Mental Podcast Show

Lucy McQuillan is a Forest Bathing Guide (Mindfulness in Nature) based in West Wales and has been guiding a wide range of groups since 2021. She has a background of 25 years working for National Parks and Wellbeing Projects in community engagement, health and wellbeing in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, the Lake District National Park, and Exmoor National Park. 

Lucy’s final move has been to the beautiful Cardigan Bay, at Aberystwyth, her partner Dave’s childhood home. She started as an Activity Leader with Tir Coed (a charity that connects people with land and woods (tir, coed) by delivering outdoor training, learning and wellbeing programmes across Mid Wales) last year and was asked to run a forest bathing session at Y Plas Garden at Machynlleth this March. We heard about the event and decided to find out more about forest bathing from Lucy.

What being out in nature means to me

Being out in nature is my favourite place. It grounds me, reminds me of what is important in life and generally maintains my sense of wellbeing, for both my mind and physical body. Recognising the massive benefits of Forest Bathing, and loving being in nature, I decided to train as a guide with Nature and Therapy UK in 2020, gaining my diploma in 2021.

What is Forest Bathing?

Shinrin-Yoku, translated as Forest Bathing, is a practice that originated in Japan in the 1980s as part of a national health programme designed to reduce population stress levels. Shinrin-Yoku literally means ‘bathing’ all the senses whilst immersing yourself in the forest atmosphere.

What happens during a session?

During a Forest Bathing session I take you through a number of invitations between 3 minutes to 20 minutes long (simple mindfulness activities). We follow a framework – a beginning, middle and ending – that makes forest bathing ‘a practice’ and not a general walk in the woods (which of course is lovely too!). 

As with any practice, repetition helps to build a deeper understanding and ability to ‘drop in’ to your inner self and connect with nature. I intuitively shape the session to reflect the needs of the individuals in the group and the nature setting we are in. No two sessions are the same. An introductory session can be up to 90 minutes long with longer sessions being 2 to 4 hours.

What are the benefits of Forest Bathing – to you and to our natural environment?

You will experience the health and wellbeing benefits from simply ‘just being’ in amongst the trees and nature. Benefits of this scientifically proven practice include: reducing blood pressure; lowering stress; lowering blood-sugar levels; improving concentration and memory; lifting depression; increasing anti-cancer protein production; improving pain thresholds; improving energy levels; and boosting the immune system with an increase in the count of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells.

…………And leave us with a deep sense of calm that follows us home…..

By experiencing the ‘awe & wonder’ of being in nature this can lead us to an appreciation of the natural world, and our place within it. And this in turn leads us to have a desire to protect and nurture nature.

Machynlleth Forest Bathing 23rd March at Y Plas

5 people were booked onto this session at Y Plas Gardens, Machynlleth. Fresh April showers, interspersed with sunshine and blue sky, set the scene! My helper Carys and I wondered if the weather would put people off…. We waited at the main entrance. People can tell it’s you waiting for them and one person, two and another two soon turned up and introduced themselves. All were new to forest bathing and all were not bothered by the weather one bit and were intrigued to find out what we’d be doing.

As a guide my role is to slow you down and help you stay in the moment and to open the door to your senses. We started by walking to a start point under some trees, dodging another shower.

After a brief introduction of names, and what had brought people to the session, I started with an invitation to leave worries, tasks, ‘to do’s’ at this threshold and to enter the woodland/nature space with no expectations, nothing to accomplish, to just lean into what was being offered and see what unfolds. After some simple breathing and sense awareness we went into the first invitation ‘Slow Walking’ taking time to look, touch and listen to what was around us.

After gathering together again, to share what we experienced, (to share is entirely optional) we moved into the second invitation, by the garden, of Human Camera, working in pairs. One partner led the other, whose eyes were shut, to different photo points. By having your eyes closed, when you do open them, to take your photo, the frame before you is intensified and the sense of awe and being in the moment are nurtured.

We then walked over to a woodland area near the garden, which had a completely different, hushed and atmospheric feel, of which all the participants commented on. Here we finished with a 15 minute ‘Sit Spot’ gently focussing on a chosen focus point – a leaf, a piece of moss, bark on a tree – gently bringing our minds back to this simple activity, when they inevitably wandered. The more you look the more reveals itself to you….

By experiencing the ‘awe & wonder’ of being in nature this can lead us to an appreciation of the natural world, and our place within it. And this in turn leads us to have a desire to protect and nurture nature.

Some feedback from the participants included:

“I enjoyed exploring the different ways to immerse yourself in nature and learnt some great new techniques to share with my children and for myself.”

“A great experience to share with others.”

“Lucy’s experience and calm nature and skill share were a real treat – thank you so much.”

The general feedback on the feedback forms was that everyone strongly agreed that they enjoyed spending time in nature and felt connected to nature, and left with a sense of wellbeing.

Many thanks to Lucy for telling us more about Forest Bathing. 
If you have a positive experience of interacting with Nature in Mid Wales, please let us know in the comments section below. We love to hear from you!

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