Meet the Guide: A series about the Forest Therapy Guides I meet on their trails around the world.
I’m pleased to launch this series with Katie Van Den Berg, a certified Forest Therapy Guide with G.I.F.T. (The Global Institute of Forest Therapy). I had the pleasure of joining Katie on a very chilly Sunday morning for walk in her favourite forest, Komoka Provincial Park. On our walk, we noticed raccoon and deer tracks side by side along the river where we sat and enjoyed some Eastern Hemlock tea in cups that she beautifully designed. She is a nurturing, gentle and creative soul. Time with Katie is always good for the soul.
Katie, why did you decide to be a guide?
I came into the forest to find peace and in turn I found myself. As a Restorative Yoga Teacher, who also plants trees, what I didn’t realize for many years is that the forest was actually restoring me on my healing journey.
It’s our human nature to be connected from the water we drink, to the food we eat, to the trees that provide shelter and create our homes. When we go into the forest and natural areas, we are restoring our ancient bond.
I see pain in others, that I see in myself. There’s scars that you can bear, and you can move through them, learn from them, and heal in a way that makes you a better person because of those scars. You can be strong and stand tall, and still find a way to move through life with ease.
Through Forest Therapy, I have been able to overcome a lot of challenges in my life and have had profound moments that help ground myself and through that deep connection allows the opening of the door to healing. From a place of deep reverence for all life grew my passion for helping heal both people and the planet through natural practices of forest therapy, nature connections, restorative yoga and meditation.
The gift of the forest is waiting for you, and as a guide I help open the door.
What surprised you about forest therapy?
I was most surprised that over time I was able to create space to heal in partnership with the forest on deep personal matters from illness, grief, trauma and anxiety that shifted things for me in lifechanging ways. Additionally, another unexpected outcome was a sudden increase in creativity that sprouted from time at my sitspot from creating watercolour artworks of plants and wildlife, as well as poetry and pottery making. My emotions flowed, as pen went to paper while leaning against my beloved Eastern Hemlock Tree at my sitspot and the words began to form poetry — and lots of them! Topics ranged from the changing seasons, to deep ponderings stirring in my soul, to grief and forgiveness. I am currenting in the process of publishing my nature-inspired poetry. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I know it’s time to head to the forest and it really helps shift my mood every time.
What advice do you have for other guides?
Stay true to being your authentic self as a guide and weaving your sitspot and nature connections time to become a lifestyle. I love the saying “The medicine and gifts that you have to share, are also the medicine you need.” It really beautifully summarizes why so many people are drawn to Forest Therapy and to become a guide. Lean into your edges, let nature be your guide and remember to rest to fill your cup up, so you can give back to others. Form partnerships early on with your local conservation parks, municipalities, professional and personal networks to share and lead your walks. Find your passion for guiding and keep going!
What do you love about forest therapy?
The forest is my happy place and sharing sacred time of slowing down, breathing, being in quiet stillness, sensing the world with my entire being for deep connection and wellbeing, really fills my cup up! I am always humbled by how the forest can support and hold participants on a walk. I am delighted to carefully brew tea from plants ethically foraged directly from the land I guided, and share interesting facts that I appreciate about the plant. I love witnessing magical wildlife encounters, such as when a Great Blue Heron gracefully flew over the river when I was guiding Slowing Down to the Moment. I appreciate each day as a gift and take time to slow down to fully experience my life.
What is your favourite invitation?
Meeting with a Tree is a special invitation for me to both lead as a guide and practice myself. Trees are considered sacred in many cultures around the world, and certainly are for me as well. We naturally and intuitively can feel a bond and connection to a tree, like they’re family, even from a young age. Trees give off essential oils into the air called phytoncides, and trees use these as their defense mechanism to fight off pests and disease. And when we breathe that into our lungs we are taking in all those healing benefits from boosting our immune system, fighting off disease, lowering blood pressure, improving your mood and calming the nervous system. Trees nurture their own kin, other wildlife and ourselves with every breath we take. When was the last time you sat with a tree? Maybe, not since you were a child? I invite you to go sit with a tree this week! Take the time to allow yourself to wander and be guided to a tree you are most drawn to be with.
What is your favourite tree/plant/animal and why?
It’s difficult to only choose one, but I do have a special connection with one tree in particular. Believe it or not, a tree actually saved my life, and was the inspiration behind my business name, Peaceful Pine Wellness. I would return again and again throughout my life to the whimsical Eastern White Pine and it helped me through childhood and adult trauma, grief and navigating my anxiety and PTSD. I would not be here today, without the support of the peaceful pine. It taught me to find peace within myself. The moment you become aware of a trees’ very being, the tree becomes your teacher. Recently, I have been supported by an Eastern Hemlock that helped teach me the grace of forgiveness.
Katie guides in the Forest City (London, Ontario), Komoka, Middlesex County and surrounding areas. She loves meeting new people and offers walks for individuals, families, private groups and corporate teams.
Here’s how you can reach Katie:
Contact Katie if interested in ordering your own custom set of tea cups.