Forest bathing in Bedfordshire for Mental Health Awareness Week

Forest bathing in Flitwick Moor

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme of Nature, I guided two introductory forest bathing walks in Bedfordshire. One was in an urban parkland and the other a rural nature reserve – yet both walks worked their magic in similar ways.

One walk was at Houghton Hall Park – a beautiful green oasis surrounded by the town of Houghton Regis. The other was at Flitwick Moor – a regionally important wetland and woodland nature reserve managed by The Wildlife Trust. Although different, both are places full of wonder and wildness.

Start of forest bathing walk at Houghton Hall Park.
Photo credit: Hayley Clear

I was delighted that no one had been put off by the rain forecast. Many said they had booked out of curiosity. They’d never tried forest bathing before but were eager to give it a go.

Forest bathing is a chance to tune into nature – the sights, sounds, smell and sensations – and to notice how this makes you feel. In some cases what you experience can carry some meaning for you in your life. Yet no one arrives at the session ready to dive straight in. They carry with them the day’s events and chatter in their minds.

So I planned both sessions with this in mind. To begin with, we simply walked. This allowed the magic of nature to begin her work. We stopped occasionally to drink in our surroundings.

Going deeper

Start of the forest bathing walk in Flitwick Moor.
Photo credit: Sarah Cowling

After a while we began a series of stops and exercises. These helped people to awaken their senses and notice their connections to nature. I was aware as people gradually began to drop into the experience.

As time moved on, each was invited to share what they were experiencing. As they did this, I felt the focus begin to shift. From a collection of individuals, we had become groups sharing a journey of exploration.

About an hour or so into the session I invited people to leave the group and find somewhere they were drawn to. To get to know a non-human being. To sit and pay attention to them. This can be powerful stuff. By the time they returned to the group, the stillness within people was palpable.

By this time, we’d all slowed down. We were tuning in and noticing so much more. Some had found insight from what they’d experienced. Most felt a deep sense of relaxation.

The power of nature

One of my favourite moments was asking people to share a word to describe how they felt at the end. Similar comments from both groups – peace, stillness, happiness, part of something bigger, magical, slowing down.

Nature has the power to support our mental health – be it in an urban green oasis or remote nature reserve. Awakening our senses and connecting to nature around us can help us slow down, unwind and feel good.

Join us

I’d be delighted to meet you on one of my forest bathing walks. I run walks for groups and organisations. These range from a couple of hours’ introduction to forest bathing to day-long nature connection retreats. To find out more please contact me or join my mailing list for news and upcoming events.

The Introduction to Forest Bathing at Flitwick Moor event was part of the Greensands Country Festival in May. This celebrates the distinct and beautiful Greensand Country in Bedfordshire, and encourages those living in the area to explore the outstanding countryside on their doorstep.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 in May was Nature. This recognised the key role that connecting to nature can make to supporting good mental health.