Powerful forest bathing technique to reduce anxiety
The restorative power of nature and the development of our connection to it is the most powerful natural healing we can access. It is safe, free, easy and extremely effective with no unwanted side effects.
One of the techniques I teach is how to use the senses to bring ourselves out of our heads and into our bodies. When we are stressed and anxious we tend to be stuck in our heads; we overthink, over analyse and cannot switch off, and it can leave us feeling exhausted yet unable to sleep.
Forest bathing: A technique to reduce anxiety
Experiencing the world through our senses connects us with our bodies, taking us out of our heads and reducing our anxiety.
When we practice this technique in nature, we not only connect with our bodies but we connect with the earth or Mother Nature. The truth is we ARE nature - there is no separation - so when we practice this we experience a feeling of coming home to ourselves, of treating ourselves gently and with care.
Spending time in nature activates the parasympathetic nervous system; this is the system that is responsible for our bodies rest, digestion and ability to repair and fight infection and disease.
Studies have shown reduced levels of cortisol in the saliva when we spend time in nature - just 15 minutes will show a reduction in blood pressure, and people’s ability to problem solve is increased when immersed in a natural environment. We can also develop our creative selves through spending time in nature.
Using your five senses
The first part of this technique is to find yourself somewhere in nature where you won’t be disturbed. It can be a private garden, a park or a countryside walk; it might not be totally private, but passing the odd dog walker will not be a problem for this practice.
Next, focus on your sense of sight, take in as much detail as you can, notice the bark on the trees, the leaves moving in the breeze and any squirrels watching you from above. Stop and look at the flowers, and I mean really look at them - take in their beauty with your eyes. Look at every part of the flower and allow yourself to wonder.
The next sense is hearing; notice all the sounds around you, notice the bird song, the rustling of the leaves and any distant traffic sounds entering your awareness.
Follow this with the sense of touch; place your hands on the bark of a tree and pay attention to how it feels, pick up some fallen leaves and touch them with your full attention. Notice if anything feels different to how you expected. Find contrasting textures like moss and dry twigs.
Next, focus on your sense of smell; what can you notice as you walk, can you pick anything up and pay full attention to how it smells? Do you find it pleasant or unpleasant?
The fifth sense is taste; can you taste anything in your mouth? Are there the remnants of taste from your breakfast or lunch in your mouth? If you are an experienced forager or confident that you can identify an edible plant or berry like a blackberry, which is easily identifiable, you could slowly place it on your tongue and eat it very slowly to really experience your sense of taste, but please do not do this if you are at all unsure.
Finally, continue the walk engaging all your senses.
This technique should be practised at a slow pace and as often as possible. Take your time and gently bring your awareness back to your senses if your mind wanders to worrying or thinking. It is a practice and if done regularly it can have permanent benefits to your mental health.
You can also use this technique (sped up) as an emergency response to chronic anxiety, a panic attack or just to relieve anxiety before entering a shop or your work etc. Instead of taking your time investigating through your senses, just name things you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste.
This technique is great to do with children too. I like to use woodland animals that rely heavily on certain senses to teach this technique, so we can pretend we are one of these animals to really engage with that particular sense.