It seems “Forest Bathing is the new Yoga”. There has been a plethora of media articles about Forest Bathing recently and retreat centres everywhere are beginning to advertise “Forest Bathing” as part of their offerings. It’s wonderful that the benefits of connecting with nature are being recognised and increasingly included in integrative health practices. However, I notice that what most articles describe and retreat centres offer are nature trails for you to wander at your own leisure. This concerns me, as there’s quite a distinction to make between a solo bushwalk and a guided practice in the Art of Connecting with Nature.
I wholeheartedly encourage people to spend time in nature on their own. Cultivating a solo wandering practice is one of the core routines of nature connection. However, if you’ve never experienced a wandering practice on a guided nature connection walk, you might not realise how different - how much deeper, more profound and even healing - such an experience can be when it is guided by a trained and experienced facilitator. Particularly if you are new to the idea of slowing down and being mindful in nature and this feels uncomfortable for you, there is an important distinction to make between practicing Forest Bathing (also being called Bush Bathing, Nature Bathing, Forest Therapy) on your own and participating (at least at first) in a guided experience.
Much like a Yoga, Tai Chi or other meditation practice, Forest Bathing or the Art of Nature Connection is a practice that you cultivate and become skilful at over time. This often occurs first with the mentorship of a guide and eventually you progress to develop your own personal practice. Having never seen or experienced Yoga before with a teacher, you would not attempt to design and perform your own practice. You wouldn’t know how to configure and sequence the postures, or what a vinyasa krama (logical sequence of steps) is, and so your practice wouldn’t be as effective as if you were to have those things first shown to you in a class. It’s the same with Nature Connection. It’s certainly something we can do own our own, but especially for us Westerners, whose default setting is to be efficient, to get things done quickly, to multitask and be productive, it is important to first experience Nature Connection with a guide.
One of the main roles of the guide is to slow people down and introduce the art and soulful practice of “Wandering”. A guided walk is typically 2-3hrs in duration but will cover no more than a kilometre. This is much slower and shorter than we would normally walk when going for a bushwalk. During the walk the guide facilitates sensory expansion and the art of paying mindful attention. They invite participants, through guided meditations and practices, to expand their awareness and open all their senses to the natural world. Invitations move far beyond the normal five senses we are acquainted with and into the territory of intuition, deep feeling, memory, play and imagination; realms that are understood in Indigenous ways of Knowing and Being. Because their awareness is so heightened, participants often have experiences with the more-than-human-world which they feel are significant, even profound. Guides are trained in the skills and perspectives needed to be supportive witnesses of these experiences.
An integral part of a guided Nature Connection walk is the sharing and witnessing of each other’s experience. Throughout the walk we gather in Council (circle) and practice really listening to others with our hearts. Being unguarded and sharing authentically without judging ourselves or others, cultivates a culture of deep support among participants for each other’s experiences and can be a wonderfully healing, grounding and connecting practice. When you go Forest Bathing or bushwalking on your own, you miss this very meaningful and transformative part of the experience.
The Nature and Forest Therapy Guide training which I have undertaken with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides is an in depth and immersive, 6-month course (not dissimilar in scope to a Yoga Teacher Training), in which the guide cultivates their own personal practice of deeply connecting with nature. They improve their eco-literacy, knowledge of the natural world and how to work in partnership with it. They also learn how to create safe and supportive spaces and bear witness to participants’ experiences, which may be profound. Many guides also have other professional qualifications such as counselling, occupational therapy, psychology, social work, environmental education and yoga / meditation teaching, which enrich their own practice and guiding of nature connection. The guide’s ability to partner with the natural world and facilitate expanded sensory experiencing opens possibilities for participants to connect with nature in much more intimate and meaningful ways than they ever have before.
So, you can see there is quite a lot more to a Nature Connection Walk than you might think, and significant differences between guided and solo experiences of “Forest Bathing”. My hope and intention in guiding is to introduce people to the Art of Connection with Nature so they will see the necessity of it and be inspired to go on and develop a personal practice, for their own wellbeing and that of the world.
Time and time again when I lead walks, I witness the individual and collective consciousness of the group profoundly shift in the time between the beginning of the walk and the end. The relationships deepen, the witnessing of each other’s experiences connects us, and our perception of the life around us and within us heightens. I am an avid bushwalker and outdoorswoman. I can’t say the same for other recreational activities in nature or bushwalks. The Art of Nature Connection is quite a different practice. It helps us to cultivate a deeper, more intensely alive and soulful relationship to life. I invite you to come and experience it with me.
Please visit my events page to find upcoming walks.
If you are a yoga or meditation retreat centre and you would like to offer guided Nature Connection experiences to your participants, I can facilitate these for you on your premises. Retreat settings are ideal for deep nature connection work. Please contact me to find out how we can work together.