So, what is forest bathing all about…?

bathing, Tudor Farmhouse Hotel. Clearwell, Forest of Dean

Everyone seems to be talking about Foresting Bathing. Is it a bath, a walk or just a passing wellbeing fad? We decided it was time to head into the woods and find out for ourselves. We are based in the heart of the Forest of Dean and are so lucky to have Carina Greenwood, an expert in all things Shinrin Yoku (the Japanese for foresting bathing) literally on our doorstep and on hand to take our guests out on private experiences.

We met up with Carina and followed her in the car to one of her special woodland locations just a few minutes away. Here she has developed what she called a ‘nested space’ for the group to have as an area for exploring the forest within the boundaries she set.

She explained to us how forest bathing has recently grown in popularity coming over from Japan where the activity has become huge and pretty much accepted as a mainstream wellbeing practice. It also recently hit the headlines as the theme for the Duchess of Cambridge’s Chelsea Flower Show garden. Carina explained how there is a lot of scientific research which really confirmed how the activity can help to reduce stress, improve mental wellbeing, facilitate relaxation and offer a refreshing digital detox from our busy modern lives. In fact there is a lot of research that goes well beyond the mental benefits and is pointing towards the many more acute physical benefits.

We were to take part in a three-hour class, literally ‘bathing’ our senses in the forest whilst exploring our defined area and taking part in optional activities, ending with a foraged tea ceremony. Nothing was compulsory, so if we wanted to spend the whole morning just sitting amongst the trees with our eyes closed and relaxing on our own that would be fine too.

Carina helped to facilitate our experience by suggesting four different ‘invitations’ that we could take part. These are just different ways in which you can mindfully enjoy the environment you are in and ranged from slowly exploring a small section of woodland whilst focusing only on movement, colour or smell, to working with a partner and being guided with your eyes closed to a particular spot before opening your eyes to enjoy a totally new perspective. Another invitation asked us each to find a tree that we felt really drawn to and simply sit quietly with it, gazing into its branches or even dozing off; whatever we felt like.

After each invitation, we came back together and sat in a circle to discuss, if we wished, what we had all ‘noticed’ during our time, anything from specific sounds or colours to how we felt about our experience. We passed around a ‘talking stone’ and were invited to speak when it reached us- though verbal contribution is always completely voluntary. This helped us to tune into our senses and before long we were all noticing small details which would usually pass us by, from the sound of buzzing flies and crunching twigs to the warmth of the sun hitting our faces and the smell of wet leaves and moss as the temperature increased.

Afterwards we all discussed how relaxed we felt and we took part in a special foraged tea ceremony, combining fruit and nuts with freshly brewed pine tea. This gave us the chance to ask Carina any further questions we had on Forest Bathing and its history, as well as giving us time to reflect on the experience. Before we headed home, we poured the last of our tea into the carpet of leaves to thank the forest for having us, and all promised, in our own way, to continue this journey. We also helped Carina with a spot of what she called ‘wild tending’, the act of clearing up the forest picking up a few pieces of rubbish we had found and taking it home with us.

We came away feeling completely refreshed and utterly relaxed, all really enthused to go and explore nature much more mindfully in the future. We were also really reminded of all the benefits of simply slowing down and enjoying our surroundings wherever you are.

It also proved to be one of the best night’s sleep many of us had had for a long time. Coincidence? Maybe. But we felt unlikely as all of the group were raving about the deep refreshing sleep they had experienced the following morning. It was as though those few hours in the woods have ‘reset’ us all. Try it for yourself, you won’t regret it!

For details of our Soul Soother package which includes a session with Carina, click here.