I first learned about Shinrin-yoku, also known as Forest Bathing, through Dr. Qing Li’s book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. In this book, Dr, Li explores the science behind this practice of sense immersion for individual health and wellbeing.
Scientists began studying the effects of Shinrin-yoku back in 1982. What they found is that time in nature can actually 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.
Dr. Li says of this practice,
“Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world. And when we are in harmony with the natural world we can begin to heal. Our nervous systems can reset itself, our bodies and minds can go back to how they ought to be. . . We may not travel very far on our forest walk but, in connecting us with nature, shinrin-yoku takes us all the way home to our true selves.”
Since Dr Li’s book was published, Shinrin-yoku has grown in popularity and you can now participate in forest bathing just about anywhere there are trees, green space, and a trained guide.
Marie Bourdon happens to be one of those trained guides. Marie is a Certified Forest Therapy Guide which “is a relational practice that brings people into deeper intimacy with natural places” inspired by shinrin-yoku.(1) She agreed to participate in an interview so that I could learn a little more about her role as a Forest Therapy Guide and what inspires her about this work.
This interview was conducted over email.
NW- Can you introduce yourself and describe how you support nature connection?
Marie- Hello, there! My name is Marie Bourdon (she/her) – human, veteran, Registered Yoga Teacher , Certified Forest Therapy Guide, and lover of nature who lives and plays live in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I am the creator and guide at Move To Nature, a collection of guided movement classes and mindfulness events hosted outdoors and online.
By providing gentle, accessible, and trauma informed yoga, meditation classes, and forest therapy experiences in local parks and virtually, my guided offerings aim at fostering a deeper connection to ourselves, our community, and the natural world.
What is forest therapy, you ask? It is a guided, full-bodied sensory immersion in nature; it is a series of invitations to wander and connect to forest beings; it is a time to gather in community to share, witness and support one another’s experience.
Possible benefits of forest therapy include feelings of wellbeing, relaxation, wonder, magic, and awe. Gentle, mindful experiences in nature can also help us experience a sense of Interbeing – a term coined by Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn which refers to the interconnection between and within all beings.(2)
NW-Can you talk a little bit about what got you interested in this type of work?
Marie – My family would often spend weekends away in the woods, from early Spring to late Fall, where we would wander the trails, swim in the lake, stare at the stars by the campfire, and make giant piles of leaves to jump in. One of the most valuable beliefs I developed during those childhood camping trips is a deep appreciation for nature and the simple things in life – a value that stayed with me since and that inspired me to join the cadet corp and, later on, the military.
Following a medical release from the Canadian Forces at a relatively young age, in nature I found a safe space to heal and to adapt to a new way of living and being. I discovered forest therapy not long after my release and found that spending contemplative time in the forest helped me define what matters and what I need to optimize my health and my happiness: movement, community, and nature connection – which are the foundations to Move To Nature.
I also attended a life affirming and life changing silent yoga retreat in Maine which helped set things in motion. I stopped waiting for the “perfect moment” and took the plunge after a decade of personal practice. I completed, then assisted on, a body inclusive and trauma informed yoga teacher training (2019), created Move to Nature (2020), and completed my certification as a nature and forest therapy guide (2021).
NW – What gets you the most excited about your work?
Marie – While I do not promise or predict certain outcomes for participants who attend Move to Nature sessions, it is my hope that gathering in community to spend time in movement and mindfulness outdoors will help participants to unwind and relax; connect with their bodies, one another and nature; all while being supported by the natural world. Rewilding is also one of the pillars of Move to Nature: to let the wilderness take of us so we can reconnect with and restore our true nature. If we slow down and pay attention to nature and our surroundings, we can listen to the wisdom of our hearts and that of the earth. I find it magical when participants share how supported they feel (by my open and playful facilitating style or by the forest) and how these practices reminds them of what is truly important for them – be it family, health, connection. Moving in nature and bathing in the forest’s atmosphere can also remind us that we are never separate and always connected to all beings in all ways.
In short, Move To Nature allows me to share the practices and activities that I love with my community in an outdoor setting – it is both a labor of love and a dream come true!
“People protect what they love,” a quote from explorer and conservationist Jacques Yves Cousteau, is a fundamental belief of the practice of forest therapy. As we’ve witnessed across the world, the earth is suffering greatly due to our collective lifestyle choices. Now is the time to act to save our planet and ourselves. If Move to Nature can help people fall (back) in love with the earth and inspire them to make environmentally conscious choices, then I will be REALLY EXCITED!
NW – How does technology support you in your work? Or what role do you see technology playing in your nature connection practice?
Marie – Great question! Though unplugged experiences are what I focus on during the warmer months, sometimes it isn’t always possible to practice out-of-doors, whether in winter months or during stay-at-home orders. When we crave community support in our practices, technology allows us to log on and gather virtually with friends and loved ones across the world to move, meditate, or bathe in a natural space of our choice. To keep practicing and offerings experiences during the pandemic, we all have had to connect to our devices. Balance is key – our body will let us know when it needs virtual connection and when its best to rest our eyes. (Though guided virtual forest therapy walks are done primarily via audio, so your eyes will get a break too!).
Technology is also key in making my offerings known to the world. Participants find me on the web, on social media, or in their neighborhood e-newsletter; I connected with you (Naturalist Weekly) and other like-minded organizations on Instagram; I completed my forest therapy guide training on Zoom with dozens of heard-centered folks all over North America; and I practice and teach virtual yoga online with participants worldwide.
In a way, technology is but one of many tools at our disposal to access connection and support along our movement and nature connection journey. 😊
Marie has many upcoming events including Weekly Yoga and Meditation classes at the Barriefield Rock Garden, Monthly Sunday Forest Therapy at Landon Bay, and Monthly Sunday Morning Yoga Retreats at Patterson Park. To check out the details of these events go to MoveToNature’s event page.
Marie says if you don’t see an event that fits your schedule you can reach out to organize a private session, outdoors or online, in English or in French, for your family, friends or coworkers. Just email her at email@example.com .
Together, let’s spread the joy of movement and nature connection!Marie Bourdon