“I have always felt a deep connection with nature since my early childhood years. At first the great outdoors was my playground and also my safe space to run and hide. I experienced many traumas, such as separation and abandonment, as well as physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse throughout my childhood beginning in utero. As a young child I was often told to go outside to fend for myself or I would often sneak out on my own as a way to escape the chaos of the home. I played among the trees and wildlife as if they were my caretakers and protectors.
As I grew up, I continued to feel safest and most connected to nature, especially taking a liking to the finer details in the great outdoors and to the wildlife, making friends with all beings I crossed paths with while outside. As I aged, I would rescue injured animals and care for them with love and kindness, and with a deep understanding and connection as I knew what it was like to be injured and not have anyone to care for you. I would love them with all my heart and soul and release them once they were well enough to do so. I once formed such a bond with an injured squirrel that upon release the squirrel continued to visit whenever I was outside.
One of my fondest memories of shared time spent out in nature was when I would create chicken noodle soup from natural items. I would gather wood pulp as the chicken in the soup. Grass, leaves, and berries would become the vegetables. Sticks would become the noodles. I would make a bowl from bark I had found and mix all the ingredients together. I would even blow at the soup as if to cool it before eating. I did try to eat this nature’s version of chicken noodle soup when very hungry, but it didn’t taste as good as it looked.
Little did I know that I was reaping the many health benefits of being in nature starting at a very young age. There were many scientific reasons why I felt the most joy and peacefulness while out in nature, not only was it the fact that I was escaping my abusers and turmoil in the households I resided in. I have been Forest Bathing for many years, practically all my life, decades before I even learned of the term Shinrin Yoku.
In 2015 I learned of a Holistic Healing and Stress Management Wellness Center called Toivo in Hartford, Connecticut after being discharged from an Intensive Outpatient Treatment program which had supported me through increased Complex Post Traumatic Syndrome symptoms including suicidal ideations. I had never been exposed to, or tried, holistic healing modalities and had always wanted to do so. Toivo is a Finnish word which translates to the English word Hope. I began to rekindle hope at Toivo as I explored many practices such as yoga, Qigong, meditation, journaling, and many more holistic modalities, workshops, and support groups.
In 2017 I was offered the position of Toivo’s Administrative Assistant. After not working for five years I was apprehensive, but accepted the job knowing those at Toivo acknowledged and accepted me as I was. Over the years since being hired I have continued to grow, learn, and heal.
You may have predicted what comes next by now. Eventually Toivo offered Shinrin Yoku practices as well. Of course, I felt an immediate connection to Shinrin Yoku being familiar and most comfortable with my numerous experiences and connections to nature beginning in young childhood. I knew immediately that I would add training in Shinrin Yoku to my ongoing forever learner list. I consider myself a forever learner and when I was promoted to a Wellness Facilitator position in 2019 I explored many learning opportunities. I became a certified Laughter Yoga instructor; an Art Therapy Guide; a Therapeutic Art Life Coach; trained in Shamanic Art and Tools for Healing and Spiritual Development; a certified Recovering Support Specialist (RSS); an Intentional Peer Support (IPS) provider; Alternatives to Suicide Support Group Facilitator (ATS/Alt2Su); trained in Compassionate Activism; the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP); Voices, Visions, and Beliefs co-facilitator; attended a Supporting Veterans Training; and more. I initially learned about Shinrin Yoku from Deron Drum (co-founder of Toivo) and later learned of certification trainings for Shinrin Yoku. I knew I would one day add this certification to my knowledge base and would do so in honor and memory of Deron who had since passed away sadly.
I was very interested in adding Shinrin Yoku Guide Certification to my resume. As the years passed and the pandemic of 2020 continued, I was also diagnosed with breast cancer. As a distraction to both the pandemic and breast cancer treatments I searched for training ideas. My interest in Shinrin Yoku had grown and I discovered The Mindful Tourist’s (TMT) training offering a Level 1 Shinrin Yoku Guide certification program. I immediately applied and was accepted. I gained so much more than just a distraction to the ongoing pandemic and medical treatments. I gained a deeper understanding of what I had been experiencing as a young child. The freedom, independence, comfort and security I felt among the trees had so much more scientific reasoning then I had ever been aware of before. I not only gained knowledge, but also awareness that in nature I was welcomed to embrace and shine my authentic self. I also built and strengthened my confidence as a Shinrin Yoku Guide.
My natural connection to nature along with the Level 1 Shinrin Yoku Guide certificate will lead me to many opportunities to share my innate connection and new knowledge with those who join me out in nature. Sharing my story and my experiences in nature along with my new found knowledge on Shinrin Yoku has deepened my connection to nature and I look forward to sharing this connection and knowledge with all who join me for my offerings of a shared Shinrin Yoku practice.
I am indeed one with nature, and nature is one with me as well.”