If you’ve been reading our other posts about forest bathing in Nova Scotia, you’ll have learned that it originated in Japan as Shinrin-yoku, meaning “taking in the forest atmosphere”.
Forest bathing simply means spending time in nature while being mindful of the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. It can be done anywhere there are trees and plants. Japanese-funded studies have shown that it helps to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve moods, heart health, and sleep quality.
While forest bathing can be done on your own, it can also be a guided activity — and guides can help you get the most out of the experience.
If you’re interested in becoming a forest bathing guide or achieving a forest bathing certification, there are a few things you need to know.
How to become a forest bathing and nature therapy guide
There are two main reasons that you might want to become a forest bathing guide: to help yourself to achieve mindful peace, and to help others do the same.
A number of organizations offer forest bathing training programs that teach you how to lead forest bathing groups safely and effectively. You can even achieve a forest bathing certification if you want to learn more about the practice.
The only prerequisite for forest bathing training is having a personal connection with nature and the desire to guide and help others.
Two of our Nova Scotia guides (see below) are certified by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) based in Prescott Arizona. The ANFT program offers forest bathing certification programs that start with six months of remote training, a four-day in-person immersion, and then six months of mentorship as you hone the practical side of what you’ve learned.
The immersions are offered in various places in the US and Canada, including Vermont, Ontario, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Arizona, or New Hampshire (you pick the one best suited to you). After completing these program elements, you’re certified!
From time to time, the ANFT also offers six-month forest bathing certification programs right here in Nova Scotia. These have started with an on-site, week-long intensive training followed by a six-month mentorship that you complete from home. ANFT’s Facebook page typically announces when events in all locations are scheduled.
One of our other Nova Scotia guides attended an internship for Contemplative Forest Practice at Windhorse Farm on the LaHave River at Wentzell Lake near New Germany, Nova Scotia.
The farm is owned by the Ulnooweg Education Centre, an indigenous registered charitable organization, and it offers a number of programs: Meditative/Contemplative Practice, yoga, food and health, personal growth, business development, social enterprise, leadership training, and earth stewardship. As students of forest bathing, you may be interested in “Connecting in Nature” with Margaret and Jim Drescher. They encourage you to ask about other programs that may not be listed on their site.
Other groups that offer training and certification programs include:
- The Global Institute of Forest Therapy (GIFT), based in Ontario Canada, offers training and forest bathing certification programs that are either blended (a combination of live and recorded video sessions, plus a three-day in-person intensive session) or eight-day intensive in-person training at various locations including British Columbia, Costa Rica, or Ontario. GIFT also has a six-month mentorship following their training.
- The Forest Therapy School, which offers forest bathing certification online as well as in person to deepen your relationship with nature and provide you with the necessary tools to step into your calling as a forest bathing guide.
- The Mindful Tourist, which offers online forest bathing certification and training, as well as monthly online webinars and the chance to take your certification physically in Japan.
Part of the certification process requires that new guides complete a Wilderness First Aid Certification Program. The certification usually takes about 16-hours to complete and trains you how to respond to common injuries you could encounter in nature, including blisters, cuts, breaks, and sprains.
All four of these organizations offer excellent instruction and hands-on, experiential learning. All have an onsite component and, typically, the tuition does not include the cost of food or lodging, so its best to check the organization’s websites for details if you plan to become a forest bathing student.
What to expect during the certification process
As detailed above, each organization offers varied formats for training or certification but often it boils down to online or remote coursework, in-person intensive workshop or a retreat, and a mentorship period afterwards.
Among the subjects students may cover are:
- What a forest bathing guide should know and be able to do
- Integrative health and wellbeing
- Nature connection and nature connectedness
- Nature-based expressive arts activities for forest therapy
- Forest medicine and site selection
- Adapting for urban nature
- Ecoliteracy & ecolinguistics
- Environmental ethics and reciprocity
- Safety and risk management, trail awarenesses and safety
- Wilderness first aid certification.
Following completion of the training, there may be several months of mentored practice that gives students an opportunity to put what they have learned into practice. By the end of the training program or certification process, graduates can use their new skills to lead group walks, teach classes, or simply help friends and family members find calm and relaxation in nature.
Some graduates will make forest bathing and therapy their full time vocations while others may integrate what they’ve learned into other careers.
Many people who work in parks or nature preserves are also forest bathing or nature therapy guides. And many counselors, social workers, holistic healing naturopaths, and spas integrate forest bathing with their general practice.
Also, personal coaches, team-building and organizational development consultants, or those who work in employee wellness programs also take forest bathing/therapy training to round out their skills to help meet the goals of their particular area of expertise.
How these Nova Scotians became forest bathing guides
As a fairly new wellness concept in North American, forest bathing isn’t regulated or supported by government policy or programs yet. But in spite of that, these Nova Scotia forest bathing guides have put a lot of time and effort into their training.
Wendy Hanlan is the owner and on-site director of Harbour Retreat in Musquodoboit Harbour, providing travellers with accommodations in a tiny house and a variety of onsite wellness experiences.
Wendy did the research on her own then created a unique forest bathing experience that draws from the work she already does in art therapy. She integrates art philosophy into her forest bathing sessions and uses the practice of nature journalling to express interpretations.
As well as walks in the warmer months, Wendy leads cold-weather forest bathing sessions as part of her Harbour Hygge experience. After a snowy forest walk participants relax in front of a bonfire with warm mulled cider while they finish up their journalling — a delightful way to spend a winter day, she says.
Wil Brunner is a certified forest therapy guide and is wilderness first-aid certified. He runs community forest bathing walks in the Annapolis Valley. He says that, technically, you don’t need to be certified or take training to be a guide but it helps a guide to be more credible and reputable.
Wil already had 20 years of experience in the ecology and mental health fields when he enrolled in the certification program at the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) in 2021. In spite of the earlier experience, he says the program taught him a lot.
“I’ve had many moments that were transformative for me and my connection to nature during my training.”
Wil says that it’s actually nature and the forest that does all the magic. As a guide, his role is simply to partner with nature and support participants on their journey. A well-trained, informed guide gracefully accompanies the participants and expands their experience.
Rosmarie Lohnes is in the Bridgewater area of Nova Scotia’s South Shore. But she says her forest bathing education started as a child in Northern Ontario: “I grew up in the woods and always felt happiest with dirt under my fingernails and amongst my forest friends, the trees, mosses, and critters.”
Later, she completed a 14-month internship for Contemplative Forest Practice at Windhorse Farm and studied Horticulture as Therapy under Mitchell Hewson. She’s enhanced all that experience with several years of forest bathing self study, reading everything she can get her hands on, and intends to pursue certified training when the timing is right.
Sophie Hebert is an ANFT-certified forest therapy guide in Halifax and, like Wil, is wilderness first aid certified. She says that if you want to try forest bathing on your own, that’s awesome, and there are many books and resources available to help you do that. But if guiding others is your goal, she thinks a training program would be a great path.
During her time at ANFT, she did different exercises and assignments with a final “Harvest Project” to share learnings. ANFT is one of the main teaching organizations worldwide although many are popping up as forest therapy becomes more popular.
“We learn so many nuances throughout the training such as ensuring trauma-informed guidance for participants which is extremely important because you don’t know what will come up for every participant throughout the walk.
“We’re never done learning, so I see completing the guide training as just the beginning of the journey!”
Resources for learning more about Forest Bathing and Nature Therapy
There are many resources available to help you get started; here are a few books and websites:
By Dr. Qing Li
Notice how a tree sways in the wind. Run your hands over its bark. Take in its citrusy scent. As a society we suffer from nature deficit disorder, but studies have shown that spending mindful, intentional time around trees–what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing–can promote health and happiness.
In this beautiful book–featuring more than 100 color photographs from forests around the world, including the forest therapy trails that criss-cross Japan–Dr. Qing Li, the world’s foremost expert in forest medicine, shows how forest bathing can reduce your stress levels and blood pressure, strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems, boost your energy, mood, creativity, and concentration, and even help you lose weight and live longer.
Once you’ve discovered the healing power of trees, you can lose yourself in the beauty of your surroundings, leave everyday stress behind, and reach a place of greater calm and wellness.
- The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing: by Julie Plevin. An engaging guide to the art of forest bathing, inspired by the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, for anyone who wants to explore the transformative power of nature in promoting health and happiness.
- Your Guide to Forest Bathing, Experience the Healing Power of Nature: by ANFT founder, Amos Clifford. The bestselling guide to forest bathing with a new section of hands-on forest bathing practices and space for journal entries and reflections. Simply being present in the natural world, with all of our senses fully alive, can have a remarkably healing effect. It can also awaken in us our latent but profound connection with all living things.
Web resources worth checking out:
- halifaxtrails.ca – Outdoor adventure guides for sites around the Halifax area
- Trips By Transit (Facebook), which plans group outings by bus to local natural sites and has a website listing what destinations are on which bus route.
- The Chebucto Hiking Club, which introduces people to hiking trails and natural footpaths in and around the Halifax Regional Municipality.
- Forest Therapy Hub, an international based forest bathing training and certification organization with in-person classes all around the world (the closest to Nova Scotia is in New England).
Learn to help others with training and a forest bathing certification
Forest bathing certification is a great way for nature lovers to share their passion with others.
The skills learned through the forest bathing certification process can be used to lead group walks, teach classes, or simply help others find calm and relaxation in nature. If you are looking for a way to connect with nature and help others do the same, forest bathing certification may be right for you.
My thanks to these expert Nova Scotia guides who helped contribute to this series:
Helping Nature Heal Inc.
Soft Pine Wellness
Sparkles & Sawdust
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