What is Nature Connection?
Have you ever stood under the dappled sunlight of a gum tree, breathing in the citrus of lemon myrtle whilst listening to the duets of courting whipbirds? For a moment you forget “reality”, the world of deadlines and responsibilities that somehow moves faster than water over rocks and wind through leaves. But what if you gave yourself permission to dawdle?
The formal nature connection practise of Shinrin-yoku (森林浴), or forest bathing, originated in Japan to combat the stress of being overworked. It involves wandering through a forest at snail’s pace whist engaging the senses, listening to the birds, feeling the bark on trees, noticing different scents and connecting with nature and yourself.
Government-backed research in Japan found that this slow stroll to soak up the phytonicides or “aromas of the forest” physically reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones), lower blood pressure and steady heart-rate. These antimicrobial organic compounds are let off by trees such as Eucalypts and pines and boost immunity whilst restoring mental energy.
But modern science is really only just echoing what indigenous communities know innately; that nature is central to physical and emotional wellbeing. Australian Aboriginals practise dadirri, an “inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness” to tune in to the cathartic powers of nature.
“When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again. I can sit on the riverbank or walk through the trees; even if someone close to me has passed away, I can find my peace in this silent awareness. There is no need of words. A big part of dadirri is listening.” – Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, Aboriginal Elder
Forest Bathing and Nature Connection Basics
1. Find the right spot
You don’t need to hike a mountain – a natural area that is comfortable and convenient for you is ideal. Some places may include local lakes, wetlands, walking tracks and even parks if you are a city dweller.
2. Leave your phone at home
This is crucial, one buzz from your pocket will instantly transport you elsewhere. If you have apps to record your step count whilst bush walking then this is another good reason to ditch the device – forest bathing is about stillness, presence and processing over progressing.
3. Check in with yourself and your surroundings
Notice where you might be holding tension in the body. Are you experiencing any negative looping thoughts? Is your breathing deep or shallow? Acknowledge these feelings without judgement, take a few breaths from the abdomen and move your attention instead to what is around you. You’ll have plenty of time to worry later!
4. Walk slowly
There is no place to get to, only to be. As you walk, really savour the details, the mottled colours in fallen leaves, ants weaving through bark. What do you hear? Listen to the sounds of the bush and the spaces in between – the energy in silence. How does the breeze feel on your skin? The sun and the shade? Touch branches, stones and leaves that you are drawn to and appreciate the textures. What can you smell? You might walk for 20 minutes or an hour, only covering a small amount of ground.
5. Stop or sit down
If a spot looks inviting, allow yourself to linger. Maybe beneath a tree, or settling in a patch of grass, keeping your eyes open to stay anchored to the present. If something catches your attention, a swaying flower, moss and fungi over rocks, observe it for as long as you’d like.
6. Give thanks
The natural world offers us so much beauty, guidance and clarity when we slow down enough to listen to her. Thank her for any gifts or insights she has given you whilst you’ve walked together.
Forest bathing and nature connection brings up different experiences for each of us; deep introspection, joy, curiosity or even sorrow that we may need to release. Don’t worry if you find it difficult to connect; stress, anxiety and depression can affect our ability to engage, so it is helpful not to place too much emphasis on an emotional destination. Meet yourself where you are!
Bringing more Nature into your Life
Of course, having the time and physical ability to wander is a privilege, but everyone can apply the principles of nature connection daily. Going for a walk or sitting outside during your lunch break and paying attention to swaying branches, flowers, insects and bees can help ease your fight-or-flight response. Washing the dishes whilst gazing out the window, eyes following passing clouds and listening for birds is an act of deep listening, dadirri. Taking your kids out to a park or public garden (perhaps leaving phones in the car?) instead of the cinema, choosing a picnic over a café (the sandwiches will be cheaper!) and teaching them about native flora and fauna will help them relate to the earth. There may be some culture shock with nature’s slower pace, but with time we can all find some sanctuary in the stillness.
“And the birds sing happily
To the accompaniment
Of insects and crickets.
I sit in silence as I soak it all into my soul.
From the water
To my heart.
Whatever life brings me I now can face
Because of this,
My sitting down place!”
Gail Kay, Indigenous Australian Writer
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