular immersion in the natural world without distraction. It is as important to my health as the food I consume and the movement I take. When my mind is racing and I’m faced with all my fear, Mother Nature is here for me. ‘You are held’ she whispers as I sink down into the cool earth.

How do I connect? I listen. I breathe slow. I feel each texture; grass that itches, rough bark, sun that is too hot, a delicious breeze. I know I cannot control them. I simultaneously let go and come alive.

Why is connection to nature so important?

The term biophilia is used to describe the connection all humans subconsciously seek with the natural world. We all have this within us, whether we realise it or not. When we deny this basic need we suffer. When we become disconnected from the wild earth we become disconnected from our own wild hearts. This leads us to the illusion that we are seperate from each other, other species and the natural world. This feeling of separation isolates us and causes suffering and fear. It is from this fear that harmful actions, words and thoughts arise.

In my experience a disconnect to nature brings up fear of the unknown which leaves us feeling closed. The mind is a fickle thing. Have you ever noticed how your mind tries to talk you out of something due to fear of discomfort, how quickly your thoughts turn to what might go wrong? This fear can leave us paralysed and stagnant, stuck in the ‘safe-zone’ that is actually the most dangerous place to be. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about fear, the best way to let it go is to run towards it with open arms.

Shinrin – Yuko (forest bathing)

The Japanese practice of forest-bathing, being present and engaged with your senses in wild places, without an agenda has been proven to boost the body’s cancer defences by increasing the ‘natural killer’ cells in the immune system. The practice also lowers heart rate and blood pressure, reduces stress hormone production and improves feelings of well being. I’ve been naturally forest-bathing since I was very young as I grew up in a remote area of England and was encouraged by my parents to seek connection with the natural world. However for those living in urban environments, going into the wild with no set ‘mission’ to achieve may not be immediately intuitive therefore guidance is helpful.

This inspired us to run our first ‘forest bathing session’ at our Wild Hearts Retreat in February. I was amazed by the joyful energy that came over the group as soon as they let go of their resistance to the uncomfortable. We explored sensory exploration on the forest floor, using touch, smell and sound to absorb nature’s healing. It’s incredible how much you notice when you stop and look. The co-operation of ants as they work together to build their nests. The intricate geometrical patterns on a fallen leaf. The inquisitive nature of birds. These natural works of art invoke a feeling of contentment that is a welcome balm to the consumerist world.

Breaking free from comfort zones

Nature can be uncomfortable, just like life.

It causes us a great deal of suffering when we strive to eliminate discomfort. We miss out on magical, liberating experiences for the sake of staying within our comfort zones. The first step out of this trap is to be aware of our resistance. Why do we feel reluctant to get rained on, to get mud on our clothes or walk barefoot on the forest floor?

Yes, we will probably get scratched by the branches, we might get stung by ants, maybe attacked by spiders. It’s easier to heal broken skin than a broken spirit. Nature is messy, chaotic and WILD but so are we. We are so much more courageous, compassionate and resilient than we give ourselves credit for.. The silent, spiritual revolution of rewilding our hearts begins here.

3 Ways to Connect with Nature

  1. Find a sitting spot

The emphasis is on doing less not more. Unravelling ourselves from the Gordion knots we’ve tied through busy schedules and endless to-do lists. Find a spot that feels calming. It may be under your favourite tree or overlooking the ocean. Connect with your breath. Turn off your phone (better still, don’t even take it with you), remove all distractions and sit for at least 20 minutes. Notice the textures around you, the way your body feels against the rock, sand or earth. Notice all the patterns in the sky and delight in the animals, birds and insects who pass you by. The stiller you get, the more you see.

  1. Play ‘looking at earth closely’

Pick a patch of earth or rock or sand and really study it. Dig around with your fingers, see the root systems of each plant that is present. Contemplate the interconnectivity that occurred for that plant to be there. Contemplate how long this rock, earth, sand has been here and how long you’ve been here. See the intricate eco-system that exists within this small place and know that you are a part of that eco-system.

  1. Go barefoot

 Wherever you are, go outside, take off your shoes and step onto the earth, grass or sand (cement or concrete wont have the same effect).

We tend to spend most of our time outside wearing shoes, which reduces the healing effect we can get from the earth. A review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health looked at a number of studies that highlight how drawing electrons from the earth improves health. One particularly compelling investigation, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that earthing increases the surface charge of red blood cells. As a result, the cells avoid clumping, which decreases blood viscosity. High viscosity is a significant factor in heart disease, which is why so many people take blood thinning aspirin each day to improve their heart health. Another study in the same journal found that earthing may help regulate both the endocrine and nervous systems. Do your own study and experience how you feel mentally, emotionally and physically after walking barefoot on natural surfaces. Even better, roll around in the mud with your entire body!

“Rewilding is an expression of love. It is our response to the unspeakable wonder and amazement of creation itself. The new social revolution that centres on rewinding our hearts is a silent and spiritual movement that honours simplicity.” – Marc Bekoff (Rewilding our Hearts)

We’d love to get wild with YOU! Join us for our workshops and retreats, check out all the details here

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