Reconnect with nature through forest bathing in Cork woods

A Spanish woman who has worked all over the world is now offering guided forest bathing walks in one of Cork’s much-loved natural amenities, Gougane Barra, all in aid of Pieta House, writes CHRIS DUNNE
Reconnect with nature through forest bathing in Cork woods

ECHO FEATURE Forest Bathing Feature Oliva Relinque from Spain who works at Gougane Barra Hotel and who leads a guided practice, forest bathing

IF you go down to Gougane Barra woods today, you’re in for a big surprise!

Spanish lady Oliva Relinque is inviting you to soothe your mind with Mother Nature’s help.

“Forest bathing slows you down and re-connects you with nature, interacting with the forest environment,” says Oliva, 30, who qualified in social work and who met her partner, Maurizio, in Tasmania when she was travelling.

“I have been travelling and working during the last seven years in Brazil, Spain, Australia, Asia and New Zealand with different experiences,” say Oliva.

“These included farming, hospitality, development of eco-tourism in rural areas in the Philippines, fair trade in aboriginal community, perma-culture projects, and re-population of abandoned villages in areas of Japan.”

Exploring the world broadens horizons.

“All these experiences made me grow to understand the world in a different way,” says Oliva.

“Nature has always been playing an important role in my life, but especially in the last years when living and working in remote areas around the world made me understand the importance of our relationships with the environment as human beings,” said Olivia.

The Japanese have known for years that ‘Shinrin-yoku’, spending time in the woods, is beneficial for body and soul. It is a green prescription.

“It definitely is!” says Oliva, who works at Front of House in the Gougane Barra Hotel after arriving in Ireland in January.

Olivia and Maurizio from Italy share their paths. He works as a chef in the kitchen at the hotel. Is that Maurizio’s ‘zen’ space?

“I am cooking for 10 people today,” says Maurizio. “It is all good! I am organised so I can spend some time with Oliva too.”

Oliva Relinque  with with Maurizo. 
Oliva Relinque  with with Maurizo. 

Oliva knows our mental health deserves our time.

“Mental health is important to spend time on,” she says.

“It is estimated that one in four people in Ireland will experience some mental problems in their lifetime.”

The proceeds from forest bathing walks led by Oliva in Gougane Barra go to Pieta House.

“It is a project that was born during lockdown, when in a kind of way, all of us suffered ups and downs,” says Oliva.

“Imagine that many people were already struggling with a mental health issue.”

Oliva and Maurizio saw the wood for the trees.

“The idea came up when we thought how lucky we are to live in a place like Gougane where having nature so close by has been really supportive during all that period,” says Oliva.

“The forest is 2km from my home. When I was going to the forest, it was empty! I was the only person and every time going there, I felt so grateful and at the same time really concerned thinking about how much people needed open spaces in nature.”

People are in the same boat around the world during Covid.

“I am from Spain where the situation was really difficult,” says Oliva.

“I could see the effects of lockdown on friends and family because they could not even go out for a walk.”

Oliva, discovering one of the most beautiful places in the world, decided to promote the health and wellbeing of people, locals and visitors to Gougane Barra and at the same time donate money to Pieta House, who provide free therapy to those engaging in self-harm, with suicidal ideation, or bereaved by suicide.

“Neil, Katy, Jane and Aly at Gougane Barra Hotel supported me from the beginning,” says Oliva.

They are like family to the Spanish lady and her Italian partner Maurizio.

“They have been wonderful to us,” says Oliva.

Oliva Relinque from Spain leading a forest bathing walk.
Oliva Relinque from Spain leading a forest bathing walk.

What has she found so far introducing forest bathing to west Cork?

“At the moment, the reactions have been very positive,” says Oliva.

“It’s very interesting the answer from locals. Firstly, they want to collaborate, and secondly they are curious about the benefits of the practice and to see the forest where they grew up with different eyes.

“Other people come because they need to switch off from the ordinary life. And other people just want to relax and try something new. It doesn’t require a high level of fitness.”

But it does require a quiet mind and maybe a bit of tree hugging?

“Only if you wish to!” say Oliva laughing.

“You will have a chance to immerse your senses in the atmosphere of the forest.”

During the walk Oliva proposes different activities or invitations where the participants follow the invitations the best way it suits them.

“This is a totally subjective experience for each person in a different way,” says Oliva.

How do you stop thinking if you left on the gas hob at home, of if you fed the cat or answered your boss’ email?

“As your guide, I will guide you to just open the door; the experience with the forest is yours,” says Oliva.

“It is a good idea to start this practice guided but it is something that you can do on your own every time you go for a walk in the woods.”

Walking on the wild-side, getting deeper into the forest, your senses become honed to the sounds, the smells, the different sensations under your feet. Under the tall trees with strong spines rooted deep under the ground, you become more grounded with the wonder of nature all around you. You forget everything in the magical moment; even that pending email.

Why is it so beneficial to take time out to stop and stare?

“We live in a very fast-paced environment,” says Oliva.

“Where between work, everyday life activities, obligations... we have very little time left for ourselves. The idea is to create an open space to re-connect with yourself and nature to enhance relaxation and wellbeing.”

We are often confined between four walls.

Studies show that we spend 90% of our time indoors. We could do with a green prescription.

“Perhaps we need to give a green touch to our lives as individuals and as a society,” says Oliva.

“Think about it for a minute — the fact that we need to develop this kind of practice, to remember ourselves something that is basic as our origin.”

There is healing in nature.

“None can neglect the healing power, how restorative it is to go for a walk in the woods, walk barefoot in the beach or contemplate the stars in the sky during the night,” says Oliva.

We are living in an uncertain world right now.

“Restoring people’s relationships with the natural world is one of the goals of this practice. There is an important link between that and human health.

“Getting in touch with nature restores our physical and mental health,” says Oliva, standing in the oasis of calm.

For more information, call Oliva on 087-2132825.

She trained with the Forest Therapy Institute to become a Certified Forest Bathing Guide.

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