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An Invitation to Connection

Experience forest bathing in the cloud forest of Monteverde and leave stress behind.

Kaylin Bowen
Emma Bissell

The guide gave an invitation for visitors to open the mind, to explore with the senses and journey into the cloud forest of Monteverde. Close the eyes. Listen to the wind howling in the trees, and let each breath mirror it. Breathe deeply, smelling the rich earth, the sweet flowers and the tang of the people standing nearby. Taste the mist falling through the trees, cold and light. Turn slowly, stopping when compelled, as if “your body is a compass finding its own true north.” View the way the sunlight moves through the canopy and the mist catches it in a thousand rainbows.

 

This was the first of six invitations Manuela Siegfried gave to the group of novice forest bathers following her in a forest bathing expedition. Siegfried is certified by the California-based Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. She attended training in her home country of Costa Rica three months ago to be officially certified, though she has been guiding forest bathers for more than a year.

 

“These are invitations, not instructions,” Siegfried said. “Follow your intuition. Follow your feelings. Open your senses. We are used to following orders, and we have forgotten how to listen to ourselves.”

Right: Fig trees grow around an existing tree. When the original tree dies the fig tree is left hollow, perfect for climbing. Vida Magazine | Emma Bissell
Center: Forest Bathers walk barefoot to connect the sense of touch with the earth. Vida Magazine | Emma Bissell

Find a Forest Therapy Guide

Guided tours can be scheduled by reaching out to guides around the world through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs website.  

The walk led by Siegfried lasted almost three hours but covered less than a mile of trail. The walk is designed to slow visitors down and help them reach an inner peace that is hard to achieve when rushing through modern life.

“I didn’t know what to expect going in,” said Beverly Frannea, a resident of Monteverde. “I felt very relaxed. It was a great experience.”

The subjective and individualized invitations Siegfried issued during her walk included awareness, observing motion, walking barefoot and individual meditation.

 

“Connection is a consequence of what we do during forest bathing,” Siegfried said. “The invitations open your senses so you can connect through the senses to the natural environment.”

 

During Siegfried’s walk, the motion of the leaves, the warmth of the trees, the movement of the sunlight on the fur of an agouti and the whir of jeweled hummingbird wings were on display. Each guide uses a trail assessment document provided by the association to select a path.

 

There are hundreds of registered, certified guides around the world ready to initiate new members of forest bathing. Each guide has his or her  own style and is encouraged to develop an individualized experience by the association to develop “the way of the guide.”

 

Whether a traveler embarks once or a thousand times, the forest bathing experience will be distinct each time. Group sizes range from couples to fewer than 20. Bathers can schedule guided tours with as many guides as they choose, or take the lessons from one walk and apply them to their everyday lives.

“I do this on my own as well, usually once or twice a week,” said Evelyn Obando, a communications consultant and tourist educator who lives in Monteverde. “I can apply the techniques I learned today to my own walks. It was very introspective, you see so many details.”

Forest bathing is not a new phenomenon. The practice was first implemented as a form of relaxation technique in the 1980s in Japan, where it is known as shinrin-yoku. Japanese scientists have set up specific trails that are dedicated to shinrin-yoku. Before entering the trail and after exiting, participants have their blood pressure and vitals checked. These studies have shown that forest bathing may lower blood pressure and cortisol levels while boosting the white blood cell count for up to a week following the experience. 

“This practice is like going back to the roots,” Siegfried said. ”People, we were living in a natural environment for most of our evolution, so disconnecting from nature, it’s a very recent thing, and I think that creates a lot of stress in people.”

Top: Manuela Siegfried leads the bathers through six invitations during an afternoon guided walk. Bottom: One invitation encourages bathers to lead each other to new view points sharing their experience. 
Vida Magazine | Emma Bissell
Right: A tea ceremony closes the day's activity. Vida Magazine | Emma Bissell
Center: Joseph Heithaus pauses to view the path in front of him while experiencing the forest in a new way. Vida Magazine | Emma Bissell
Left: Forest bathers are invited to touch different surfaces with their bare feet. Vida Magazine | Emma Bissell

Leandro Nunez is a guide based in San Ramon. He said that forest therapy is a type of energy.

 

“It is an interaction with nature by your own senses and through your own experiences, where nature is your best friend,” Nunez said. “I think that in Costa Rica many people have been doing this all their life.”

 

To end the walk, Siegfried led the group in a tea ceremony where she asked each member of the group to contribute a word or action that expressed their gratitude to the forest for what they had felt during the walk. A few of the offerings were wonder, hope, peace, love and silence.

"We are used to following orders, and we have forgotten how to listen to ourselves."

-Manuela Siegfried

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