Yesterday I took a lovely group of guests Forest Bathing at Loch Garten, in the Cairngorms National Park. I always arrive earlier than the meeting time to ensure I can walk the paths and check that where I want to base us for the session is clear and not already in use. On this occasion it was just after 9am and the sun was still climbing the morning sky, the light was stunning as it flooded across the loch, into the trees and therefore into me.
As a guide, I look to the land to offer support and guidance before a session begins and yesterday, I truly felt supported.
During a Forest Bathing session, you can expect be out for 1 ½ to 2 hours. With it being December and only about 5C, I aimed to keep the group moving more than I might normally and ran a slightly shorter session. After a brief walk of just a few minutes to our first base, we settled into a large circle with plenty of room for social distancing and everyone had chance to introduce themselves; this was my own magic moment of the day when one of my guests shared “This is the first time I’ve put on my walking shoes on four months” – such a powerful statement and one of my reasons for doing what I do.
Our first ‘invitation’ was and always is, something called ‘Pleasures of Presence’, we use the word invitation as they are just that; no pressure, no expectations, it’s a request for your participation but nothing more than that and entirely open to interpretation with no pass or fail mark at the end.
Pleasures of Presence or POP aims to ground us, helps us to switch off from the car journey we’ve just taken, the news on the radio that has just annoyed us or the list of endless tasks needing to be completed later in the day. It’s going to help you begin to feel connected with nature, your senses should awaken, you’ll be more aware. As I lead you through a gentle guided invitation we will focus on sounds, smells, touch, taste and our inner relationship with the land around us. Afterwards you will have the chance to share “What you are noticing”, but no pressure to share anything if you don’t want to.
During yesterday’s POP the sun started to stream through the trees and our circle, gently warming us, leading one guest to share “It felt like the light was coming out of my feet!” I have the benefit of having my eyes open during POP and I can confirm the light really did look like it was coming directly out of him and it was awesome to watch everyone slowly being bathed in the morning light.
Following POP, we continue to do a series of invitations, the first being ‘What’s in Motion’ and this is where the power of ‘tree speed’ really kicks in - my husband coined this phrase to describe the pace we walk at. During a session you can expect to walk no more than a mile and we really go slowly; this, we call ‘tree speed’. ‘What’s in Motion’ asks us to look at just that, as we walk, we can take in the tall pines and their swaying tops, a moth disturbed as we walk or maybe the ripples of the loch and lapping water – everyone sees something different.
At the end of each invitation, I’ll call the group back, there is no need for guests to watch the clock – I’m your timekeeper, leave me to watch the time and you can just ‘drop in’ to nature. Depending on the time of year, weather and group size, we shall do another couple of invitations during our time together, these may focus on textures, colours, sounds or my favourite, a ‘sit spot’ – just sitting and deepening the connection with the land around us. Whichever we choose on the day, we shall always come back as a group to share what we are noticing. Yesterdays group noticed the dappled sunlight, dancing on the gnarled Scots Pine trunks on the waters edge, with one guest describing it as “Natures decorations” – very fitting for this festive time.
To bring our experience to a close we take tea and snacks together, with the tea being made from the plants around us, on this occasion pine needle tea. This gives us a chance to ingest the land and to give thanks for our own experiences. During these times of Covid** and restrictions guests are more than welcome and advised to bring their own refreshments if they wish, or they can partake in those supplied. Everything throughout the session is done in a socially distanced manner and the tea ceremony follows hygiene guidance where applicable.
**During Covid-19 we are able to safely operate sessions within guidelines, I keep these to a maximum of 8 people to allow for plenty of space when we group in a circle and if you have any concerns or would like to discuss further please don’t hesitate to reach out.