Sarah Maxwell shares how she finally found calm in the middle of a forest

No matter how hard I try, I can only manage three minutes of meditation before I’m utterly distracted, bored or find myself doing something else. My monkey-mind won’t rest. I’ve tried listening to whale music, birds, bees and a rainforest, which only left me more stressed than I was before I started listening to it…

Many people swear by the Calm app – my husband is a huge fan – however as much as I love Stephen Fry’s voice, the sleep story about the lavender fields in Provence failed me. I listened right to the end and spent the next hour wondering what was going to happen next (when not thinking about tomorrow’s to do list). Those monkeys just keep chattering.

Then a friend suggested we tried forest bathing. You’ve got to be kidding, I told her; yomping for hours through a forest wilderness before jumping naked into a freezing, murky Shrek-like swamp pool and being bitten by bugs is so not my thing. My friend persisted – ‘it won’t be anything like that, come on – you’ll love it.’

So, purely in the interest of research, and having been promised I could drop out at anytime, I tagged along.

We met in a car park along with a few other newbies who were all looking equally apprehensive. But within minutes, our welcoming, gentle guide had instantly put us all at ease

We walked for just a few minutes – forest bathing isn’t about exercise so you don’t need to worry about fitness levels – before finding a comfortable space to settle. For some that meant sitting against a strong tree. Me? I did what was natural and lay face flat down with my head in my hands. ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ the Japanese for ‘Bathing in the Forest’ literally means to bathe your senses in the atmosphere of the forest and that is exactly what our guide encouraged us to do. I found that by tuning in to the sounds and smells of the forest I was less distracted by my endless to-do lists. I felt no pressure and if my mind wandered, by re-focusing my senses of hearing and smell it was easy to return to the incredibly immediate experience of being in the forest and discover sounds and smells I hadn’t previously appreciated. For once, the chattering monkeys were silent.

After what seemed like 20 minutes, I was shocked to learn 2 hours had passed and our session was over. I felt incredible – calm, peaceful and happy.

We’re told that being in nature contributes greatly to our overall wellbeing. Trees emit oils into the air (phytoncides) to help protect them from bacteria and damaging insects. These are also known to boost our immune systems, reduce depression, improve sleep quality, increase memory and boost energy. But the reality of this connected experience with nature really brought this all home to me.

Forest bathing facts

What is forest bathing? In one sense, it is about connecting to nature; think of it as mindfulness meditation in a natural environment.

Who is it for? For anyone struggling with calming their monkey mind (isn’t that all of us?). 

How long does it last? Sessions last between 2 and 3 hours in small groups with a guide. 

Where did it start? The Japanese developed and launched a national ‘Shinrin-yoku’ or ‘Bathing in the Forest’ health program in the 1980s.

Can I access it on the NHS? Believe it or not, forest bathing is now prescribed on the NHS as a ‘green prescription’ in Surrey and the results are amazing. I have no doubt it will be expanding throughout the rest of the country imminently. Watch this space.

Sarah Maxwell is a multi award-winning weight loss, lifestyle and fitness coach. Find out more about her work here: Facebook & Instagram: @sarahmaxlife Twitter: @sarahmax100

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