Today, I’m welcoming Valérie Dulière, who shares her love for Shinrin Yoku, or Forest Bathing!
Valérie is a Doctor in Physics, and leads an active life as a researcher, mom to 2 teenagers and Forest Therapy Guide.
Through Sharing Yoku, she offers forest baths. Forest baths are immersions in Nature, and help increase well-being and relaxation. They also bring the simple joy of reconnecting with the forest, Nature – and with ourselves! Because as human beings, we too are part of Nature, aren’t we?
Ready to discover Shinrin yoku? Let Valérie, a true forest elf, be our guide and mediator between the forest and us. She shares the science and magic behind this practice. Follow her from Japan to Brussels where she lives, and all the way to you!
Let’s take a deep breath. And let the forest open up to us.
Sophie / Yes Yoga Be Well: Welcome Valérie! Tell us about you. What is the medicine you bring to the world?
Valérie Dulière: I am a 44 year old Belgian and mother of 2 teenagers. I am also a Shinrin-Yoku guide and a doctor in Physics. I like to dance, read and spend time in the forest.
The medicine that I am trying to bring to the world took a first turn 20 years ago when I embarked on scientific research. I already wanted to serve Nature that I felt was suffering. I worked on environmental issues, developing and using digital programs to model natural systems such as the atmosphere or marine ecosystems.
The work is captivating but very demanding, especially mentally.
Recently, I felt the need to disconnect from my computer and reconnect with nature. Sensing that a scientific message, even prepared with a lot of love and neurons, was not always enough to change things (or in any case, not fast enough for my taste), I wanted to explore a less mental, more heart-centered message. I wanted to offer people the opportunity to reconnect with nature by creating a space where it is possible to rest and get out of the daily frenzy, a space that allows you to reconnect with yourself, through nature. I have the intuition that it could help solve a lot of problems on many levels. So I’m at another turning point in my life…
The medicine that I wish to bring today is a complementary medicine or rather a practice known as Shinrin Yoku (or forest bathing, or forest therapeutic walk) and adapted to our Western cultures. It is a low-tech practice, accessible to all, simple and effective. It can be practiced from anywhere, although the ideal is to practice it in a natural environment such as a forest, a park, a seaside or a garden. It is practiced alone or in a group. The practice of forest bathing offers a kind of “timeless” experience during which the possibilities of encounter with oneself, healing and growth are enhanced. The benefits are observed at physiological, psychological and cognitive levels. Some also say that this practice would benefit the nature around us. That’s a lot of great points!
S/YYBW: Yes! Healing, growth, meeting our higher selves, wow. To those who are skeptical, what can you offer?
V.D: The benefits are numerous – and proven scientifically, here are a few examples:
Studies (Lee et al. 2015) have shown that after just one forest therapy session, the symptoms of depression are significantly improved. Forest therapy also seems improves mental health and decreases anxiety levels (Kotera et al, 2020). In another study, the level of salivary cortisol, a biomarker of stress, was shown to also reduce (Antonelli et al. 2019). Also, Chia Pin et al. (2020) showed that forest therapy increases creativity and positive emotions and decreases negative emotions.
And here are more numbers. People spending at least 120 minutes each week in nature are 59% more likely to feel healthy and 23% more likely to experience well-being than others, according to White et al. (2019). Furthermore, it seems that the simple fact of being in a natural environment considerably improves vitality and therefore performance (Ryan et al. 2021). Connecting to nature was also shown to restore attention and concentration by 57% and improve emotional well-being by 37% (Pasananen et al. 2017).
During the forest baths that I guide, I also like to offer listening and sharing circles. These help to decrease anxiety, and to engage in deeper introspection which allows for greater self-awareness and leads to a more positive overall attitude.
S/YYBW: And what is forest bathing for you?
V.D: Forest bathing, for me, is a moment of bonding with the forest. It’s also a time when I can slow down, pause my mind, awaken my senses and reconnect with myself. It’s a moment of freedom, like a real breath of fresh air. It is a space in which I experience what I have to experience, feel what I have to feel. Forest bathing is also a time when I can relearn how to take the time and be in awe.
S/YYBW: How did you discover this practice? What does Shinrin Yoku mean?
V.D: I stumbled upon forest bathing a little by chance… even though I think I had been called to it for a long time.
At that point, I would cycle to work, and I passed by the Parc du Cinquantenaire to go to the Museum of Natural Sciences where I work as a researcher. I had gone through a few challenging events. Even hanging out with friends could not shake off the heaviness. Gradually, I realized that going through this park made me feel good. I found that in a way, it calmed me down and invigorated me. I then began to spend more and more time there. I meditated there, observed the trees and sometimes even timidly touched them. The Parc du Cinquantenaire is right in the center of Brussels, so I had my little trick… I would lean against a tree and pretended to be looking at my phone. I had the distinct impression that this park rejuvenated me. If I was sad or angry, spending a few minutes in this park calmed me down. Vice versa, if I was hyper-enthusiastic following some good news, my visit to the park brought me back to earth.
My scientific mind quickly wanted to know more and one thing lead to another. I came across a book that described the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku. In Japanese, Shinrin means “bath” and Yoku means “forest”. This practice of forest bathing has existed since the 1980s, with supporting scientific studies. This reassured my Cartesian mind and the following year, I enrolled in the ANFT (Association of Nature and Forest Therapy)‘s program to become a guide. Shortly after, I launched my forest baths under the name “Sharing Yoku”, a play on the words “Shinrin Yoku” and my desire to share my love of the forest.
S/YYBW: What is the difference between walking alone in nature, and doing a forest therapy walk with a guide?
V.D: Walking alone in nature is already beneficial for your health!
As for doing it with or without a guide, I like the analogy of yoga. Walking in the forest would be like lying on a yoga mat. It can already be beneficial for many people! Taking a forest bath with a certified guide is like doing yoga with a yoga teacher. It all depends on what you are looking for, and if you are ready to let go and let yourself be guided.
S/YYBW: On your website, you talk about “classic” forest bathing and ecopsychology. Can you share more about this?
V.D: I am not an expert in ecopsychology, but let’s say that ecopsychology is a field that combines ecology with psychology and which aims to develop a sustainable relationship between humans and their environment. It aims to strengthen the emotional bond between humans and the living world that surrounds them. Strengthening this link is also one of the objectives of those who developed the method on which I base my practice of forest bathing.
For me, I therefore see forest bathing as a practice or method of care that stems, among other things, from ecopsychology. Moreover, in my approach to forest bathing, the living world that surrounds us plays an important role since it is considered a partner in the process.
I confess that after having reactivated my emotional link with Nature during my training as a guide, I opened my fridge and I wondered if I was going to be able to eat lettuce again one day. I assure you, I do today.
What has changed is that I choose it and savor it differently.
S/YYBW: From lettuce to forest, what a beautiful invitation to rekindle our relationship to Nature. What goes on during a forest bath with you?
V.D: A forest bath with me is a live experience. It is a sensory immersion that lasts between 2 and 3 hours. We usually meet in a forest or in a park. I guide groups of 2-10 people in person or remotely. Forest bathing comes in the form of gentle activities which slow down the mind and awaken our senses. I invite the participants to listen to each other and to adapt the activities if they feel the need, all with respect for themselves, the other participants and the place that welcomes us. After each activity, we meet in a circle and those who wish have the opportunity to share.
The experience of forest bathing is different for everyone and can vary from bath to bath. Some may have relived childhood feelings, others may have welcomed unfinished mourning or may have released pent-up emotions. Each bath is a kind of surprise gift. Overall however, participants say they feel more relaxed and serene after a bath.
S/YYBW: Do you have a favorite season? A favorite type of forest? A favorite time of day for forest bathing?
V.D: What I love are precisely the changes of season, weather and light. It is as if each time, I discover the forest from a new angle.
I love winter mornings and the crunchy sound of frozen grass under my feet. I also love when the first rays of the sun turn the dampness of the ground into a white veil that rises in the wind. In the spring, I like discovering young shoots, listening to the sap rising in the trees. I love the smell of mushrooms and humus in the fall and feeling the sun on my skin in the summer…
S/YYBW: I also really like your different offers that seem to include as many people as possible. Would you like to share more?
V.D: It’s true that I try to include as many people as possible. I have the feeling that everyone, regardless of their situation or background, benefits from a forest bath. Even the forest benefits from it!
My offers also undoubtedly reflect the stages of life where forest bathing has or would have helped me.
I also recently co-guided a forest bath for foreigners with difficult living circumstances in Brussels. It was intense and rich. Everyone went home more serene, more peaceful, with their eyes full of stars and their hearts full of sunshine.
S/YYBW: You said that your medicine is to bring a more heart-centered approach to Nature. It sounds like this experience with the foreigner group is exactly aligned with this…
V.D: I have quite a few anecdotes and the last one, without doubt one of the most striking for me, is this forest bath that I co-guided with my friend Donatienne. It was for a group of immigrants who live in Brussels and who take part in an insertion program with the non-profit organization MOVE.
It was one of the first days of spring, with a beautiful low sun, and blooming cherry trees. There were about ten participants, mainly from Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Guinea and Morocco. Until then, I had mainly guided privileged people, at least privileged from a material point of view. And here, we were with people who had to leave their country sometimes with deep trauma, people who did not know each other and who did not speak our language! The challenge was daunting. We put all our heart into it, determined that they benefit from what the forest had for them that day.
At the end of the forest bath, we were preparing the tea ceremony. I took out my small bag of almonds and other dried fruits. And then several participants also opened their bags and brought out huge dishes of all kinds of specialties from their country. The tea ceremony turned into a real feast, shared with park rangers who were passing by!
That day, I thought I was mainly there to open doors and to give. Instead, I received a whole lot more…
S/YYBW: My heart feels so warm and fuzzy just hearing your story.
You also guide women’s groups. What is special about guiding a group of women in a forest bath?
V.D: My experience with women’s groups is that pretty quickly a spirit of sisterhood sets in. I really like to see how the shares often echo each other, and how the words of one suddenly illuminate the experience of another.
I also feel that more than ever, women need caring spaces and opportunities to reconnect with nature and their own nature. Some women would like to get closer to the forest and do not dare to venture there alone, so guided forest bathing can be a solution.
S/YYBW: Thank you for all this. Is there anything else you want to share?
V.D: I would also like to say that the ANFT uses the term “Forest therapy walk”. I am not strictly speaking a therapist. In my way of practicing forest bathing, the forest plays the role of therapist. As a guide, I am here to frame and open doors that will offer participants the opportunity to get in touch with their personal therapist -the forest! For this, I use a standard sequence, a simple and open specific language, as well as the group process.
If you are a psychologist, social worker, educator, teacher, etc. and you want to give such an experience to those under your care, I would love to hear from you!
S/YYBW: Thank you Valerie! Where can we find you and your offerings, in person in Brussels or remotely, in English and in French?
V.D: You will find the next scheduled dates on my website sharingyoku.com. I offer Forest Baths in French and in English. I also organize forest baths on request, so be in touch!
Thank you Valérie!
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