Kathryn Fidati, Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide
Unsurprisingly, I get many questions and a few comments when I share with people that I’m a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide: “What’s that? You’re a therapist? Why do that outside? I don’t really need therapy, thanks.” When I share that Forest Therapy is also often referred to as Forest Bathing even more questions arise: “What’s that? A bath in the forest? Do I need a towel? How does that work?”
Forest bathing actually refers to soaking in the atmosphere of the Forest, or any natural place really, much like sitting in the sunshine can be called sunbathing. It is an English translation of the Japanese term Shinrin-Yoku which refers to the practice of spending time in Nature for the healing benefits that it offers. Guided Forest Bathing is simply a practice of interacting with the natural world through our senses to bring our awareness into the present moment, slow down, and reconnect to Nature.
It is almost easier to describe Forest Bathing for what it is not. It is not hiking for physical exercise, an informative naturalist walk, a search for photographic subjects, or a birding walk, though these are also all enjoyable and valid ways to spend time in Nature! The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) through which I’m certified has a saying:
“The forest is the therapist; the guide opens the door.”
As a guide, I offer simple invitations, or suggestions, that call our attention to our senses (think sight, smell, touch…) to fully experience Nature wherever we are. This becomes a relational practice, interacting in reciprocity with the landscape and opening our senses to cultivate awareness, presence, and connection to place. This can deepen our relationship to the Land, ourselves, and each other. We spend time walking, resting, and reflecting on our experiences. This gentle experience has been shown through research to have many therapeutic effects. Such as:
- Decreased cortisol levels
- Decreased stress and anxiety
- Improved mood
- Improved cognitive focus and attention
- Improved immunity
- Normalized blood pressure and heart rate
Though we can and often do have these experiences on our own, having a guide can assist the process by holding a safe container and relieving you, the participant, from the pressure of keeping track of time, decision making, or thinking about the next moment. A guide sets the pace, encouraging a downshift from our often hurried, fast-paced thinking and busy-ness. Just as one might turn to a personal trainer, yoga instructor, or walking group, many find being guided in Forest Therapy to be deeply supportive. And just like exercise or yoga, Forest Bathing is a practice that can be deepened by returning again and again, through different seasons.
Now, more than ever, we benefit from cultivating a relationship with Nature as much as Nature benefits from our focused attention. As Jacques-Yves Cousteau has stated, “People protect what they love” and love of the Land happens through relationship. Come join us to experience Guided Forest Bathing at CNC this fall. And no, no need to bring your towel!
Kathryn Fidati is a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and a former CNC Interpretive Naturalist and canoe guide. She holds these certifications: Georgia Master Naturalist, Certified Interpretive Guide, Wilderness First Aid/CPR, PT, LMT.
In a 2018 collaboration with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute of Atlanta, CNC hosted forest therapy sessions for patients newly diagnosed with cancer. According to a New York Times article, the session allowed patients to shift focus away from their diagnoses and “helped reduce the isolation in a way that’s different from a regular support group.” CNC is proud to reintroduce this program to help further connect people with nature.
Learn even more in this article by Karen Huppertz for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as she interviews Kathryn Fidati.
Guided Forest Bathing sessions will occur at CNC on Saturdays, December 9, January 13, February 24 from 2:00 – 4:30 PM.