Alexis: Can you tell us a little bit about where you live?
Lori: I live in Bentonville, Arkansas. Bentonville is in the Ozarks, and it’s beautiful! The area has grown a great deal in the past decade, and it has become a prime spot for outdoor activities. We are known as the mountain bike capital of the world, so you can just imagine there is so much to see! We have an excellent topography which leads to a beautiful bluff and caves. Forests and lakes are everywhere, all over the state, and they are incredible.
Alexis: It sounds like this is a perfect location for forest bathing walks, am I right?
Lori: When I learned about forest bathing, I thought, why would we not have this unique offering here? We are surrounded by every outdoor activity you can imagine, and the nature is amazing. Our state is just teeming with natural areas and begging for forest bathing guides and walks!
Alexis: How did you hear about forest bathing, and what made you become a guide?
Lori: One day, my husband and I were watching TV, and there was a segment about forest bathing that caught my attention. I honestly don’t even remember what we were watching, but my husband and I looked at each other, and he said to me…”Okay, this is SO you – you’ve got to do this – NOW!” So, I did some research and off I went to get my certification. I’ve always done this type of meditative walking through nature, but I didn’t know it had a proper name. I loved wandering through the forests when I was little – so, honestly, it’s always been who I am. It was a great decision, and it has proven to be such a rewarding experience.
Alexis: Have you found that becoming a forest bathing guide has allowed you to continue to learn and express yourself, or do you look at it strictly as a business now?
Lori: It took some time to balance guiding and the practice’s business side. When I guide people, it just feels so natural – I don’t struggle guiding them at all. I try not to think about it as a business or I become a bit anxious. That’s why I am so pleased that I have been able to leave most of the business side to ForestBathingFInder.com. Now I can just focus on the walks!
Alexis: I can appreciate that; it’s hard when you are trying to turn your ‘passion into profit’ – right?
Lori: Right, and you must make sure you don’t start resenting (or neglecting) your passion when the business side isn’t going your way. It takes patience to build out a forest bathing guide practice after you have been certified. For me, it just clicked one day. I was guiding a walk, and a participant told me, “You know what, I don’t remember the last time I looked up at the sky or the top of trees….I actually forgot that I could look up.” I think that enlightening feeling is in everyone, but so many of us have forgotten to tap into it. That’s the kind of feedback from walkers that keeps pushing me if I get frustrated with the business side of the practice.
Alexis: What other elements make walkers love and appreciate forest bathing so much?
Lori: I think the participants begin to remember that connection they once had with nature. You can see it in their eyes. Many of my walkers sign up for a walk because they need some release from challenges in their lives, relationships, traumatic events, etc. When they participate in a walk, it’s like they become a child again, and they just let nature and their surroundings ease their stresses and allow them to feel peaceful. It’s beautiful to watch.
Alexis: What is your favorite invitation? Is there something you use during your walks that is different or a little outside the box?
Lori: I always have invitations prepared for what I think I’m going to do on that walk. That being said, I get there at least an hour early and I sit with the land. It often shows me something that day that I wasn’t expecting so I switch invitations. For instance, I was guiding a walk the other day, and when I went outside, I began to see some amazing shadows and lights that were sort of bouncing around in different ways. I decided that we should do an invitation around some of the natural aspects of the day. I asked the walkers to take it all in and tell the group what they saw in the shapes, shadows, and shade that were all around them. It was a tremendous impromptu experience.
Alexis: Is it important for walkers to arrive with a clear mind? How much does mindfulness play into a successful forest bathing experience?
Lori: However you show up is exactly how you should show up. I always tell participants that there’s no right or wrong way to do this practice and there’s no prescribed outcome. Some days we just don’t feel “deep” and that’s ok. Nobody needs to feel bad because they didn’t have some profound experience. Some days you’ll have a profound epiphany and other days it’s just nice to be out of the house and outside for a few hours. I love that this practice meets you exactly where you are at that moment in time.
Alexis: Do you incorporate nature-based rituals and traditions in your walks?
Lori: Yes, I do. Sometimes I have my forest bathing groups walk quietly into the woods, and I ask them to pick up something they find interesting and bring it with them to our closing tea ceremony. We then, with intention, give whatever piece of nature back as a gift to the land. We talk about the meaning behind the items they’ve brought and marvel at the findings. We don’t remove anything that is already a part of the land like a flower.
Alexis: Do you have to warn your walkers about any flora and fauna they might encounter?
Lori: I raise awareness that there might be pesky bugs and reptiles, such as snakes, in some cases, so I ask them to keep their eyes open and be aware. I make sure to have plenty of bug spray on hand, and I talk about how important it is that they watch out for ticks. And, of course, we also constantly look out for poison ivy!
Alexis: What about walkers that might be older or have specific physical challenges? Do you do anything special to make sure they are comfortable?
Lori: I observe the group right at the beginning to make sure I know the pace that might be best. I also ask the walkers to let me know if I can change anything while we are on the walk to make the experience more comfortable. I bring tripod stools because only some can, or want to, get down on the ground. In addition, I carry things like rain ponchos, hand warmers, extra jackets, etc. I like to keep the walkers comfortable in any situation that might arise. Accommodating walkers with even the slightest comforts can lend itself to a more rewarding walk.
Alexis: Have you had any real surprises on a forest bathing walk you were guiding?
Lori: I remember on one of my walks, there was a woman who was by herself, and she was completely deaf. She did not mention this in advance, so I was not aware. For the first hour, everything was great; she was unbelievable at lip reading. However, at a certain point, I noticed she seemed confused. We chatted for a moment, and she said that at the beginning, I was walking backward (or at an angle), and she could read my lips, but then I turned around because we were going uphill, and that’s when she got confused about what we were doing next. I found her feedback so helpful, and I adjusted my actions accordingly.
Alexis: I know you are located near the magnificent Crystal Bridges Museum. Do you ever have any artists or other creative types that attend your walks?
Lori: I haven’t had the opportunity to conduct many walks on the grounds of Crystal Bridges due to massive amounts of construction on the property but – it is a very special place. My own personal sit spot is located on the grounds.
Some of the construction that’s going on at the moment is the creation of the Whole Health Institute which will offer a four-year medical degree-granting program that integrates conventional medicine with holistic principles and self-care practices and a deep commitment to building a holistic approach to health care. That is going to be another fantastic opportunity to connect people with this practice.
We have lots of artists in this area, and on many occasions, they will come on my walks. I guided a walk last winter, and a local artist attended; during the walk, she said, “You know, this experience is giving me so much inspiration for my art. I didn’t anticipate that kind of response from a forest bathing walk.” She said that as she was slowly walking, she noticed the color combinations all around her, and they gave her lots of ideas to incorporate into her future works.
I regularly partner with a local Yoga studio and on several occasions, I have been asked to be a part of some holistic events that include yoga, writing workshops, meditation, organic cooking lessons, and forest bathing. I enjoy being a part of those events because many people who attend have never experienced forest bathing, but they are in the mindset to take it all in and be in the moment.
Alexis: Where do you go to learn more about forest bathing and nature?
Lori: I read and read and read. I have many close contacts from my forest bathing certification cohort, who I talk with regularly, and we swap stories and resources that will help one another. I learn so much during those exchanges. I also continue to go to courses to learn more about the outdoors. I am lucky because I’m in an area rich with outdoor activities. My degree is in therapeutic recreation, so I am constantly attending classes and trying to learn everything I can about the outdoors.
Alexis: What do you tell walkers who know nothing about Forest Bathing? Mainly when they express that they are a bit nervous before going on a walk.
Lori: “Just show up – I have no doubt you will love it.” I let them know that it’s a slow walk and that we will simply be meandering through nature. I try to ease their minds and let them know that they are not graded and it’s all at their own pace. Many people tell me they’re “afraid of bears”. When I tell them I’m doing the session in the park next to their house and no bears will be present, they become curious.
Alexis: Do you incorporate readings, quotes, or poems in your walks?
Lori: Yes, I read a piece at the beginning and again at the end of each walk. Doing so sets the tone for the walk and gives the participants something to think about as they continue their day. I change what I choose to read depending on the place I am conducting a walk, the occasion, and even the season. For instance, my next forest bathing walk is in an area filled with the most beautiful wildflowers. So, I am currently seeking out a poem about wildflowers to read during the walk.
I asked Lori to email me one of her favorite poems that she reads on her forest bathing walks. ENJOY!
How Can I Walk By
How can I just walk by
when the delicate green ferns are unfurling so perfectly?
When the brave little mosses
are stepping out
in their finest green fronds
this is their time
When pale gray branches
that have slept all winter
are giving birth
bright green leaves?
How can I just walk by
without stopping to greet
these beloved friends,
to praise their beauty,
to honor their patient
and generous labors?
I want to bow down
before their humble glory
I want to kiss the ground
they grow in.
Poems of Earth and Spirit
by Kai Siedenburg