Violeta Torán, Ibon Sarasola

Forest Therapy for specific groups: from Environmental Education to a new connection with nature

The cover image of this interview means a lot to them. Ibon Sarasola Monzon and Violeta Toran Pereg, Forest Bathing Guides and Forest Therapy Practitioners, have guided together with Forest Therapy Hub in pilot projects of Forest Therapy interventions for specific groups of women victims of exclusion and domestic violence, adults in loneliness and teachers with burn-out. Today, these projects are no longer pilot projects but public policies.

They live in Donosti-San Sebastian, Basque Country, 20 kilometers from the French border. For these Environmental Educators, the Forest Bathing Guide training with FTHub in Urkiola Natural Park, Spain, was a balm that allowed them the first talks alone since they had become parents. Those one-hour drives to and from the training were good omens for a change in their professional and personal lives. And you get why this photo is so meaningful to them.

This couple shares not only two toddlers but a special sensitivity to guiding and a deep respect for the experiences of the participants of their walks and interventions. Founders of Basona, they organize Forest Bathing walks for general and specific public in the wonderful landscapes of San Sebastian.

Violeta studied Environmental Sciences and Ibon, Agricultural Engineering. Since they were children they have enjoyed nature, she in the countryside in Catalonia -a memory that still moves her today-, he in the Basque mountains and the Costa Brava. “So many years working in a natural environment and on issues related to nature, and that different way of being in it was a wonder, a great gift that we have found and received.”

A trip without expectations: the discovery under the Urkiola beeches

Violeta: “As Environmental Educators, we worked in schools, it was our main source of income. But with the pandemic in 2020 they closed the schools and overnight we found ourselves unemployed. We have a small company and, taking advantage of the good side of those difficult times, we decided to reinvent ourselves, to renew ourselves. We decided to train ourselves for when we went back to work: not to start as we had stopped but with an added value and something that would give us more strength and more fields of work to move in.

“Nature and the environment is where we are most comfortable, it’s what I do best. We came across Forest Bathing and it gave us a different way to approach and bring people closer to nature.

“It was a surprise, we didn’t go with a predetermined idea. That new way of being in nature was quite a discovery. So many years working in a natural environment and that different way of being in it was a wonder. A great gift we found, received.”

To meet again with oneself and in two

“The training caught us with a one-year-old girl and we were going from Donosti to Urkiola. I haven’t slept as soundly since I became a mother as I did that week. I didn’t know it was one of the benefits, I wasn’t conditioned or influenced by anything. Day after day we would drive home in the car, hallucinating.

“It had also been a long time since he and I had been alone, because since we had been parents a year ago, the trip there and back was our time to be together and talk and be amazed at what we were experiencing, what new things we were learning. It was a marvel, a great luck. Each day was improving on the previous day. Every day a bigger surprise than the day before, really noticing that you are different.

“The idea was to bring people closer to nature in this new way, but we didn’t count on the sensations. I’m not at all mystical, but I’ve seen it first hand, it happened to me”.

Ibon: “It was a total coincidence. We asked a person about the forest-school, and he started talking to us about Forest Bathing because he had practiced it and loved it. The first day I didn’t know where I was, it was my first perception, I said ‘but this, what is it?‘ “.

Training as a catalyst for a new way of connection

I: “I studied Agricultural Engineering, I have worked in construction, the paper industry, food industry, hospitality and I always wanted to work in something related to the environment. I started working with Violeta and to this day, I continue to work in environmental education and with Forest Bathing.

“I liked the evolution of understanding what the Forest Bathing walks are. With the first one, my sensations were not the same as when I practiced the second and the third one: I was hallucinating. And I emphasize the good relationship that was created with the group.

“Some people think it’s all about hugging trees, I say break that scheme. Guiding for me was a very enriching experience on a personal and work level.”

The experience of the Forest Therapy Practitioner in the first person

V: “There are very nice moments, and also very hard moments. It has been very important to return to the same places where I have been working for many years but in a different way. And also to see the evolution of the participants is wonderful. The first day they are a bit ‘wait and see‘, then you see that at the beginning you don’t know if they are going to come back and you see that they are, and then how week after week they say goodbye to you wanting to see you the following week. People get into the dynamic and the activities”.

I: “We did 8 sessions with each group. I see it as very important that the Forest Bathing walks do not remain in a single intervention, because there is a very noticeable difference between the first and the last forest bathing session. I guided a group of teachers with burn out and the first walk they went running, like fast to the car. But then we would see them start to share more. The Forest Bathing session was over and they were chatting, they were going at a different pace. Then the important thing is that these teachers kept two hours for themselves. They came, even if they were still stressed”.

V: “I guided groups of women at risk of social exclusion and who had been victims of gender-based violence, and another group of people from the +55 program. To keep this population active, 10 people with a profile of loneliness were chosen. In this group they did not know each other, and they made a whatsapp group and they are still meeting up to go to different natural areas. That is a huge satisfaction”.

I: “Thinking about my history, I always liked walking in the bush, I like the contact with nature. I remember the smells, the smell of pine trees when I used to go to the Costa Brava to spend the summer as a teenager for many years. Or the stars at night in some village in Extremadura where there is hardly any light and it is so clear”.

V: “I have many memories as a child, in summer I spent a month at my grandparents’ house in the countryside with my cousins, they are the best memories I’ve had of my childhood in Catalonia, in Lérida. Look, I remember and I get very emotional”.

“We have a project with more groups, it is a great challenge. We will have other projects with new groups. We are very excited”.

 

Ph: Courtesy Violeta Toran, Ibon Sarasola.

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