Longing for inspiration and relaxation? Take a bath!

Most of us intuitively know about the healing power of nature. We know what it feels like to stop and take in the wonders of the natural world. To leave all worldly concerns for a while. To breathe the forest air and feel the restoration spread throughout the body.

This feeling of deep peace and inspiration is our natural state. But in the midst of the stress and demands of everyday life, we tend to forget. The good news is; nature has the capacity to remind us of our natural state. And it can be effortless!

The danger of forgetting our source

We are not separate from nature. We are part of it. We depend on it. This is ancient wisdom; native traditions across the world demonstrate a deep understanding of our interconnectedness with the natural world.

The way of modern life is a very recent reality for us. In evolutionary terms, us human beings have spent 99.9% of our time living in direct relation with the natural world. Having evolved in symbiosis with nature, our genens and bodies are not well adapted to carefully regulated environments with artificial lighting and long-term activation of the sympathetic nervous system.

While the comfort of modern life certainly has its benefits (something we should be grateful for!), it also cuts us off from the natural world. We tend to forget that we are children of the earth, which has real consequences. When we no longer feel part of nature, the environment becomes something to exploit, control and protect against. We see the symptoms of this separation everywhere we look – from the outer (the way we relate to our environment) to the inner (global health crisis).

Science is catching up

Seen from the lens of the scientific worldview, talking about intuitive wisdom and the healing power of nature sound like “woo-woo”. Luckily, the benefits of spending time in nature are easily measured. Science can now demonstrate what has been known for millenia.

“Since the dawn of civilization in Japan, when a patient suffers from stress, depression or anxiety, instead of a Prozac or Xanax, doctors prescribe soaking in the sights, sounds and especially the smells of the forest.”

We are slowly re-learning about the intricate and delicate interconnectedness of the environment and its effects on our health. The proven benefits range from reduced long-term stress and anxiety, improved concentration and sleep, to increase in overall wellbeing. A study by Roger Ulrich found that patience suffering from high stress recovered faster when they were exposed to natural rather than urban environments. Another study from 2019 found that MaryCarol Hunter found that nature experiences of 10 minutes three times a week reduced salivary cortisol by over 20% (and even more when the time of the experience was extended to 20-30 minutes).

Bathing in wonder

In modern society, we spend a lot of time in the mode of “intentional focus” (or “directed attention”), where we apply effort and will to bring about intended results. This is a useful capacity – but it easily gets overwhelmed and depleted. And it can never lead us to our natural state of relaxation and wellbeing. It is simply the wrong tool for the job.

Spending time in nature can be an antidote by shifting to what Rachel and Stephen Kaplan calls “soft fascination”. We stop the “doing” and drop into the deeper mode of “being”. Rather than trying to create a certain experience, we shift to a receptive and curious attitude. We open our senses and bathe in the atmosphere of the forest. In this way, we allow the forest to guide us and awaken our innate fascination, wonder and awe. We start to remember our Being mode (Sati, the Pali word for “mindfulness” also means “to remember”)

A guided forest experience

Taking a forest bathe it not a chore. It is not another item on your to do list. It is not something you should do because “it’s good for you”. Spending time in nature is a gift – something to look forward to! It is a time to connect with your inner peace, joy and inspiration. So how to do it?

There is not much you need to do. In fact, the less you do, the better! Trust your intuition and follow your fascination. Below, you will find inspiration for a 2 hour forest bath.

1) Go to your favourite place in nature. Bring comfortable and warm clothes, and perhaps some hot drink and snack. Put your phone on flight mode and prepare for a nice moment of stillness. Remember that this is a gift you are giving yourself!

2) Before you start, take a moment to set an intention (10 minutes). For the duration of the experience, let go of expectations and ideas around doing or performing. Invite a soft fascination and trust that the forest will guide you. You may also invite another intention that is alive for you in the moment, such as letting go of a particular problem, or connecting with your longing for peace, inspiration, health, etc.

3) Walking meditation (15 minutes). Start by moving slowly through the forest. Open your senses and take in the surrounding. Move slowly enough so that you can feel each step touching the earth. Stay connected with your breath stay open to whatever experience comes to you. Imagine that you are snorkling, smoothly flowing across the forest floor.

4) Sensory meditation (15 minutes). Find a place that invites you to stop and find stillness for a while. Perhaps leaning against a tree, sitting on a log or lying down in the moss. Begin by closing your eyes and connect with your breath. Feel your body resting on the earth. Feel the air against your skin and the sky above. Open up to the soundscape around you, letting each experience come and go without the need to control or judge. Breathe and take in the smell or taste of the forest air. Open your eyes and take in the visual world as if you are seeing the forest for the first time. Allow yourself to be fascinated by the colors, shapes, shadows, movements of the forest. Sit for as long as you like, scanning your sensory experience with curiosity and a sense of wonder.

5) Catch the waves of your intuition (60 minutes). Like a surfer waiting for a wave, be present to what awakens your playfulness and intuition – and go with it! Open your senses and let the forest guide you. Smell the air, feel the ground under you, look at the sky above, listen to the bird song, feel the rain, touch the trees. Invite a beginner’s mind and follow you interest and curiosity. This is not a time to perform or achieve. It is a time to be receptive, and to enjoy! Some invitations to explore:

  • Walk barefoot on the forest floor and feel each step “kissing the earth”. You may sense or imagine how the electromagnetic field from the earth touches your feet.
  • Explore different “rooms” in the forest, noticing how the atmosphere changes.
  • Take a small excursion and see what souvenirs or treasures you can find in the surrounding. Find an object and spend some time investigating it. Include all you senses! Contemplate its history and its connection to the rest of the forest.
  • Explore a micro environment. Perhaps a small part of the forest floor, a log, some plants, an ant nest. Invite a sense of wonder!
  • Spend some time with a tree. Observe it from a distance – what is it telling you? After a while, you may want to approach the tree. How does it feel to touch its bark, or hug it? Explore the root system and crown. Use your intuition. Perhaps you feel like communicating with the tree.
  • Lay down on the ground watching the tree tops sway in the breeze.
  • Observe the clouds.
  • Share with a friend – be creative and find ways to “surf” the invitations of the forest together. You may want to share what you sensing and how the experience is affecting you.

6) Sit in stillness (20 minutes). Find an inviting place where you can sit down for at least 20 minutes. Let go of the tendency to chase after some special experience. Instead, simply invite the forest to come to you. It may take some time to fully settle in and relax. Be patient. Enjoy the simplicity of just sitting. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. After a while, there may be an experience of the forest “coming to you”. Perhaps new levels of details start to reveal themselves to you, or you may find that animals begin to become curious of your presence.

Finding peace and inspiration in the forest can be easy!

I hope you feel inspired to create a forest experience by yourself. It can also be helpful with some guidance, ideally in company with a forest guide who can open up the door for you to enjoy a full nature experience. Listening to a guided voice on your phone while attempting to be present in nature may seem ironic, but it can give a taste or introduction for you to build on. Next time you’re in your favourite forest and feel inspired, you are welcome to try the “Forest experience meditation”.

Remember to enjoy!

Links and resources

Guided forest experiences in Gothenburg

Explore additional Frames

Short guided forest meditation

References and further reading: