first Saturday in September is International Forest Bathing Day. This is a day
to celebrate being in nature while accessing the health benefits of immersing
oneself in the atmosphere of the forest or other nature locations. A guided
Forest Therapy Walk is a way to disconnect from our hectic, stressful lives and
connect with the natural world.
“We are a part of nature, not separate from it.”
There has been an explosion of interest in this practice that improves well-being. Forest Therapy (or Forest Bathing or Nature Immersion) is based on extensive research and blends new developments in the field of nature connection with ancient traditions of mindfulness and wellness. I did my initial training with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. By the end of 2018, this organization had more than 700 Forest Therapy Guides working in 46 countries—and that number is growing rapidly. I trained with Cohort #29 just one year ago, and Cohort #45 just finished their initial training retreat. UPDATE: In 2020, I am going through the process to build a long-term association with the Global Institute of Forest Therapy for accountability, support, and continuing education. You can learn more about this international organization HERE.)
Forest Bathing Day
This year on Saturday, September 7th, there will be more than 70 guided walks offered around the world. (Check this map to see if one is being offered near you!) I am guiding a walk from 10:00-12:00 in Mt Vernon, Ohio. To honor this day and encourage more people to experience this simple way of being in nature, this is an any-donation-accepted walk in lieu of my usual fees. You can see more information and register HERE (walk-ins also accepted for this event). If you can’t make it to this walk, check HERE to see what other walks are currently scheduled, or contact me to reserve your own private walk! (Read Things to Know Before Attending a Walk HERE)
a worldwide celebration on International Forest Bathing Day!
a walk with a guide. Or simply find your favorite nature spot and spend time
sitting or walking quietly, noticing the sounds and sights around you.
Curious about Forest Therapy? Read FAQs HERE, relevant blog posts HERE and a list of other resources HERE Just in case you think this is a bunch of hooey and is of no benefit to you…you need to read THIS POST which gives helpful tips on how to avoid nature connections!
The practicum to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide begins with an 8-day training intensive which I attended in September 2018. (You can read more about that week HERE and HERE.) On five of the days, we were given a guided Forest Therapy Walk in the surrounding woods and grasslands. These short haiku poems came flowing into my mind during one of those walks. Combined with photos, these poems give a glimpse into what you can expect when you go on a guided Forest Therapy Walk with me. (But don’t worry—no poetry is expected on the walk! Haha)
walk begins with a brief introduction. I welcome participants and let them know
what to expect. I share any potential challenges they should be aware of and
tell them a little bit about the health benefits of using our senses to connect
with Nature. As a guide, I do not give assignments or teach information about
nature. Instead, I offer a series of “invitations” which give activity ideas
for each participant to use in a way that feels best for them.
Gather in, welcome Many words, introductions Now … let’s get silent
Choosing the right words Language of invitation It’s art, not science
BEING PRESENT IN NATURE WITH OUR SENSES
We begin each walk by taking time to notice our surroundings, using one sense at a time. This helps us to focus on our present location, and begin to connect with Nature, quieting our brains that are so often in overdrive.
Get out of your head Notice what is calling you Drop in to heart-sense
Birds call, crickets sing, Water burbles a rhythm Music of nature
My feet, supported My cheek caressed by light breeze I am welcome here
WHAT’S in MOTION?
Each walk continues with physically slowing down. We choose to temporarily let go of our hectic schedules and looming to-do lists as we focus on what is around us as we wander. Any time our brains pull us back to daily stresses, we simply notice “What’s in Motion?” in the landscape around us as a way to continue our connection with Nature.
Still quiet waters Nothing moving til fish…JUMPS! Circles drift outwards
Light breezes flutter Delicate flowers dancing Hummingbird joins in
Forest Therapy Walk continues with 2-4 additional invitations. For each walk, I
choose these in partnership with the surrounding landscape, taking into consideration
the season, the weather, and the participants on this walk. There are hundreds
of invitations I could use during this part of the walk. The following are two
examples from the training walk when I wrote these little poems.
BRIDGES: From Here to There
much of life, we are faced with frequent choices of where to go and what to do
next. Walking across a physical bridge can help us consider other moments in
life where we are balancing two different positions, activities, decisions or
needs. Often, neither side of the “bridge” is right or wrong, but it is
beneficial to be mindful of such transitions.
Possibilities From head to heart, here to there Stay or move, your choice
Forest behind me Man-made lake in front of me Satoyama zone
At the simplest physical level, we live in reciprocity with trees on this earth. We breath out carbon dioxide and exchange it for the oxygen which is exhaled by trees. In this invitation, participants are invited to wander and notice any part of the landscape which they are drawn toward. Perhaps they will choose to simply relax and find peace in this place. Or perhaps they will find other ways to share with Nature around them.
Mighty forest tree Big branch leans, reaching t’ward me Pregnant with walnuts
I reach for the tree Gently caressing the bark Hand-shaped space for me
Red bird flits closer With a flip and a flutter Creative muse comes
We sit together. Tree gives me words, songs to share Reciproci-tree!
CIRCLES OF SHARING
our walk together, we occasionally stop and gather in a circle. Each
participant is offered time to briefly share what they are noticing or to
simply stand in silence for a moment before passing the “talking piece” to the
next person. Most of the time, we finish a guided Forest Therapy Walk with a
Tea Ceremony, to celebrate our time with Nature and share any last words with the
forest and with each other. (One of the things I greatly appreciate about these
guided walks is that no one is ever pressured or expected to talk. This is
truly a time for everyone to interact with Nature and with each other in ways
that feel most comfortable to them.)
Nature shares with me We gather to share heart-sense Eternal circle
Tiny cup of warmth The forest enters into me Tea ceremony
One last word to share With Forest and companions The walk is complete
(photos of man with hand on heart and of me by tree were take by Annabel O’Neill)
We all love the excitement of mountaintop experiences, don’t we?! We shout to the world about the beautiful views and bask in the bright sunshine of praise and congratulations given for our accomplishments. Far less often do we talk about endless winter, about getting stuck in swamps down in the valleys or about the hard slog of climbing those endless dark mountains. It has been a long, long winter for me, filled with struggles and challenges. I’ve been emotionally climbing up and down endless hills. But it feels like I’m finally emerging into summer. I’m so ready to celebrate the bright sunshine of SUMMER (both physically and emotionally)!
back over the past six months, it has been a season of inward work. I’ve
started many blog posts but got lost in the forest of words and never finished
any of them. At some point (perhaps) I will go back and share more details but
for now, here is a summary of my long, dark winter and times I found hints of
sunshine along the way.
Finishing the second half of the mentored practicum to earn my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide offered many lessons—material to be learned, skills to be practiced, and experiences to be processed. All of this, of course, led to deeper personal growth. During regular sit-spot time (which you can read more about HERE), I mapped the interconnections of the creatures and plants around me. To show those relationships, I made a colorful clock. And I gathered photos and poetry into a little book.
I spent a long winter day at a nearby park on a “pilgrimage” from sunrise to sunset. It was a time to take my questions with me onto the land, asking God for a clear vision of my calling. Of course, the day I had scheduled for this ended up being one of the coldest days of the winter, with hard winds blowing and fresh snow falling. I alternated walking under the trees with wrapping up in a zero-degree sleeping bag to warm up. I found beauty in the frozen land and I soaked up moments of bright sunshine breaking through dark storm clouds.
During these months, I was swimming in a sea of grief, trying to keep from sinking under the waves. There was new grief at watching a beloved “son of my heart”/friend destroy himself with addiction. There were more waves of grief at missing our son who died 11 years ago. There was recognition of struggles and challenges some of my kids are walking through…and resulting grief that I can’t “fix” things for them and make it all better. (Where in the world is that magic wand when you need it?! I must have put it in a “safe place” which means it will never be found! HA!)
the spring, I figured out a way to incorporate Forest Therapy into my Tree of
Life experiences. And I completed the training to become a certified Forest
Therapy Guide. YAY! That was a bright sunny moment! Now I am working to make
some long-term connections for ongoing Forest Therapy walks. And I have guided
my first few paid walks. (If you live in central Ohio, contact me for more
information about how YOU can schedule a walk with me!)
This spring, I was sad to face realities after two surgeries last fall. (If you haven’t heard about my medical adventures, read about them HERE.) Daughter and I had hoped to make another trip to the Appalachian Trail this spring. We tried a few days of camping and day hiking in southern Ohio…and realized I’m not yet recovered enough for the rigors of a full backpacking adventure. Maybe in the fall… (At least we still had fun together in the woods and Daughter is still the “Mistress of the Flame!”)
As the season changed, the good moments started outweighing the heavy ones. I still wasn’t ready to write about life, but I found many more moments of bright sunshine to celebrate. Our oldest son is engaged. (Can’t wait to welcome his beautiful gal into our family next spring…) Our youngest daughter discovered a college that is a perfect fit for her interests and her challenges. She is also gaining life skills with a summer job at the library. We got to “babysit” our grand-dog and our grand-dragon. (Isn’t that a delightful word? Pablo is a bearded dragon-lizard.) And our newest grandbaby was born, giving me 5 days to visit and spoil his big sisters. Welcome to the world, little Wilder!
finally back to spending more time outdoors again. I’m sleeping each night on
my screened porch—waking up to bird song. For my birthday, I bought a sit-on-top
kayak. I still enjoy wandering in the woods, but have discovered the joys of contemplative
time, slowly paddling around a lake or down a river. And the wild colors of my
kayak still make me smile every time I look at it!
searching for over a year, we finally found the perfect-for-us piece of land to
purchase. We plan to park our RV there and use it as a getaway. Soon we will own
33 acres of steep hills, ravines, and woods. It has a pond and a running
stream. Hubby discovered it also has a slick clay mud-pit…but that’s a story
for another day! HA!
I finally found the bright sunshine of summer (physically and emotionally) on a current trip to California. Soon I will write about the adventures of multi-day train travel across the USA. Our lego Tiny-Me figures have discovered new places to explore. I found more imaginary places that don’t really exist (a quest started with Daughter in NYC last summer). I have enjoyed spending time with oldest daughter and her husband. When my knees rebelled against the exertion, I thought I might be stuck forever atop the steep hills of San Francisco but I finally tottered my way back down to the ferry. And I am excited to be currently attending a professional conference about Forest Therapy. I’m even leading a workshop here tomorrow!
been a long, cold winter. But I’m finally emerging into summer…and it sure
Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…
As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.
However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)
Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:
We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)
Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!
When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!
Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!
Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!
So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!
(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)
PLEASE assure me that I’m not the only one to yelp or screech when startled! Share your story in the comments below.
I just finished the initial 8 day training intensive to start the 6 month long process of becoming a certified Forest Therapy Guide. There were 20 students and 5 mentors at the training. It was a wonderful, exhausting, energizing, stretching, amazing, contradictory week. I’m still processing all we learned…and will share more details in the next few months.
One of the mentors put together this video to give an overview of the people, place, and activities of the week. (Keep an eye out for me–I’m in a number of the shots!) This training was held at Oak Openings Metro Park in the Toledo area. If you ever get a chance to visit, it is an amazingly diverse location!
I decided the fastest way to summarize this contradictory week jam-packed-full of learning and stretching was to make a chart:
Thanks SO much to family and friends who continue to encourage me and support me. That was hugely important to keep me at the training when I was exhausted and emotionally wrung out. (Shhh! I was even ready to quit a few times when I was overwhelmed!)
The most important thing I learned during this training is that I AM RIGHT WHERE I’M SUPPOSED TO BE! Now I KNOW this is the right path for me to pursue…a knowing that is not just head knowledge but deep certainty in my heart.
If you missed it, you can see our training schedule and some of my own photos HERE
To learn more about the practice of Forest Therapy and what a Guide does, click HERE (The Global Institute of Forest Therapy is the international organization that I am now–in 2020–going through the process of associating with for accountability, support and continuing education.)
My residential training has finally started! Wondering what I’m doing each day on this Intensive Retreat? Here is a peek at the Training Schedule for this 8 day course which kicks off the 6 month certification program to become a Forest Therapy Guide. (This week started off with the extra challenge of heavy rains for the first 3 days and 2 nights of training … much of which is outdoors!)
The Intensive Class is always located close to a Nature area with good trails to experience guided Forest Therapy walks. I chose to apply for the course which is being held at a metro-park in NW Ohio. This is only a few hours’ drive from my home. To save money, I am tent-camping at a nearby campground.
Day 1 (Saturday Sept 8) – Arrival Afternoon – Introductions and Orientation to the Training Schedule and Curriculum Goals.
Days 2-3 (Sun/Mon) – First Experiences
Mornings: Teacher led Forest Therapy Walk and Tea Ceremony
Afternoons: Debrief the walk experience, using a mapping process
After Break: Content Session (Lecture, Q&A, Discussion, Experiential Activities)
Evening: More content
Days 4-5 (Tues/Wed) – Practicing Skills
Mornings: Participants guide each other on a Forest Therapy Walk & Tea Ceremony
Afternoon Sessions: Same training schedule as above, learn more “invitations” and guide skills
Evening 4: Group campfire to share personal nature stories
Day 6 (Thurs) – Honing Skills
Learn more Forest Therapy techniques and skills
Prepare to guide a public FT walk with 1-2 other participants
Prepare for our 6-month practicum, completed locally via Skype under the guidance of an instructor/mentor.
Day 7 (Fri) – Put It All Together!
Morning: 2-3 Participants work together to lead public Forest Therapy walks (My piece is to make the forest tea and guide the closing Tea Ceremony for our group.)
Afternoon Sessions: Debrief and more content sessions
Day 8 (Sat) – Conclusions
Morning: Structured solo experience with time to reflect on the week and to consider personal goals
Afternoon: Content Session/Q& A time
Closing Ceremony (and group photo, of course!)
THANKS SO MUCH TO SUPPORTERS!
I very much appreciate the encouragement and the donations from family and friends to get me to this point. I am excited to finally move forward toward being a certified Forest Therapy Guide and starting a practice of my own to help others connect with Nature.
Don’t worry! I will continue sharing what I learn in future blog posts. You can read more about Nature/Forest Therapy HERE.