FOREST BATHING: HOW TO FIND YOURSELF IN THE FOREST
What is it exactly that creates a sense of peace within us when we spend time in nature? Is it the stillness of the trees, the warmth of the sun or the sweetest in the air that eases the mind? Perhaps it’s a combination of everything – the sheer majesty of natural creation that is infinitely abundant on our planet.
The essence of Earth is unconditionally giving, it silently supports us from below as we walk our path through life. As we sit with the Earth, in a place like a forest, we can connect to more subtle energies that govern reality and dive deeper into ourselves.
In Japan, there is a type of nature therapy called forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, which translates to bathing in the forest atmosphere. Originally developed in the 1980’s, this healing modality has been around for centuries but has recently gained popularity in conscious communities over the past decade.
Typically, there is no exercise involved, you simply be in the forest. But to help us get to this calm and present state, forest bathing usually starts with something like a walk, meditation, tai chi or any mindful activity that you enjoy.
Numerous studies show that spending time in nature lowers our stress level, increases our focus and helps ease experiences of anxiety and depression. The calmness of a forest easily creates a sense of peace we can relax into, but that’s something that can be difficult to feel on a busy city street.
There is something divinely sacred about nature that can easily get overlooked in our modern world that often requires us to live in cities or places where nature is limited to a park.
Taking the time to find large spaces of nature can be transformational for your health, especially when paired with the following meditation!
SURRENDERING TO SILENCE
The sacred space of a forest acts like a mirror. As you sit in nature, you may immediately find your mind trying to grasp onto any thought it can and pull you out of the moment. You may feel bored or like you’re wasting time, and these are all clever tricks of the ego – a natural defence mechanism to protect us from the unknown. The forest asks us to go within, a task that can seem daunting at first.
This is because the silence of the forest stares us in the face, it’s stillness seeps into our soul and all we can do is surrender to it, if we are willing. The forest makes us face ourselves – it reflects back to us a certain calm that allows us to explore ourselves in way that feels safe and supported. Sit against a tree, and the Earth has literally got your back.
This type of natural setting is incredibly powerful to meditate in, especially if it’s an emotional integration meditation. This kind of meditation allows us to explore tough emotions, past traumas and experiences in our life that have fundamentally shaped who we are. In this, we can release attachments, reprogram mental patterns and free ourselves emotionally.
THE EXPANSIVE BREATH
When we need to “integrate” something, this means we first have to be present and centred in order to see and understand it clearly. This breathing technique will help us get really grounded in our bodies, heighten our senses and help us to enter the meditation with ease. This breath is simple yet powerful and can be done for as long as feels right for you.
To start, find a place in nature that is distraction free where you can sit comfortably. Keep your spine straight, legs crossed, forehead tilted down slightly and hands either folded in your lap or on either knee with palms open. Breath steady and slow, bringing the breath all the way down to your stomach, allowing it to puff out slightly.
The breath starts with an inhale for one second, and an exhale for one second. Then an inhale for two seconds, and exhale for two. This goes all the way up to ten, and then back down to one. When the breath is the longest at ten seconds, allow it to be as slow and steady as possible. This extended breath will allow more oxygen into our lungs, creating a possible tingly sensation in our body.
Continue this as long as you need to, using your intuition. If your mind is still pulling your attention, release any judgement and continue breathing until you can start to relax more deeply into your being.
As you reach this stillness, return your breathing back to a normal flow, ensuring each inhale and exhale is at least 4 seconds in length. Keep the breathing deep and steady.
FACING YOURSELF IN THE FOREST
From a space of calm clarity and with the support of the nature around you, begin this integration. This integration has you start by asking yourself: “What wants to come forward?” Allow the emotions, thoughts and sensations to start to reveal themselves. Many times, when we ask this, the first thing we get is resistance.
We may think we aren’t doing this properly but this is all part of the integration. It can be painful to look at aspects of ourselves that we push aside, so our ego tries to protect us by bringing up resistance or distracting thoughts. When this happens, acknowledge the feeling and ask it to step aside. What is beyond this resistance?
If it’s more resistance, gently ask it to step aside again and repeat this as many times as needed. This experience will eventually shift to reveal a deeper emotion. Sometimes what we need to integrate is something simple like a frustration we had at the store last week. Sometimes, if we are ready, we can dive right into old traumas that are holding us back.
Once we begin to re-experience these memories, it is key to keep your breathing as deep and refined as possible, as this will allow the emotions to flow through us and not get stuck. As we explore the sensations in our mind, body and spirit, begin to see the experience through a lens of compassion and non-judgement. The more we shine the light of consciousness on an intense emotion or a trauma, the less power it has over us. When we continually look at it and add compassion to our internal gaze, we can start to deconstruct the deeper, divine reasons we experienced it and what the core lessons are to learn from it.
With the support and stillness of the nature around us, we can trust that we are truly safe to explore even the most tough experiences and shift our perspective of them. The more we practice this, the deeper we can connect to ourselves, and in turn, to those around us.