Forest Bathing International Magazine, Issue 1 - Page 6

There are a lot of us now

When I founded the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs (ANFT) in 2012—only six years ago—there were no other forest therapy leadership training programs outside of Japan and Korea. My motivation for starting ANFT was driven by my concerns about the impacts of humans on the more-than-human world. It feels very personal to me when year after year there are decreases the populations of birds who live with me on Sonoma Mountain. It’s personal in the way heartbreak is personal. Most people have forgotten that all beings and places in the world are our relations. I’ve been guided by the question, “What can I do to help myself and others remember how to deeply know and experience relationship with the more-than-human world?” Because it was my intuition that unless a great remembering happens, we will not find our way out of the maze. Forest therapy is the answer this question led me to.

It was not at all clear, back in 2012, that there would be much interest in Forest Therapy in the United States. I began by guiding friends, experimentally developing a format—ANFT’s “Standard Sequence”—that reliably results in people having positive, relationship-building experiences. Guiding is like tossing pebbles into a pond, sending out rings of ripples. Each person touched by a forest therapy walk is one of these ripples, moving beyond my sight but contacting distant shores. By training a global network of guides, ANFT has greatly extended the numbers and reach of these ripples. We’re a part of a much larger movement of activism. 

I’ve been surprised and gratified that forest therapy is now growing into a global movement. It seems like every month I learn about a new organization or business that is offering trainings and other services, often called forest therapy but sometimes under names like “mindfulness in nature.” Each group is doing its bit to toss more pebbles

into the pond, to send out more ripples of awakening and awareness. 

We differ from each other

quite a bit. YET we have a lot

of similarities.

One of the things I noticed when being

guided in Japan was differences and similarities between their approach and ANFT’s. My impression is that this is true globally. The shape of how we practice forest therapy reflects the sensibilities of the founders of organizations, their purposes

and goals, and the cultures in which they live.

In Japan, sometimes the walks began with calisthenics, and usually they included yoga. The guides periodically gathered the group to give information about the trees and especially about science related to health benefits. They sometimes clipped bits of plants and passed them around so we could smell them and interact in other ways, like learning how to use a hollow stem as a whistle. The aim of the walks was clearly to provide a relaxing, healthful experience to counter the effects

of the many stresses of modern Japanese urban lifestyles.

In contrast, on walks guided by ANFT-trained guides, teaching science is minimized, at least until the end of the walk where a question and answer session may be part of the “tea ceremony” with which we close every walk. (In Japan, tea and snacks were typically served in the middle of a walk, and to my surprise, there was little ceremony involved). There are many other differences, but also similarities: moving slowly, taking time to enjoy with our senses, being in the forest, being guided by someone who knows a particular way of guiding and who has expertise related to the practice. If

there are, say, 20 “schools” of forest therapy, there are likely 20 different ways of guiding. 

Awakening to the Power of the Forests:

Reflections on the State of the Field

By M. Amos Clifford, M.A.