Your Guide To Nature Bathing: What Is It? And How Can I Do it?

"Nature bathing brings your focus very much to the present in the way that mindfulness does and has many benefits"

Off we pop every day on our silly little walks, to give our silly little heads some time to clear, a ritual so many of us have grown accustomed to in the last year. Except, it’s not silly at all, it’s doing more for your mental and physical health than you could ever imagine. A practise that has been recognised in Japanese culture for decades, ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ or ‘Nature Bathing’ may sound like a synonym for skinny dipping, but instead, it’s the act of spending time in a forested area (with your clothes on), taking in all of your surroundings. It’s like taking a bath, but instead of soaking in some bubbles (and a bottle of wine while you’re at it), you soak in an atmosphere, recharging your energy and treating your senses.

Yes, that all sounds a bit Spencer Pratt-y when he lost it for a bit on The Hills and brought crystals to the club with him, but nature bathing has real benefits, it’s enrichment for the soul and registered therapist Kemi Omijeh explains why, “Nature bathing brings your focus very much to the present in the way that mindfulness does and has many benefits,” she begins. “It helps you to regulate your emotions and improve your mood, it relieves stress and allows you to get better sleep. We are so preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of modern-day living that often we don’t get to connect with nature in a meaningful way.” 

For myself, I’m a city gal at heart, always have been, always will be. Not only am I a city slicker, I also dislike, nay, despise, any sort of physical activity. I’ve seen a sheep probably 4 times in my whole life, and I’d be embarrassed to share how many times my old p.e teacher threw his hands up in despair at my lack of participation. But for some reason, unbeknownst to me, I never feel more at peace than I do when I’m surrounded by woodland, and it seems I’m not the only one in love with the calm a forest brings.

Shirley Gleeson, the director at Ecowellness Consulting says that her connection to nature has been there since she was a young child, with its presence helping her through many difficult times in her life, “I always come back from a walk in the park, in the forest or by the sea in a much better mood. I gain greater clarity and perspective when I’m outdoors,” she says. “Being out in nature also helps me with intense emotions that arise, especially during the pandemic. Experiencing awe and wonder by simply looking at a glistening spider web or frosted leaves can help me realise that I am something small in the larger scheme of things and my problems are really put into perspective,” she continues.

Shirley is a Nature and Wellbeing Consultant and the Director of Ecowellness Consulting Ltd, a ‘Profit for Purpose’ business that reconnects people to nature through forest bathing experiences and workshops. Shirley explains that clients present themselves with a plethora of different reasons for wanting to touch base with nature, from feeling burnout to looking to escape city living for just a moment, but whatever their motivation, they all leave feeling as though the world’s been lifted off their shoulders, a feeling Shirley recommends everyone experiences. “I think everyone should give themselves the opportunity to really slow down and notice nature. We are all moving so quickly in this world, with so many competing demands that we seldom take time out to reconnect to ourselves, each other and the natural world. Simply going out into nature, in silence, slowing down, without any goals and just focusing on your 5 senses, what you can hear, taste, feel, touch and see can really be magical,” Shirley concludes. 

Giving the Japanese a run for their money, and conjuring up our own magic here on our shores, we Irish have been turning our attention to another outdoors activity that has surged in popularity in the last year, sea swimming. Although it’s not technically counted as Nature Bathing as it doesn’t take place in a forest, and yes, it’s one you do need a swimsuit (or wetsuit, depending on how brave you are) for, the benefits it provides to many people’s mental health is unrivalled.

Katie, STELLAR’s graphic designer explains to me how she’s carved out her own slice of wellness through sea swimming regularly, “If you start your day in the sea, you feel like you’ve already taken on the world, and if you end it in the sea, it’s like you’ve rounded off the day with a zen adventure,” she begins. Just like forest therapy, Katie says that taking a dip in the sea (summer or winter, might I add) does even more for her mental health than it does her physical, “That fresh feeling is hard to find anywhere else and as someone who experiences panic attacks, the opportunity to control my breathing in a safe space is invaluable. The best part of any swim is the cosy tea and chats afterwards with everyone! You see the same people most days and it’s a joy to create relationships and soak up the community.”

Going on to convince me that it might be time to root out the swimming hat, Katie added: “I would recommend it to anyone who feels stuck or isolated. It’s a great way to challenge yourself and meet new people. Often we don’t need much more than a familiar hello to turn the day around. Combine that with a plunge into the sea and it will begin to change your life!”

If you’re looking to get on board with being one with nature, but haven’t a notion where to start, Kemi says that the best way to begin is to wipe your mind clean of worries and expectations. “It’s best not to overthink it, and allow yourself and feelings to connect with what’s happening on the present moment,” Kemi says.

Of course, when it comes to finding peace and relaxation, there is no ‘one size fits all’, what works for one may not work for another, so it’s important to find a form of nature bathing that suits you, it could be in your local park, your garden, or the sea, there is no right or wrong place to enjoy nature in all its glory. However, whatever the location or situation, the one thing that always needs to be employed is your five senses, unlocking these will help you to take in and feel your surroundings, allowing you not just be physically present, but emotionally too, “What do you see, hear, and smell?” Kemi wants you to ask yourself first. “Take in your surroundings with all of your senses, can you touch anything? can you taste the freshness of the air? Notice these things and the feelings evoked in you and try to stay connected with that moment for as long as possible.”

So the next time you go off on your ‘silly little walk’, engage your senses and allow your mind to wander. In a year that has been filled with uncertainty and despair, it’s nice to remember that no matter what, mother nature isn’t going anywhere.

Images via Unsplash