Meet the Guide: A series about the Forest Therapy Guides I meet on their trails around the world. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I had the opportunity to go on a magical forest therapy walk with Gregg Berman. The walk took place on an overcast and drizzly day at Presidio Park beginning in a majestic redwood forest. The walk meandered through a heavenly scented eucalyptus forest with an invitation to create forest art, an activity enjoyed by all. Afterward, we each shared our creations and discussed the inspiration for our pieces. It was interesting to see everyone’s creativity and unique perspective. We continued our walk along a path through an open field as the sun broke through the clouds and noticed shapes, sounds and movement before spending time near a stream. We were awed by a hummingbird showering in a small waterfall. We experienced an exploration of the senses in pairs and ended with a closing ceremony with snacks and a cup of sticky monkey flower, blackberry leaf and redwood tea. I enjoyed the diversity of this walk, not only the changing landscapes at every turn but also the deep sharing and deep listening of the group — a couple, a retiree and a teenager. Gregg’s gentle calm voice fit the landscape perfectly guiding us through this tranquil and healing experience.
Gregg Berman, Forest Therapy Guide
I am grateful for Gregg opening up a new awareness in me that I believe will make me a better guide. I had often perceived “bad weather” as a barrier to hosting great walk experiences leading me to on occasion cancel walks due to rain, snow, cold or high winds. As the date of Gregg’s walk approached, I watched the weather closely and thought he would cancel due to the rainy forecast. However, a few days before the event, Gregg sent the participants a note with a link to this story about The Gift of Rain. There was some rain during our walk but it did deepen our experience. Thank you Gregg for helping me move beyond my edges and shift my perspective to embrace the many gifts the seasons bring to forest therapy.
Noticing the raindrops
Why did you decide to be a guide? I’ve always had an affinity for nature. Growing up in South Florida, I spent lots of time as a child in the fields watching the birds, snakes and lizards. I was super shy as a child and afraid of my own shadow let alone other humans. Yet I craved a way of connecting with others. It wasn’t until my mid twenties when I joined sierra club that I started camping and getting into more remote areas. I fell in love and learned to become a guide of wilderness adventures. Especially sea kayaking which allowed access to so much more. These pursuits also allowed me to build my social circle and social skills, release anxieties and form my first really deep connections. As my self confidence grew, I started traveling around the country and beyond to guide in different environments. I often wondered though if I was doing a disservice to the more than human natural world. My hope was that I would inspire people to care for the earth and not just use it as a tool to recreate. Throughout my life others have shared with me how I’ve supported their deepening of their relationship with nature and wild spaces, whether through my writing, guiding wilderness experiences or even simply by being a witness to my enthusiasm for the natural world. Even before, I’d heard of the eco therapy movement, there was a calling within me towards it. When I first got involved in human empowerment and life coaching, I found I was supporting magical awarenesses by taking my clients into nature. But lacking any formal training, I thought, who was I to say this was my skill. So I started doing research. Amongst the first programs I took was the training on how to be a forest therapy guide. I knew first hand from my time with Sierra Club the power of nature to heal our wounds, bring us home to ourselves and expand our universe. That is what happened for me and here was an opportunity to share that journey with others.
Getting to know the redwoods and each other
What surprised you about forest therapy? The depth of experience possible in a very short time, when we slow down enough to form deep relationships and connections with the natural world. I was once invited to offer a series of twenty minute Forest Bathing experiences at a retreat for health practitioners. Initially I turned it down, thinking that just was not enough time. After all, I was leading 3 to 4 hour and longer experiences. Then through a series of fortuitous circumstances, at the end of a weekend retreat I created, I was forced to greatly shorten one of my walks. I went into it feeling like the participants were going to be deprived by the shortness of our journey. Yet the group shares spoke to how deeply people were touched. How profound the connection that is possible when the space is created to be present. I was still nervous about the idea but I decided to say yes to the retreat anyway. I was blown away, again and again by how intensely my guests were impacted by the connections they were forming, How genuinely heartfelt the insights into their own psyche’s and the playful, profound and healing journeys that were possible in such a brief container. My eyes were definitely opened to what is possible when I let go of my own fixed ideas of what has to happen (admittedly still an ongoing journey) and simply let the earth speak to us.
Entering the eucalyptus forest
What advice do you have for other guides? Infuse who you are into your work. Allow yourself to be informed by others, then find your medicine. It’s already within you, now allow it to flow. Be willing to be messy or not know how or feel awkward. So often, I still feel like I’m not going to know how to do it “right”. And when, I’m able to slow down and listen, something special always emerges. “Forest” is just a word. It may be termed forest bathing or forest therapy though from my point of view, while a forest is a special place, so is a desert or a coastal prairie or a beach or even simply a fallen leaf or an ant crawling across a sidewalk. I’ve even lead these experiences from a kayak or a plot of grass next to the highway. It’s about connecting to the earth in whatever form that takes. Our nervous systems evolved in communication and connection with the natural world. Her sights, sounds, colors and textures. As guides we lower the barriers to that connection, the modern world has created. It is already there waiting inside each of us. You only need open the door and the “forest” and your guests will find the way.
Connecting with the water element
What do you love about forest therapy? In addition to my time as a wilderness guide, I’ve volunteered in wildlife rescue and wildlife research as well as I’ve been a registered nurse for over twenty years and I’ve studied a variety of holistic healing modalities. Forest Bathing with its studied benefits of lowering blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, boosting immune function and a host of cognitive and psychological benefits combines my love of nature, physical and mental well being. It has felt magical to me, that these things that I once thought of as separate are combined in this one practice. As I feel that alchemy resonate in my body, I have the joy of supporting others on their journey. One of my most endearing memories is of a park ranger on one of my walks who shared through tears of gratitude how much more connected they felt after our journey to a place they got to experience every day. Equally as gratifying was someone who had never laid on the forest floor before speak to how edgy and yet nourishing that felt. Whether it’s people who already spend a great deal of time in nature or those to whom nature has felt foreign or perhaps even off putting, it feels incredibly special to me to support the relationship between humans and the earth, as I continue to deepen my own.
Sharing forest art creations
What is your favorite invitation? It’s hard to pick just one. “Share an Experience” is an invitation that offers on so many levels. It takes place typically without words and with two people pairing up. They take turns offering each other an experience. The one being guided typically has eyes closed to engage the other senses more fully. I love witnessing different guests interpretation of that exercise and all the myriad ways they find to share the natural world with their partner. Equal to the experience of the invitation itself, are the shares afterward. Whether a noticing of the edges that come up around the idea putting trust in someone else to guide you or of the pressure of being responsible for another as guide, to noticing worlds that open up through touch, smell and sound when not focused on our vision. And all the unique ways of sensing into the world such as on a recent walk the invitation one guest gave to another to notice color through touch alone.
Tea ceremony with sticky monkey flower, blackberry leaf & redwood, treats and journals
Where can people find you and how can they work with you? I live in the San Francisco Bay area so most of my experiences are lead locally here. I’ve been a sea kayak instructor for 25 years, so sometimes my “walks” are on the water or a combination of water and land. Most of my experiences these days are custom walks created for friends, families and corporate retreats, university classes and festivals, so it is largely based on the clients desires. I also do one on one experiences both virtual and in person that may be focused solely on forest therapy or may be a more curated coaching experience depending on your goals. Places I’ve guided locally represent a vast array of divergent ecosystems and include: Presidio Park in San Francisco, Purisima Creek Redwoods, Point Reyes National Seashore, Elkhorn Slough Marine Reserve, Pillar Point Harbor, Montara State Beach, Wildcat Canyon, Tilden Regional Park and even through residential neighborhoods in Berkeley and Oakland. When I’m traveling, I’ve also guided walks in places like Florida, Africa and Panama. This summer, I hope to lead some while visiting Hawaii. During the Pandemic, I was doing a series of virtual walks which I plan to continue from time to time due to their uniqueness and accessibility. I had people joining from around the world. It was wonderful to be guiding a group of folks on multiple continents all at the same time, each sharing from their corner of the globe.
How can people book a session with you? The easiest way is to contact me through my website at www.inconnectionwithnature.com or direct at email@example.com or 650 576–5991 so we can assess what you are looking for and create the perfect experience for you and your group. You can also find my experiences listed on AirBnB Experiences. If there’s not a date that fits your schedule, reach out and let’s see what we can arrange.