As we walked through the gate, one by one, we stepped into another realm – a world apart from the one we usually inhabit. Pausing for a moment, I set my intention and asked the forest to help me find peace and a sense of calm. For the next four hours, I touched, smelt, heard and even tasted the forest during a wonderful mindful journey with Helena, our guide from Forest Bathing Sussex.
Helena Skoog, a Swedish Yoga Instructor, has been living in the forest ‘off-grid’ for over eight years. I joined her for a Forest Bathing experience in a private woodland near East Grinstead, West Sussex.
On a lovely morning in May, we met by a meadow and after a brief introduction, she asked us to spread out and walk towards the forest. Before leaving the meadow we sat down to allow our minds to catch up with our bodies and become present. As Helena explained, our bodies may have arrived at the meeting point a few minutes ago but our minds will most likely be elsewhere.
Following some breathing exercises, we slowly walk towards a gate into the forest. As instructed, we spread out and one by one, pass through the gate. After a short walk we lie down and Helena leads us through the first of several guided meditations. As the morning progresses I become more and more relaxed feeling at home amongst the trees.
We touched, smelt, heard and even tasted the forest, giving each other plenty of space. Apart from Helena, we rarely spoke.
By the end of the four hours, as we walked through another gate and stepped out of the forest, the sun was shining brightly. I felt calm and invigorated. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave.
The day ended sitting around a fire, drinking foraged herbal tea and chatting. It must have been another half hour, maybe an hour, before we somewhat reluctantly went our separate ways.
What is Forest Bathing and why is it so good for us?
As Helena explains, “Forest Bathing (Shinrin-Yoku) is a traditional Japanese awareness meditation, proven to be a profound antidote to anxiety, depression, fear and tension.” The term was first used in Japan in the 1980s when it was recognised that not only did we need an antidote to our high-tech, high-stress lifestyles but also that the forests needed our protection.
Spending time in nature is a wonderful stress buster be it by the sea, in a park or up a mountain. However, being amongst the trees you have the added advantage of being immersed in phytoncides, a compound emitted by all plants as part of their metabolic process. Immersing ourselves in phytoncides has been proven to boost our immune systems. I’ve read the effect can last for about 30 days.
How to Forest Bath?
If you want to try forest bathing for yourself, simply walk through woodland alone or with a group BUT if you are with others, you must agree to give each other space and not to talk. This allows you to be fully present in the forest. Quietly sit down, meditate or lie on your back gazing up at the canopy of leaves above you. Enjoy the forest with all your senses.
You’ll need to take something waterproof to lie or sit on. Even if the weather has been dry the forest floor can be surprisingly damp. Your bodies will also lose heat so do wrap up warmly with layers you can take on and off. Even on a hot day under the shade of the trees, it can be surprisingly cool.
There are many wonderful woodlands throughout Sussex. One of my favourites is Nore Wood in West Sussex. You can find a circular walking route here, Nore Wood Walking Route.
Once a month make time to walk amongst the trees, be it in your local park or somewhere wilder. To really get the most out of the experience find a quiet, remote woodland or better still join Helena, from Forest Bathing Sussex, and immerse yourself in Forest Bathing.
How to book an experience with Helena, Forest Bathing Sussex?
A four-hour Forest Bathing experience can be booked with Helena via Airbnb Experiences. Read more about Helena on her website, Forest Bathing Sussex.
Travel Blogger ‘Travel With Kat’ and Co-founder of Sussex Bloggers