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What is Forest Bathing?
Simply put, forest bathing is the process of connecting to forests and other natural environments via all of one's senses. In 1982, the Japanese Forestry Department coined the term shinrin-yoku (literally, "forest bath") in an attempt to support health and wellbeing among the populace. Since then, research into nature connection has shown what many of us already intuitively know: That spending time in nature is good for us. National Geographic even devoted a special edition to understanding "Why we need wild" a few years ago - see, for example, this brief video below. Also feel free to visit Aardwolf's Facebook page for more information on forest bathing and upcoming events.
Below, I answer some frequently asked questions for people who are new to forest bathing.
What happens during a walk? Will we learn to identify plants? Will we be exercising?
During your forest bathing walk, I will guide you into slowing down and connecting to nature. I do this through a series of invitations which invite curious and sensory exploration of the area we are in. Invitations are not the same as activities or exercises, and you are free at all times to respond to invitations in a way that feels supportive and right for you in that moment. Most invitations are for individual exploration, but some invitations are extended to participants in pairs. From time to time, we gather along the trail to share insights and experiences with one another. There is no pressure for you to speak during these sharing circles if you do not wish to do so and no prescribed way for you to share. We end the walk with a tea ceremony where light snacks are served, along with a tea that is typically brewed from a plant which has been harvested on the trail. Our aim will be relaxation and connection to the more-than-human world around us, so the focus will not be on academic knowledge such as plant identification, or on strenuous exercise either.
How long does a walk typically take, and how far do we go?
Depending on the location, walks last between 2 and 3 hours (please check this when you make a booking at a specific venue). During this time, our aim is not to go far but rather to slow down and listen to each other, ourselves and nature. We do not walk far (no further than 2km), and move at a very gentle pace.
How does this differ from any other hike with a group of people?
Though we will be walking and stopping from time to time to share insights and experiences with each other, I would say the main difference lies in the intention we bring to a forest bathing walk. In a typical hike with a group of people, our intention might simply be to exercise or socialise. On a forest bathing walk, it is likely that the intentions we set will differ: We might hold the intention to connect with nature in a mindful way, to give generously of our attention, and not to rush. I like M. Amos Clifford's description of this from his book, Your Guide To Forest Bathing:
"Forest bathing is not the same thing as hiking. The destination in forest bathing is 'here', not 'there'. The pace is slow. The focus is on connection and relationship. Sometimes when I tell others about forest bathing, they will say, 'I have done that my whole life.' Maybe - but probably not. Most of us have never learned the art of stillness in nature."
Will the guide diagnose or prescribe treatment?
No. I am not a medical professional and will not diagnose or prescribe treatment in any way. At the ANFT we have a saying: "The forest is the therapist, the guide opens the doors." My sole task will be to gently help you to connect to your senses - there is no prescribed outcome for what you should experience during your walk. Forest bathing is best seen as a practice similar to any other that supports your overall wellness (for example, exercise): Engaging in this practice regularly can greatly support your wellbeing, but participating in walks should by no means be seen as an alternative to professional medical care.
Will we really be going to a forest?
Depending on the trail we are walking on, we might be lucky enough to experience smaller forest-like areas. Where I am based in the North West Province, the area is mainly grassland, and old-growth forests are not indigenous here. Don't worry though: we don't need to be walking in a forest for you to enjoy the benefits of connecting to nature. ANFT guides all over the world are guiding walks in environments ranging from tropical rain forests to deserts.
What should I bring?
I will email you with full arrangements and suggestions once you have booked your walk, but in general it's a good idea to wear comfortable clothing, bring enough drinking water and ensure that you are sufficiently protected from the sun. Also remember to bring any medication you may need during the walk, for example your asthma inhaler or EpiPen.
Do I really need a guide?
Anyone can spend time in nature and no, you do not need a guide to do that. You might consider forest bathing with a guide, though, to help you truly switch off and connect. So many of us go out for walks or hikes and end up still just running our to-do lists through our minds, obsessing about how that meeting went today, or continually checking our watches in order to make sure we'll be on time for our next appointment. ANFT guides are trained to gently slow you down and keep you present, as well as acting as a supportive witness for whatever it is you are experiencing in any given moment, without interfering with the process. A guide can also create a space in which you can rest assured that logistics, time management and safety are being taken care of so that you don't have to focus so intensely on those things.
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