By Katarzyna Simonienko *
This year, for the first time in Poland, Forest Therapy Institute organised a training for Forest Bathing Guides. Initially, we planned it in spring, but due to the pandemic, it was postponed to August. However, nature was favorable to us. We have planned classes in the beautiful scenery of a natural lowland forest – the last such place in Europe– the Bialowieska Forest.
The theoretical part usually takes place in closed rooms, but also here the weather and nature came to our aid: there was an old willow tree in the backyard of the hotel where we stayed. Around the tree we could sit down and study outdoors. The forest is very deep and wild, some of us even managed to meet bisons –the largest terrestrial mammal in Europe– during our evening walks.
It was an exciting experience for me to take part in this training for the first time as a training team. I am very happy that I could invite people interested in Forest Bathing to a place that is very special to me due to its rich history and biodiversity.
We had the opportunity to practice Forest Bathing in various conditions – in a huge palace garden (an ancient hunting royal park designed like the english gardens of 19th century); the wildest area of strict protection, where we were bound by a lot of regulations due to nature protection; and in a forest where we could move freely off the trail. It was important to stay in touch with each other and not get lost in the vast forest terrain. However, it was worth plunging into the primeval forest – getting to know its charm and fairy-tale character.
People from various countries – Poland, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal and Germany met at the training. Participants had a different professional background – some were therapists, coaches, doctors, others worked in forest education, in forest kindergartens or were fascinated by Forest Bathing and wanted to learn the FTI’s method and promote it further. We joined the network of connections between ancient and large organisms, such as 500-year-old trees, and quite small, yet as interesting as colorful slime molds or beetles.
For me personally, working in the training team was a lot of fun. Participants were open, asked a lot of questions, looked for their own ways of connecting with nature, and exchanged experiences. It was my first time, but the organizers made every effort to ensure that, despite covid, everything was safe, professional and in a friendly atmosphere.
Thank you Mila Monk, Alex Gesse, Pedro Trinidade and all those present for creating a great atmosphere. I hope that the trainings in the Białowieża Forest will take place regularly, and people from all over the world will be able to admire this beauties, the last such forest in Europe, especially since most of it on the Polish side is still not a national park and it is so important to protect it.
*Katarzyna Simonienko is a Certified Forest Therapy Practitioner by FTI. PhD in Psychiatry, medical practitioner and a scientific researcher, she works at the Mental Health Hospital in Choroszcz, in the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical University of Bialystok and in outpatient services in Bialystok, Poland. She is a founder of the first medical forest bathing centre in Poland, is a licensed guide of the Białowieża National Park and a member of the Japanese shinrin-yoku organization INFOM (International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine).