I was captivated by myths and old stories since I was 8 years old I devoured all the Suske and Wiske comics and learned more about Norse and then Greek mythology through them. During my Ancient Greek classes, the teacher asked if I sometimes felt like telling the Greek myth. Since 2013 (or maybe even before) I have been working on themes such as natural philosophy, ecopsychology, permaculture and ecofeminism. Moreover, I also did all kinds of training, such as in leadership, change management, creativity (film and writing) and sustainability. In 2017, I also moved to Japan for my PhD, but also to learn more about Japanese natural philosophy and Shintoism. I visited a lot of spiritual places and often reflected and philosophized in my journals. That is when I learned about shinrin yoku, or forest bathing. In the same period I started the blog of this website.
In spring 2019, I took an introduction to ecolinguistics. In september I went to USA to do an onsite training with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) . The training at ANFT in 2019 has allowed me to turn the wisdom and methods I have gathered into medicine for myself and others. ANFT style is also often called relational ecotherapy, because ANFT guides work with both the wisdom of the group, and the forest as partner. We were also (still are) encouraged to reflect on our use of language and the stories we use as guides. In February 2020, I moved back to Flanders and have been trying to look for more ‘old stories’ of Flanders in my forest baths. I like to read about cultural heritage -and especially (women’s) folklore. In the end of March 2020, I got my certificate of a guide.
Each forest bath guide has her/his own approach. I follow the order of methods according to the ANFT style. I may place more emphasis on local history and folklore. During on-site training in Colorado, my trainers in ANFT began their forest baths with an introduction about local history and also the “other names” of the landscape, the “older names” given by the indigenous people. I found that beautiful, mystical. It gave even more meaning to what I noticed in the forest pool afterwards. I especially attract people who are also searching for ‘meanings’. I think it’s important to take a moment now and then to think about what stories used to be here, and I devote importance to that in my longer introduction, but also in introductions of invitations during my forest bath. Sometimes in my introduction I also tell about my own observations and journey in Japan. During the tea ceremony-at the end of the forest bath-you can certainly ask me more about what I learned during those 2.5 years in Japan.
As a researcher I also read a lot about the scientific evidence behind forest bathing. There is a systematic knowledge gap in all the fragmented information, and there are some biases and errors, but as a scientist I can see that science is providing more and more evidence on the positive correlation between forest bathing, individual health and wellbeing and even stronger human nature connection and more care for the planet.
Partnerships with forests
I see the forest as the therapist and myself as the guide who opens the door. Since 2019, different forests in the USA, Japan, Belgium and Norway have been my partner. Since winter 2021, I guide in the Mjøsa region in Norway. I guided already for DNT Gjøvik, landscape architect students and for researchers and doctors of public health of HINN Elverum. I am a fulltime researcher in Gjøvik and working on a next fiction book (inspired by my human nature connection experiences in Japan), so in 2022, I only guide at request or as volunteer for community activities.
Blogs and musings about my journey as guide:
Sometimes I share insights and experiences about my guided forest baths via the blog of this website, under the category way of the forest therapy guide, or on my instagram @wereldwoud.
Community weaver in Flanders
I am also the administrator of a Flemish portal website about forest bathing where we collect practical and scientific information: www.bosbadenvlaanderen.com . Occasionally I write a newsletter (in Flemish) for the mailing list of this website which consists of more than 400 subscriptions.
Other contributions to science and society:
In winter 2022, I have been coordinating, with the support of the university for which I work, a proposal for the European Union for a 4 year long co-creation project on forest therapy and related practices. We worked with well-known researchers and experts as Dr. Kotera and Petra Cau. If granted, I will be happy to share more from 2023 onwards about this. I am also advising and co-writing research results of a forest therapy research in Flanders in 2022.