My name is Jeanie and I am a Certified Associated Nature Forest Therapy guide. I became so because I noticed how sensitive dogs were, in particular when in a natural setting such as a woodland. They seemed to pick up things that I was oblivious to and I felt jealous. I was so much in my thoughts with no idea what my body was feeling when amongst trees and other vibrant beings. Yes, I was a Sacred Drummer, a practise that brought alive incredible elements for me, but I was still not connected to all the senses available to my body. I therefore wanted to learn a practice that would speak to my animal nature in a deeply profound way.
One evening I found myself standing in a very special moorland and nature reserve in Somerset. Everything was so still, yet my body somehow felt all life vibrating around me. My feet was were embraced by a cushion of camomile delighting my smelling sense with an intoxicating apple like fragrance. My nose had never felt so awake to such incredible scent . And then I heard the sound of frogs who had come to meet and mate, they were talking to each other. I felt as if I was standing at the front door of their home. I was greeted by an orchestra of voices and a language I didn’t understand with my everyday mind, yet my body seemed to know.
Everything about me felt awake, in tune, and very much alive that evening. It was my asthmatic lungs that smiled with immense gratitude. The normally contracted airways relaxed and greeted the air that was sweet and pure. I decided to sleep in my van with an open door for the night and felt cradled and cared for by this land.
It seems to me that we cut our lives off from such contact and interchange with other shapes of life, such as the gurgling night chorus of those frogs. We have closed ourselves to the life of our senses, numbed to the felt intelligence of our muscled flesh, essentially a human animal body.
Other beings of none human flesh speak a language in movements gestures and sounds, we no longer recognise or feel. “The other beings that live on this earth may not speak with a human tongue of words, they do though ‘speak’. It may be in a song, like birds, or in the croak of the frogs I heard that evening. Indigenous people do understand such forms of expressive speech, which is assumed to be as communicative as our language of expression. Communication on this earth is considered not a human possession, but the property of the animate earth in which we humans communicate, participating equally. We have forgotten this inherent part of who we are.
David Abraham is an inspirational writer on “Becoming Animal” *1, blurring the boundaries between human and animal mind. His descriptions bring an ache to my senses with evocative words. For example when guiding us to explore how our verbal communication weaves with everything around us
“Our language gusts through us — our sounded phrases are borne by the same air that nourishes the cedars and swells the cumulus clouds “
Essentially we are all breathing beings that share the same air, skies and earth. We have disconnected from the honourable experience of taking the time to smell the aroma rising from the soil, sharing our breath like all creatures on this earth.
So dear reader, here is a question to guide your embracement of life. What would it feel like to bow down low to the earth and know that you are not at all the centre of this story, as I did that night? That your journey is bound up with the becoming of the more than the human world?
David Abraham offered an invitation
“Wander over to an Oak tree, reach out your hand to feel the surface of a single many pointed leaf between your thumb and fingers. Note the coolness of that leaf against your skin, the veined texture your fingertips discover as they roam across it. But notice too, another slightly different sensation: that you are being touched by the tree. That the leaf itself is gently exploring your fingers, it’s pores sampling the chemistry of your skin, feeling the smooth and bulging texture of your thumb even as the thumb moves upon it. As soon as we acknowledge that our hands are included within the tactile world, we are forced to notice this reciprocity: whenever we touch any entity, we are also ourselves being touched by that entity”
Forest therapy was inspired by the Japanese in the 1980’s, following scientific studies conducted by the government. The practise is called Shinrin Yoku, which translates as Forest Therapy. It means to let nature into your body through the 5 five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.
Forest Bathing came about as a response to a public health crises in Japan with high level of stress at work and a worrying spike in rates of autoimmune diseases. This was because people were spending long periods of time indoors sat-sitting behind their computers and screens becoming inactive and prone to illness.
The Japanese Government supported research initiatives to connect humans with the Forest environment. They discovered that trees keep themselves healthy by showering themselves in chemicals called phytoncides. When a tree is attacked by a fungus or other organism, the tree diffuses these phytoncides into the air, and they seek out and kill the attacking fungus. Now, the amazing thing is us humans have a very special reaction when we inhale phytoncides because they improve our immune system!
So, simply going into the Forest can be considered a preventive treatment for very serious disease and it is now one of the cornerstones of Japan’s national health programmes.
Other factors also add to the forests’ therapeutic value like; awakening the senses to the variations of different colours, shapes, textures, patterns, sounds, aromas, movement, sunlight, and the feeling of being grounded in the elements.
Sound travels and spreads in layered patterns of information. In these ways , and more the atmosphere is much like the ocean . The air around us is an ocean in which we have always bathed. The air through which we walk is in many ways similar to water as it moves in currents and flows in waves. You can see this when looking at the sky and the patterns of floating clouds. If you look carefully you will also notice that it is inhabited by a living ecosystem, from the glittering strands of breeze borne silk to insects and birds. It carries pollen and wind borne seeds , along with soil and fungal spores *4
In Forest Bathing we immerse the senses in the special qualities of the fluid oceanic ambience of the Woodlands. We walk slowly so we can focus our senses on the myriad ways the living forest surrounds and touches us.
“Feel the breeze on your skin
Hear the gurgling voices of the brook
The calls of the birds
The movement of the trees in the wind”
By giving attention to our senses you turn down the volume on your constant thinking mind, bringing you into the present moment where you can receive all the Forest has to offer you, welcoming it, letting it settle inside of you. When the Forest is allowed a place within you, it supports your bodies natural capacity for wellbeing and healing.
So Forest Therapy is much more than just a walk in the woods. Here you can let the wind touch your face, touch textures, and explore sounds and smells. This is an opportunity for you to be guided to create a space and time for you to remember the inherent intelligence of your body and your animal nature.
This practise will attune you to the inner rhythms of your mind as well as the outer rhythms of the land and its diurnal and seasonal change. Things don’t happen quickly. The ways in which you are affected by a forest bathing experience may not become apparent to you for hours, days, or weeks afterwards. There is often a subtlety to the benefits, and has been described by Amos Clifford as being “a journey of slowly coming home to myself”. *3 p16
One of my participants shared with me her recent experience
“ I have walked this route so many times, but have never before seen it in the way I have today “
A held experience that:
My practise has an evidenced based framework established by the Association of Natural Forest Therapy for supporting and promoting wellness and the health of ourselves, each other, and the ‘more than’ human world. This happens through guided immersive walks in forests, woodland and other natural environments.
This approach has its roots in the Japanese practise of Shinrin-Yoku Eco therapy and the way of the council.
‘The ANFT was founded in a response to global warming and environmental catastrophe. The aim from the beginning to ignite and reignite love for the more than human world’. Amos Clifford – Founder of ANFT
1-1: 2 hours – £35
Group: 3 hours – £35 per person
Remote: £15 per person
“Look deep, deep into nature . And then you will understand everything better.”