Sylvie Rokab is an acclaimed filmmaker whose love of the natural world led her on an odyssey to create the award-winning film, Love thy Nature. She is also a nature therapy guide, a growing field that integrates nature education with the holistic benefits of forest therapy in areas including personal coaching, team-building, and counseling. Sylvie, who will be leading Forest Bathing: Deepening Connection with Mother Nature, Each Other and Ourselves at Esalen next spring, shares what inspires her about this emerging practice.
Esalen News: What sparked your passion to become a nature therapy guide?
Sylvie: Ever since I was a kid growing up in Rio de Janeiro, the forests and beaches were my places of healing, play, exploration, and wonder. I loved sharing the beauty, artistry, and genius of nature with others. This is what led me to eventually become a nature cinematographer and filmmaker.
More recently, since the premiers of my film Love Thy Nature, audience members from all walks of life have shared their feelings of being burned out, overwhelmed, and deprived of connection with nature, others, and themselves. Nature guiding then became the organic evolution of my work as a filmmaker.
Esalen News: Can you share what kind of impact Love Thy Nature has had on audiences?
Sylvie: I’ll share some viewer feedback that came like arrows to my heart: A family of five approached me after a screening in San Francisco, and the father said the film touched a deep chord in him. He was emotionally moved, so his wife continued with, “It helped us realize how much we miss spending time in nature. We decided to make it a priority and plan trips with the kids.” A university student in Rio de Janeiro said that she had abandoned her biology major because she felt hopeless for nature’s survival, but the film gave her hope and now she wants to go back to biology and volunteer for a non-profit to help restore the Atlantic rainforest.
Esalen News: Will you tell us more about the Japanese tradition of shinrin yoku?
Sylvie: The term shinrin yoku (loosely translated as “forest bathing”) was coined in Japan in the early 1980s when the government created an initiative to study the effects of nature immersion on human health. Japanese scientists concluded that compounds released by trees — called phytoncides — can have a healing effect on some human illnesses. Other studies have shown that spending time in nature can improve emotional and mental health by reducing anxiety, preventing depression, and even improving cognition.
So, an estimated two million people practice shinrin yoku in Japan every year. Inspired by this practice, Amos Clifford created the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs in the U.S. to train guides like myself around the world to help others experience the healing benefits of nature immersion.
Esalen News: What excites you about offering Forest Bathing at Esalen?
Sylvie: While forest bathing can be beneficial nearly anywhere, a workshop at Esalen makes it extraordinary. For one thing, nature here is truly breathtaking, including the different sources of water that converge — ocean, hot springs, and fresh water. The geological history is fascinating as well. It is my honor to be bringing nature therapy to this magnificent land.
Learn more about Sylie's workshop Forest Bathing: Deepening Connection with Mother Nature, Each Other and Ourselves, taking place at Esalen May 10-12, 2019.