Katriina and I crossed paths through my blog, and she quietly stayed in the corner of my Facebook chat, until one day, fate led us to talking. I found out that Katriina is a Forest Bathing Guide. Sounds fancy? I know! Now, I’m going to dive straight into our conversation and let you learn from the source.
Note that this discussion is the outcome of an hour-long Zoom call with Katriina, so I’m putting together her resources in a series of posts. And all the images used in this article are contributed by Katriina herself, from her wondrous musings in the the beautiful forests of Finland.
So Katriina, what is forest bathing, how do you see it?
Forest Bathing is a concept that originated in Japan, and was called Shinrin Yoku.
The Japanese saw people getting really stressed and they knew intuitively that being in nature is really good for you. They love going out into nature, and even their religion, shinto, has animistic qualities.
Forest bathing could be likened to sunbathing – everyone has their own preferences and ways of doing it but the idea and goal is the same. The practice came into culmination in the 80’s. Someone picked it up in the west about five years ago, and it became really popular. Nature became very “trendy”.
And what I think is pretty interesting is that elsewhere as well, people started creating similar approaches, combining nature and mindfulness.
A case in point, my friends Ian Bayard from the UK with Natural Mindfulness, Sirpa Arvonen from Finland with Forest Mind and Nitin Das with Healing Forest from India. And of course, Amos Clifford from The USA with Forest Therapy.
I’m not sure what channels all these people were listening to but around 2014 things started popping up. And I too was getting laid off in 2015 and felt like I finally needed to get started with my passion.
The time had come for me to get back to nature. I just didn’t yet know how exactly I was going to get started. So I did a bit of everything: Forest Mind, Skogsmulle, nature guide certifications. And then some.
The conversations that I’ve had with the Japanese people (commoners and researchers) leads me to the conclusion that it all comes down to using your senses to experience the forest.
In the last 3 years many books have been written. As one of the great resources to educate yourselves on the subject, you can also explore Dr Qing Lee’s work, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health & Happiness.
So, as a beginning point, understand that it’s done for the goal of relaxation, and in the west its become more pronounced about nature connection as it has got mixed with ecotherapy.
Forest bathing allows you to see the miraculous beauty in the small. It’s another mechanism of forest bathing where it works like mini-meditation. You’re being very mindful when you pause everything and try what a leaf feels like, or the tree bark.
The Japanese concept is quite broad, which really speaks to me. My intuition says that when you try to limit it and say it has to be done in a certain way, you lose authenticity and intuition. You lose something that comes from the heart of the people.
Some people bring their druidry into forest bathing. Some incorporate flower essence in their work. And some use this work as relational ecotherapy, for healing. The core remains in connecting with the forest.
You’re lucky to experience forests in such an organic way! Many of us are surrounded by a concrete jungle. Then how can we “work with the small” when living in a crowded metropolis?
There’s something there, there’s something in it, which is why small pockets are planted. They know it works, they just don’t realize why.
I once gave a lecture to a landscaping firm based in New York City, they wanted to bring forest bathing to small spaces. It’s about facilitating the opportunity to immerse yourself in the forest atmosphere.
To create the feeling you are in it, experiencing it with all your senses. You need to be able to interact with your surroundings. There are even virtual applications that attempt to do the same, and these can be used in hospitals and in other institutionalized settings.
In these “made up” forest bathing spaces, you will do well if you manage to attract life there through the use of flowering plants. The variation of structures, heights of plants, and colours will stimulate you and you might want to look closer.
Something you can smell, something you can see, something you can touch, something you can interact. Probably biodiversity is one of the secret ingredients. There is indication that people prefer biodiverse surroundings for restoration.
Belgium talks about food forests, it helps you stimulate taste buds to experience nature through shrubs, berries, apple-picking and so on.
I would LOVE to be a part of a food forest trail! But it makes me wonder, are there any ethics for forest bathing? We don’t really want to leave an imprint, do we.
Yes, think from a person’s point of view, and the forest’s point of view.
If you go with a group, they are typically group events, you have to draw the line, how many people can go because you leave a trace.
You should be able to sit alone and get off the ‘track’. You’re in the vicinity of a guide but you should have an alone experience. But as you do that, you leave a trace, so you want to be mindful.
And think of the seasons. In spring, a lot of species are nesting, so some sections should be avoided, keep it quiet.
I always tell this to people, don’t take anything that’s growing. Treat yourself as a visitor. Even if you see a lose item, like a pine cone or a stone hat you would like to take along, ask yourself if you really need to take it with you.
It is part of the lifecycle of the forest and the forest has its use for it. Of course, a souvenir now and then that helps you to remember the experience you had, is perfectly okay. This is something Vasundhra uses for Art Therapy too.
That makes sense. And is forest bathing for everyone? Are there groups that are not benefitted?
Mindfulness may not be a good fit for everyone. Here’s a conversation that Vasundhra and Clayton did on the subject, of what that means.
Or if you’re guiding groups who might not be that used to the forest, I might ease them into it. Whenever you are dealing with groups with special needs, you should be mindful about your own skills as a guide.
Although you can never fully prepare for everything, the guide needs to take their responsibility and know what kind of groups they are able to guide. Being trauma-informed would be an asset.
When we go in nature, what is made loose in us is surprising. Natural environment is always a powerful partner. Due to my limited skills, I focus on health promotion and relaxation, but you want to gauge how deep you want to take the group.
For people that have trauma connected specifically to the forest, you have to be the most mindful. But they’re probably not the first ones to sign up.
And in your advertisement, you should be clear on what you’re doing, what to expect, etc, and that YOU ARE NOT a therapist (unless you actually are a licensed therapist).
Especially during this pandemic, mental health problems are skyrocketing so you need to be prepared for more anxiety and related challenges. Though forest bathing has been shown to alleviate mental health problems, as a guide, it’s important to communicate clearly that this is not a therapy session, unless you have the clinical background for that.
Thank you, that’s an informative way to approach any healing modality, really. My next question is, can you do this without a guide?
Yes! You can’t do it wrong. I like to say, if there’s a place you’re familiar with, that’s the best place to go. For self care, you should go to a forest or natural place you’re comfortable in. There’s no surprises there and that automatically drops off the nervous element so that you’re able to just be there with the pure experience.
When you’re there, you can go through the all the senses and interact with the forest through your eyes, ears, smell and so on. Concentrate on each sense for as long as you feel called to, and see what comes up for you.
People might have one strong dominating sense. For me its my sense of smell, and that leads me in forest walks. Of course all senses work in unison, but some people might be more lead by one sense than others.
Also, some days when I feel like I need to ground myself, I tend to want to touch things a lot. Or go lie down on the ground. So it depends on your mood and state as well from day to day. You might discover where you get most memories and reactions in the forest.
You can even try forest bathing in your backyard or in a park.
Katriina shares tons of educated insights in her book, which you can learn immensely from and use for your own forest bathing experience.
Curious to try out Forest Bathing for yourself? Here’s a beautiful example.
Katriina put together this video just for us! You can see her passion through and through her sharings on this blog and the video. Do drop her a comment in the section below and give her some love 🙂
To be continued….
Like I said, this conversation is extracted from an hour-long discussion on forest bathing. So it seemed like a good idea to create a series of articles, touching on different aspects of forest bathing.
I am leaving you with these resources for now, but just know that in the upcoming discussion, we’re taking things even deeper! She’ll be unpacking questions like getting lost on a forest walk, learning about forest therapy, rekindling the lost art of Japan, her forest bathing story, and much more. Stay tuned 🙂