No one suspected that the daughter of a merchant marine who was born in the United States, emigrated to Germany during her university studies and became the Finance Manager of a German company in Chile, would be the woman with the velvety voice who guides 70 people in forest bathing walks for healthcare personnel in Viña del Mar.
Ana María Andrade guides in the Botanical Garden of Viña del Mar with the support of the Director of the site and knows it like few others. She travels there on weekends to offer Forest Bathing to the general public, companies and health personnel. After decades of office work, she retired early and today, as an FTHub Forest Bathing Guide, she founded Ama Bosque (Love Forest) and travels around Chile and its surroundings with her partner Ricardo in a motorhome.
The Andes and feeling small
“In my school years I lived in Quilpué and the teachers always took us to the mountains to the snow. Then I went to Santiago (Chile’s capital) and that contact got lost with studies and work. Nature was more and more distant from my daily life, except in the winters when I went skiing in the mountains, where I really felt that greatness that happens in the Andes mountain range, that feeling of being so small, it always overwhelmed me.
“In a plot of land we have in Pirque, 40 km from the capital, we enjoyed the summers or weekends and I would always go back to the center, to the calm: you sleep well there, with the sound of the birds and the water flowing through a canal. That relaxed me, but I didn’t notice it consciously”.
“In 2019 I was invited by a friend to a Forest Bathing walk (Gina, FTHub Forest Bathing Guide and at that time Ana’s future training partner), and it was such a pleasant sensation and I felt so good after doing it, that I started to research, to buy books. And only months later I found out that they were coming to train in Chile for the first time in South America”.
The road to the forests
“I think the training has been the most wonderful experience I’ve had. Being immersed in the Valdivian forest doing theory and practice every day was quite an experience. Since then, I have continued to keep in touch with nature almost daily. I need it. If I’m in the city for a week, I need to get out, go to the countryside or to a park.
“In my university days we lived in Hamburg for a few years and I studied business administration. When I returned to Chile I went back to study commercial engineering and worked in a German company for 27 years, in charge of administration and finances, with a lot of stress, long hours, until I took early retirement.
“Forest Bathing came to me at that time. Soon after, Covid entered Chile and the quarantine was very long. At that stage I offered forest bathing online. People needed it a lot and were very happy, they felt much better, it was a real relief for what we were going through. And that motivated me to keep going.
“At the first opening we had, we immediately went out to the Botanical Garden and also to the Rio Clarillo National Park, near Santiago. And we didn’t stop from there. At the Botanical Garden in Viña del Mar I guide a lot, they welcomed us very well. I feel at home there“.
Corporate and Health
“A company that launched a perfume with scents based on Japanese culture wanted to offer at the launch event a forest bathing walk. So we did it for 60 people, divided into 3 groups, in a place that has a park with a castle in the middle, a surface where we could all see each other.
“Almost at the same time, the National Health Service of the Valparaiso and San Antonio region called me to do forest bathing for their staff. So we designed a forest bathing program that was attended by health care personnel and employees of the health system. 70 people divided in 5 groups, in two walks every 15 days.
“As the first groups commented to their colleagues how the experience had been, when the last groups arrived they came with a certain expectation. Their colleagues would tell them ‘you can’t miss it, it’s a wonderful experience, you have to do it, you don’t know how good you feel afterwards’. It was a big responsibility.
“We gave them an assessment with atest which measures mood states, before the first walk and at the end of the last. In between both walks, we gave them nature connection activities that they could incorporate into their day-to-day lives. The idea is that they generate a habit”.
Results for the soul
“The results are incredible: the highest scores before the first walk were fatigue and anxiety and both, after the second walk, decreased by more than 70%. Vigor or energy was the third highest index on the first walk and then increased by over 35%. Anger and depression also decreased.
“People left with a great desire to repeat it, with a desire to make it a regular practice within their duties, their work. They see how health care staff really are, working 12 hours within four walls. So they agreed to talk to their bosses to incorporate it as a regular practice.
“It fills my soul. I realize that it is something that helps people, they leave happy, they leave with a different spirit. They want to bring their families, they asked me when I would do it again. Some have taken up to 3 buses to get to the walk, traveling up to 3 hours to get there.
“In addition to how much the test results have impacted me, there are some cases that have resonated with me throughout my experience. Around the time we were coming out of the pandemic, a married couple with their 6-year-old daughter went on the group walk. The child stayed with me while the parents did individual activities.”
“During the moment of sharing the experience, that mom said: ‘I hadn’t had time for myself in months, I’m with my daughter and husband all day and I don’t do anything alone… And this activity was so short, it couldn’t have been 20 minutes… I didn’t notice it. It felt so good being with myself“….
The children and the forest
“In the beginning I had decided not to lead walks with children. I thought I couldn’t design activities for them, or that they had to be very different. But the requests kept coming in and I realized it was simpler than I thought.
“One moment I remember a lot is in a group of people and families, a little 6-year-old boy who told me at the beginning ‘I will not say anything, I’m not going to talk at all‘. I told him not to worry, that here he would do whatever he wanted. After the second activity, there was no one to stop him: he told me what he did at school, what he did in a garden. He was happy with the walk and perhaps forgot that there were people he didn’t know, adults outside his close circle, and began to talk to everyone.
“His sharings were very simple, plain, the things that a child sees that, as the years go by, we adults forget. The others were nourished by it, they left with a different vision, different from when the walk is only for adults”.
Ph: Courtesy Ana Maria Andrade