For this month’s ‘FBF Guide Spotlight,’ I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Linda Lombardo. As a forest bathing guide, Linda brings a wealth of experience and passion to her work. Her love of nature and commitment to creating a safe and supportive environment for her participants shines through in every aspect of her practice. Her approach to mindfulness is refreshing and accessible, she focuses on being present and noticing the world around us. Linda offers a range of creative invitations tailored to each specific location and group, which encourage participants to connect with nature personally and meaningfully. Linda advises anyone interested in exploring forest bathing for the first time, “Come with an open mind and an open heart. Be curious and allow yourself to be amazed by the beauty of nature.”
Alexis: Thank you so much for your time today, Linda. Please tell us – Where do you live, and where do you guide?
Linda: I live on Long Island in a town called Copiague. I do most of my guiding on Long Island and Queens at arboretums and preserves as well as a few nature centers. In addition, I’ve guided in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and as far south as North Carolina. I’ve also been a life coach for 20 years, and my coaching colleagues who lead workshops and retreats bring me in to deepen the learning of the workshop or retreat with a forest bathing walk.
Alexis: When did you start your practice as a Forest Bathing guide, and what was your inspiration?
Linda: I began early in 2017; this is my sixth year as a guide. I had retired from the corporate world. I was still coaching; however, I just knew I wanted more. There was something about nature that was calling me. I was very much the wild child and the nature child when I was young. But then I was told to put aside all of that and really get serious about my life and the world. After I retired a friend told me, “Have you heard of this thing called forest bathing, forest therapy? It’s perfect for you. You’ve got to do this.”
I was retired for about two or three years at that point. My coaching wasn’t progressing as much as I’d hoped. I was still doing some of my own management and leadership facilitation, because I was a front-of-the-room facilitator in the corporate world. And it just wasn’t resonating with me anymore. My post-retirement period didn’t seem to have the meaning I wanted my life to have.
And so, I signed up to do the Forest Bathing guide training with ANFT. And at the time, the first week of training was in the Berkshires for eight days, an intensive. And then, I had six months of practicum where I guided walks, and I did reports on the plants and the animals and the type of tea that could be foraged. And it really resonated. When I heard about forest bathing and the idea of helping people connect to nature, I just knew that it was the piece that was missing for me. And so, the fact that I could help others find that missing piece through nature was exciting and inspiring.
Alexis: What is your very favorite thing about being a Forest Bathing guide?
Linda: It’s the people that I meet on my walks. And not just the people I meet on my walks, but the people I have relationships with, for example, the land stewards, because I believe this work is more successful with those kind of relationships. The people that go on my walks give me hope. They’re the nicest people. And when they find something, a discovery, or they find awe in nature, they’re so excited. And that makes me feel like I am serving a purpose; I am doing something important.
The land stewards have been so generous because they recognize that forest therapy or forest bathing is different than anything they do. And they know there’s a need for it as well. I’ve had people say to me on walks, “I’ve walked in this area for my whole life, and I’m never going to look at this place the same way after experiencing forest bathing.”
Alexis: What Forest Bathing invitation do you like to use most often?
Linda: That is so tough because every place is different. I can do something different in every location because every location has a unique feature. One invitation I made up was in the autumn when the leaves were changing colors and falling from the trees; I love to invite people to be ‘leaf doulas,’ like there’s a birth doula and there’s a death doula. I ask my participants to find a tree and really sit and watch, watch a leaf fall from the branch to the ground, and then give the tree some kind of acknowledgment for letting go of that leaf or pushing it off.
At that point, I will share some science around the fact that the tree actually pushes the leaf off. It’s not the leaf deciding to fall. It’s the tree deciding to push the leaf. It’s one of the few times I work with the idea of letting go.
When I tell people I’m going to turn them all into leaf doulas, they laugh. They think it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. But from that point on throughout the walk every time a leaf falls, someone looks up and goes, “Good job. Good job, tree.” And then we all giggle a little bit, but we get it. It’s a bonding or a connecting experience with the trees and each other.
Alexis: What role does mindfulness play in Forest Bathing, and how do you incorporate it into your practice?
Linda: I think the word mindfulness is overused, and we don’t really understand what it means. To me, to be mindful is to be present and to notice. People often say to me, especially since I love photographing nature, “I don’t know how you see these things.” And this is because I am open to being astonished or for nature to show me its beauty.
There’s a spiritual concept that everything in nature is a message from whatever you believe the divine is or a creator is. And so, by noticing, if I’m really looking, I find that there is a message in nature for me or a message in a plant or in a tree for me, which will always be personal.
Alexis: How do you select a location for a Forest Bathing session? What factors are important to you? What attracts you to a particular location or not?
Linda: I look for trails or paths that are wide enough that two or three people could walk across. Sadly, Long Island has a tick issue, and not just Long Island, of course. I don’t like people brushing up against the understory as they’re walking. I want them to feel that this is a safe path.
The other thing I am looking for is places where a large group can gather and circle to share our experiences. I’ve had some places that actually make these areas for me, some nature centers that didn’t necessarily have a lot of places to gather. We created some little circle areas with logs or stones so we could do that in between invitations.
I think the main things I look for are clear paths so people can feel safe and secure walking, that there are trees that we can reach easily, and we can touch, meaning there isn’t poison ivy on the tree. It’s important that there’s an area where we can actually connect and physically touch trees.
Alexis: Great segue into my next question, how do you create a safe and supportive environment for participants, especially those who may have anxiety about being in nature?
Linda: Well, everybody’s got an edge about being in nature. For some people, it might just be bugs or insects. And some people will ask about wild animals or venomous snakes. When it comes to the invitations I will always say, “It’s up to you how much or how little you engage.” I encourage participants to give what I’m offering a try and stay connected to nature in some way. But it’s really up to them. If something feels uncomfortable, I let them know there is no wrong way about how they participate in an invitation. I assure them that they are not going to be graded. That I am not going to be ‘checking’ on them. I do emphasize that staying safe is their responsibility. And so that goes hand in hand with how deeply one chooses to engage in something.
I’ve had people throw themselves right into a tree; they were just so excited with the process. And other people who are thinking, “I don’t know that I want to touch a tree.” In the latter case, I might invite them to stand with a tree and walk around it or sit beneath it, whatever feels right to them at that moment.
Interestingly, on many occasions, the person who shows up super anxious or edgy comes up with something so beautiful about the experience, and that’s because the pressure is off. And part of our guide training is that ‘invitations are not prescriptive.’ If the invitation is that the sky invites you to look at the clouds, for example, somebody might lie down in the grass; somebody else might stand and look up. Everyone has permission to do as they please.
Alexis: How do you stay up to date with the latest research and trends in Forest Bathing, and how do you then incorporate new knowledge into your practice?
Linda: So, I do that a couple of ways. One is the ANFT guides Facebook page; there are a lot of articles that get shared there. There is also a magazine I subscribe to called Mindful. They often talk about meditation, they talk about awe, they talk about inspiration. And much of it is focused on nature or being outdoors.
I also read some relevant blogs, and I get inspired. There’s one that I just received the other day about the courage of uncertainty and our life stories. And I thought, “That might be interesting with a specific group of people to talk about our stories or how our stories shape us. And we could talk about our stories in nature or about nature in general and then see what’s possible if we didn’t hold on to that story so much.”
I don’t know. I’m a sponge. I am always thinking. I was reading a book the other day, it was a book by Elizabeth Gilbert, in fact, and one of the characters commented how important it is to thank the birds for their beautiful serenades. And I thought, “Well, what a nice invitation that would be!”
Alexis: What advice would you give a brand new Forest Bathing guide just getting their certification?
Linda: I was very literal about my training when I first started, creating an excellent foundation for me. And then, as I went on, my work as a writer, my work as a life coach, the creative side of me, having been a performer, I started to bring more of ‘me’ into the walks. And what I found was that it made it very personal. People responded so positively when I shared more about myself. Participants love that. I’ve made it personal. I’ll share with them my favorite tree and tell them what I got curious about at a particular place.
Or I might throw in a little bit of the science of something if I know and invite others to share what they might know. So, my protocol is still what I was taught, but I’ve learned to be adaptable to the situation, the number of people, the land itself, and the time I have. There are actually times I’ve done a tea ceremony right in the middle of a walk! As you know it’s supposed to be done at the end, but it felt right, and it was how the land was structured or set up. Sometimes it’s like, “Okay, let’s just do it now.” And it works. It always works.
Alexis: What advice do you have for someone who’s interested in exploring Forest Bathing for the first time, and what should they expect from the experience?
Linda: For someone who’s interested in experiencing forest bathing for the first time, come with an open mind and an open heart. Being curious about the experience is the best thing to do. One of the things I know is that I can’t tell anybody what to expect. Be open-minded. It should never feel forced.
Alexis: Is there anything else that you would like to share? Do you have a favorite quote or something dear to you that you would like to leave us with, Linda?
Linda: Oh, my goodness. Well, what comes to mind is the Mary Oliver poem that I sometimes read at the end of my walk, and it never fails that my eyes well up with tears. It’s the one that ends with, “If you have ever walked in the woods with me, I must love you very much.“……..
How I go into the Woods
Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone, I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.”
— Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems