Forest bathing – an invitation to reconnect with nature

I tried something different and went on a forest bathing walk.

It was last December, in the beautiful woods of Newtown Mountkennedy, Co Wicklow, by the Altidore River. Six of us were invited to leave behind the hurried pace of modern life and slow down and breathe in the forest.
To wake our senses to the sights, sounds and smells of the forest.
To bathe in the dappled winter light and surrender mindfully to the grounding effect of the trees.

By the end, a sense of deep calm and gentle nourishment had washed over me. It was a beautiful experience all round. 

Forest bathing – no swimsuit needed!

This age old practice of nature immersion, known as shinrin-yoku in Japan where, since the 1980s, it has been prescribed as an antidote to tech burnout, among other things, is something I had wanted to try for a while, especially since reading For the Love of Trees (affiliate link).

So when my friend and fellow activist Rachel Dempsey said she has trained as a forest bathing guide, I jumped at the chance. I couldn’t recommend her gentle guidance highly enough. Through a series of invitations, Rachel creates a safe space for all participants to relax and open up, free of the fear of judgement.

Forest bathing is a meditative practice which deepens our connection to nature and which is proven to have many mental, physical and emotional benefits.

Rachel explains, “During the two and a half hour experience, you will be led through the forest and be invited to engage with your surroundings through your senses, letting go of ordinary daily life and fully immersing yourself into this magical, ethereal space. This will be an opportunity to slow down, to notice your surroundings, to breathe with the forest, to let go and to recharge. The group will be small to ensure social distancing. The walk includes invitations to reflect on our experiences, if so desired, and concludes with some wild tea and snacks.”

Unlike what the name might imply, there is no getting into water, no learning about trees or plants, nor will we walk for a long time!”

Now that the covid restrictions have lifted, Rachel offers monthly forest bathing sessions. In June, she asked me to take photos for her upcoming website.

Related / Similaire  Work with me / Contact

I went to the woods to photograph Rachel’s forest bathing session. Being there as an observer, I tried my best not to be intrusive. I obviously didn’t take part in the invitations, yet the participants accepted me as one of them. I got a lot out of the experience.

The wildflowers welcomed me too, lured me in. Not long ago, I would walk through a forest or a meadow and recognise only a couple of common flowers. I was blind, and now I see. Noticing wildflowers, naming them, photographing them to look them up later – it’s like a shortcut into nature connection, into that state of relaxed attention, of engrossed play that children get into when we let them. Here and now.

I did have moments of unadulterated nature connection. Moments when I lost track of time, of where I was and what for, and it felt like a pause, before coming back to the job at hand.

Related / Similaire  Wildflower Hour / A l'heure des fleurs sauvages

I was amazed at how candidly and openly the participants shared their expectations of forest bathing, and their experience of the process.

It was a privilege to hear their deep-felt hunger for connection with the living world and, underneath it all, that sense of loneliness as a species we humans have – something author Richard Louv explores in his latest book Our Wild Calling (affiliate link). Cut off from the wild, divorced from the Earth as a living being, we feel lonely in the vast universe.

For the last invitation, the partipants were encouraged to find a tree that was calling to them, and to feel its energy, even to talk to it if they felt like it. What they shared afterwards revealed such a depth of experience and feeling. 

One participant talked about the gnarled tree she sat under by the river, a tree marked by many scars which she saw as proof of its stubborn resilience. She regretted not really speaking to it, and mentioned that the tree suddenly started moving with unexpected force, even though the winds were light on the day. As if the tree was saying, “I hear you, I see you”.

During the last circle time, someone else talked about reconnecting with their inner child. That mum talked about how she would let her children run free in the woods, and how she never thought of doing it herself.

It is a sad state of affairs that as parents, we get so caught up in the demands of adulting, that we forget how to play and connect with nature in a childlike way. Thankfully there are now guides and experiences like forest bathing to bring us home. 

Related / Similaire  Roots grow down so shoots can flirt / Des racines et des ailes

Forest bathing in Wicklow

Forest bathing guide Rachel Dempsey

Rachel has trained as a Forest Bathing Guide with the Forest Therapy Institute, and will soon be fully certified (delayed due to Covid). Rachel Dempsey has been facilitating groups in Ireland and beyond, with a focus on wellness, creativity, change-making and sustainability for over 20 years. She believes that if we want the world out there to be better, fairer and more sustainable, we need to feel connected and resilient on the inside too. 

Rachel Dempsey
Forest Bathing Wicklow
Tel. +353 (0)86 309 7232
Email racheldem@gmail.com
Facebook @forestbathingwicklow
To book your place on upcoming forest bathing walks, see www.bookwhen.com/forestbathingwicklow

There is plenty of scientific evidence about the benefits of forest bathing, find out more on Nádúr Forest Therapy.

County Wicklow Partnership

Forest bathing is coming near you!

County Wicklow Partnership has recently recruited a dozen eco-tourism providers to be trained as forest bathing guides. The core vision is to promote the concept of wellness following the pandemic of Covid 19, by actively encouraging the awareness, training, development and growth of “being in and promoting the natural beauty” of County Wicklow. 

 

 

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