If you’ve been feeling like you need to reconnect with nature, or perhaps yourself, a few hours spent forest bathing this weekend may do the trick.
More commonly known as forest therapy, this practice stems from an ancient Japanese tradition of immersing oneself in nature and absorbing the experience – as well as all of the health benefits that come with it.
On Saturday, Linda Lombardo, a certified forest therapy guide, will lead a walk at Trustom Pond in South Kingstown. Lombardo lives on Long Island and is a longtime friend of Carol Mossa, who runs the Healing Well Arts Center in Charlestown. The two are partnering for this event, which is the first of four seasonal walks.
When asked how she defines forest therapy, Lombardo said, “I say it is a slow and mindful walk through a natural area that could be wild, or it could be a cultivated natural area, through a series of invitations that allow you to reconnect with the more-than-human world.”
Humans, she said, have become detached and disconnected from nature, and the walks are “about reconnecting with something that we all kind of feel we have lost.”
Last year, Lombardo completed a certification course in California and is now a member of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides. She is also CPR certified and trained in NOLS Wilderness Medicine. Semi-retired from working in corporate management and leadership development, Lombardo became a certified life coach in 2002, and recently began recording the “Voice of Evolution” podcast.
All of her work, she said, entails “helping people work on their passions and purpose in the world.”
She became a certified forest therapy guide at the urging of friends, and said the experience recalled her love of playing in nature as a child, from climbing in trees to wading through ponds – activities she enjoyed until her mother said to her, “Now that you’re a young lady, you don’t climb trees anymore.” Lombardo recalls feeling crushed, but she moved on.
“The first time I walked through the forest for my training, I felt like that little girl again,” she said. “This sense of wonder came back to me.”
Lombardo emphasized the science-based benefits of forest therapy, noting that the walks are more than just “hugging trees.”
“[It is] scientifically proven that when people walk in the natural world, it lowers the bio-cortisone level in the body, which causes stress,” she said. “People’s immune systems have been known to be boosted by walking in a natural environment.”
According to Lombardo, some of the health benefits of forest therapy include boosted immune system function; reduced blood pressure; reduced stress; improved mood; increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD; accelerated recovery from surgery or illness; increased energy levels; and improved sleep. Other benefits may include deeper and clearer intuition; increased flow of energy; increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species; increased flow of Eros/life force; deepening of friendships; and an overall increase in sense of happiness.
Depending on the weather, she plans for the walk to span 2½-3 hours, and noted that participants are invited to go at their own pace. She will offer a few exercises to help people slow down and notice what is happening around them, and said there is usually some journaling involved.
“[It’s] a walk to explore how winter informs our own actions,” she said. “Is everything hibernating? What’s going on underground? What is in motion even though it looks like it’s silent?
“Each season has its own story,” she added. “As a guide, I create invitations ... This isn’t ‘Naked and Afraid’ – I am not taking you on a vision quest through the forest. I don’t tell you to do anything, except find this pleasurable. We never walk very far, and we never walk very fast.”
At the end of the walk, Lombardo invites all participants to sit in a circle (she brings stools), share their thoughts on the experience and enjoy a tea ceremony with Douglas fir pine tea.
Anyone is welcome to participate in the event, but Lombardo would like a head count before Saturday; those interested are asked to register in advance. The event costs $25 and payment can be made at the walk.
“I used to teach people how to talk to each other,” Lombardo said. “Now I do the same thing, but with trees. I’m teaching people to talk to trees, [which] allows us to access a part of ourselves that we don’t usually access, and allows us to get to some answers that we don’t always get to.”