Sophie Mei Lan steps out of her comfort zone to spend some quality time in nature 


Our world is so hectic that many of us are in a constant state of fight or flight mode. As a result, it can be hard to find a place of solitude for the mind and body to pray in. With this in mind, I was intrigued by the idea of forest bathing – particularly when I heard about its stress-and anxiety-relieving properties. I was keen to give it a try for both my personal and spiritual wellbeing. 

While group prayer is powerful, I know how important it is for us all to feel a deep personal connection with God as well. But too many of us leave our prayers for moments in which we need God rather than walking alongside him every day. I decided I needed to commit more time to being still with God. 

Discovering shinrin yoku

I find I connect with God most when I go on walks or exercise, and so have created my own worship workouts where I play faith-filled music and teach dance fitness and strength training to other Christians online and in person. As I already enjoy exercise, I decided I wanted to try taking time out to pray while being within God’s incredible creation. So when I heard about forest bathing I knew it was the perfect thing for me to try. 

Forest bathing derives from Japan, where it is called shinrin yoku (literally ‘taking in the forest’s atmosphere’). It began in the 1980s as an antidote to tech burnout and to encourage people to reconnect with and protect the country’s forests. Today this form of relaxation is even prescribed by some GPs in certain areas of the UK. 

Forest bathing is proven to boost immunity and reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety

Forest bathing is proven to boost immunity, reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety and can really help people with additional needs who are often overstimulated in urban areas.

It is about being still in natural surroundings; rather than marching through woodlands taking a dog for a walk, it’s about being part of the natural framework, moving slowly, breathing deeply and taking in nature’s treasures. 

Trying it out for the first time

“This is a mindful time spent in nature; no devices or aim needed, just enjoy the sounds, smells and feeling of your natural surroundings,” explained forest bathing guide Robert from Hawk and Heath, the first company to be accredited by the forest bathing institute in Yorkshire. 

I had ventured to Ilkley in North Yorkshire to join a guided forest bathing group. We crossed a busy road, and then entered straight into the woodland, escaping the fumes of the oncoming traffic for a piece of God’s natural land. Almost as if we were setting out a prayer mat, we set our intention to start forest bathing by placing our palms solemnly on the gate into the wood. 

I had been sceptical about what the next few hours would entail as I struggled with not having an exact plan laid out. But as much as this felt like me prising off my city girl glasses, I decided I was up for the challenge and would leave my ‘to-do’ list at the gate. 

Doing breath prayers while surrounded by nature felt much more powerful

It took us one hour to move less than 100 metres, but this wasn’t about the distance, it was about noticing the ‘treasures’ of the natural world. From feeling the tree heart (the little bits of wood that cascade from inside the tree onto the ground) to smelling the trees’ sap (which can be made into essential oils).

I wouldn’t have noticed any of these subtle blessings on a brisk walk, where I would have been trying to capture my step count on my smartwatch. All technology had been locked away on this adventure so that we could fully embrace the journey without focusing on the destination.

Robert said: “You begin to notice these treasures without being worried about time or money. This is not a waste of time.”

A personal experience

As we each paused in the parts of the wood we were drawn to, it gave me time to pray. “Forest bathing is whatever takes your attention. Go with that gently and calmly,” added Robert. This kind of connection triggers our parasympathetic nervous system (a network of nerves that relax the body), which for many of us today only happens when we’re asleep as our daily world is full of stress. When this system is triggered our heart beat slows down, blood pressure lowers and we digest food better. 

As someone who has experienced trauma, and as a result gut health issues, I have witnessed first-hand how our minds impact our bodies. While my brain initially fought off gently venturing around the wooded area, I could feel myself slowing down. 

I started noticing the squirrels moving, the shapes of the trees as they blew in the wind and the aroma of the woodland, which diffused into the cold fresh air. 

I decided to test out some nasal breathing techniques and then, once I had begun to regulate my breathing, tried out some ‘breath prayers’. This simply means short phrases you can start saying on the inhale, hold and finish on the exhale, such as: “You are with me”, “I receive your grace” or anything that comes from your heart or scripture. I often only manage to fit these in when I take a short trip to the toilet in between busy tasks. I call this my ‘pee in peace’. But doing these breath prayers while surrounded by nature felt much more powerful; my breathing was slower and my prayers felt much more from the heart rather than another ‘task’ on my to-do list. 

After some time to ourselves, we were all invited to lie down on the ground for some meditative practice. Our guide Robert talked us through a progressive muscle relaxation as our backs and palms laid flat on the earth. 

I never thought that lying in the leaves in cold weather would be relaxing but because I was focusing on the breath and the meditation, the cold air didn’t bite and I was aware of my natural surroundings without feeling self-conscious. I felt connected. In the quiet moments, I felt myself compelled to thank God for all he has gifted me from the beautiful woodland to my perfectly imperfect busy family life back home. 

While I love my worship workouts first thing each morning to get me focused for the day, after feeling such a boost to my spiritual wellbeing, I know I need quality time in nature much more regularly to really pray from the heart. 

Ready to try Forest Bathing?

Sophie tried forest bathing with Hawk and Heath: 

Forest Bathing with Scripture:

Forestry England: