Miriam Fuentes Zamorano lives in the south of Chile, in Patagonia, surrounded by trees and nature, extreme but gentle at the same time. Founder of EcoYoga Patagonia, she works as a Yoga teacher specialized in children with a lot of experience between 3 and 8 years old. As an FTHub Certified Forest Bathing Guide, she guides walks for the general public and has recently been called by schools in the region to guide teenagers and pre-teens. She successfully guides in forests near the school to address coexistence and reduce bullying.
“I lived all my childhood here, in front of the Strait of Magellan, in a house with lots of nature where there were pines, coihues, plum trees, eating the fruits in summer, with the beach two blocks from home. My father used to take us to the country since I can remember. My children did the same.
“I am a pharmacy technician, but I worked very little because I don’t like to be locked up, I like chemistry and health, but not to be locked up. Then I studied yoga, I was always an athlete, I became an instructor and then with my students we began to go out into nature, mixing outdoor experiences, more of contemplation, without a goal”.
“The phrase ‘forest bathing’ came to my ears and I liked it. I started researching and found Forest Therapy Hub, suddenly the online training came up and I didn’t think twice. The certification was very entertaining. I found those things that ratified what I had intuitively and I knew others that I didn’t know, it was super interesting.
“Where I go I share it. I am always doing that kind of propaganda of the good that forest bathing and this contact with nature have brought. For me it was my grief therapy, to cope with the loss of my father. He taught me to be in contact with nature, he planted and saw the trees in the house grow. And I would sleep with the curtains open to see the trees. It was magical for me.
“Days after he left I dreamed about him. We were in a field, him with a stick for a cane, and there was a giant forest behind him. He stops and smiles, waves at me, turns around and walks into the forest. The day before he died, the autumn equinox, we went to an activity in the forest with a lot of people, I told my dad to wait for me, not to leave, that I was going to bring him a coihue branch and when I came back I left his branch under his pillow and the next morning he left. That dream was a message that this was what was going to be good for me”.
“I have guided many men who went with their wives, half forced, and then have come away grateful that they went. One of them has a very stressful job and he said that after being in the forest he already felt that he had taken off a tremendous backpack of emotional weight.
“Then a girl from school, we were finishing the forest bathing walk and she asked me if she could go hug a tree ‘because I need to leave all the bad stuff here, before I leave.’ I watched her hug the tree and she didn’t want to leave.
“I work in several schools with yoga classes and we started implementing forest bathing for pre-teens. I guide in the school playground and in the nearby park, and I am with another project to reduce school violence. In Chile school bullying after the pandemic increased a lot, and there were very worrying things even in this small city.
“To this group of middle and elementary school I proposed this project taking the girls out of the school, which is where the conflicts occur, and take them to this neutral place that is the forest. The teachers also asked for it because they were stressed, it was the first experience with them, there were more than 30 of them and they will repeat it”.
“With the female students, we started in spring. There are more than 30 per course, we did it once each course. The parents want it to be repeated, to keep doing it because they saw how the girls came and left the forest, so different. The girls are excited to tell what they had experienced and felt. They are between 12 and 15 years old, and there is also a weekly hour of forest bathing with other groups from 7 to 12 years old.
“They want to be with the phone. What has worked well is getting out of school. Take them even if it’s to a nearby park, and appeal to curiosity as well. It’s more work than doing it with children, I always worked with children between 3 and 8 years old.
“Even if we do only one activity, you can already notice the transformation, they slow down. They talked about remembering happy childhood moments, they remembered when they went to the countryside together with their class and had a good time. When they were closer. That really struck me.
“Some of them felt more relaxed, others said they couldn’t keep quiet, “the quietness makes me nervous”, and when we were leaving they said they felt relaxed. On the bus back they were quieter, not so talkative. The effect is noticeable”.
“Dads would like the Forest Bathing sessions to be longer. There were parents who said they had seen the effect, that if it was longer it would be more profound. And now I have been asked by other schools, I was contacted by a vulnerable school and a mother from another school wrote to us because of the catastrophic situation of school coexistence.
“I also suffered bullying. I remember never crying in front of them but doing it alone, and I was also on the other side, I bullied a classmate who was also my friend. When I heard about these situations of bullying in schools, I felt a chill down my back, I started to investigate and the numbers in schools are high, and only at the beginning of the year, dozens of reports of bullying had already been received. Although there has always been bullying, the way it is dealt with and the language is much harsher than it was some time ago.
“And why do I think it works? In addition to what it’s said when we do the certification, doing it outside the school is super important, the participants themselves said it, to get out of school. Already getting there put them on a different frequency. Taking them to a neutral place in nature. So now they want to implement it in the whole middle school and in the last two cycles of elementary school and continue next year and in other schools”.