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Earth’s Champion: A Visionary’s Path

In a world often defined by concrete jungles and digital landscapes, Olga Terebenina emerges as a beacon of hope for reconnecting with the natural world. With a diverse array of accolades ranging from peer-reviewed authorship to co-founding The Forest Bathing Institute, Olga has dedicated her life to understanding, preserving, and harnessing the power of nature. From her earliest days, a profound fascination with the environment propelled her forward, culminating in a remarkable journey that intertwines personal healing, groundbreaking research, and global advocacy.


Can you share with us the pivotal moment in your late teens when you turned to nature for health solutions, and how that shaped your journey toward becoming an environmental activist?

In my late teens, I was living in central London, and while I was enjoying the city vibe and the opportunities that city life presents, I could feel completely overwhelmed. My high levels of stress led to anxiety and, further down the road, depression. At the worst points, it felt like I no longer had a life – everything felt so out of control… At that point, I realised that if I did not find a solution for my health and well-being, I was not sure I could ever lead a happy, healthy life. This was when I met Gary, now my husband and co-founder of The Forest Bathing Institute. Our journey then flowed into the creation of TFBI; we adore teaching people about nature’s connection to health and well-being.

At the time, Gary was already researching forest bathing – a type of ecotherapy that involves spending time in a forest in a mindful manner for health and wellbeing. Inspired by Gary’s research, we started going into nature daily – starting with our local communal garden and moving up to nature immersion weekends. The effects that nature had on my health were incredible and even hard to believe – I no longer felt stress and anxiety. My mood and sleep improved tenfold. It is as if suddenly, with the introduction of something as simple as nature, I could finally feel alive again.

Now, 11 years into the future, Gary and I are founders of The Forest Bathing Institute. In this organisation, we teach people about nature’s connection to health and well-being. Not only did nature reignite the fire in my life, but it also gave me a purpose and mission– to study and spread the benefits of nature for human health, well-being, and preservation. TFBI is now working with circa 100 universities worldwide on ground-breaking research into nature’s health and wellbeing benefits, as well as the government and the NHS in the UK and other countries, multiple charities, and media. Our message is simple – let nature help you so you can help nature. 

I am very proud and humbled to be part of the movement that is creating positive change for humans and our planet.

What motivated you and your husband to establish The Forest Bathing Institute, and how has it evolved into a global leader in researching nature’s health and wellbeing benefits?

Once Gary and I started researching the health and well-being benefits of forest bathing and spending time in nature, witnessing first-hand the effects of nature on our well-being, and hearing from hundreds about the benefits they felt, we knew that this knowledge had to be shared with others.

The Institute took root back in 2018. After reaching out to several universities across the globe, we received a response from Professor Sara L. Warber, M.D. from the University of Michigan, USA, who was interested in our work and intrigued by the possibility of researching the benefits of forest bathing. At the time, some research on forest bathing had been done in Japan and South Korea. However, studies had yet to be done in the Western Hemisphere. We were the first ones who brought the research side of forest bathing into the UK and also contributed to it being picked up by the media in 2018 when there was no prior mention of forest bathing in the media here in the UK.

Currently, we work with approximately 100 universities worldwide and lead research on the benefits of nature. We also manage forest bathing training and events. 

Could you elaborate on the research programs underway at The Forest Bathing Institute and the significance of your collaborations with prestigious universities such as Harvard and UCL?

The Forest Bathing Institute has taken part and co-led many research projects. We were the first in the UK to publish a peer-reviewed research paper on the benefits of forest bathing. We also participated in research comparing the effectiveness of indoor mindfulness with forest bathing and the research on gas spectrometry with the University of Sheffield. We have a few research projects underway and are expanding the physiological measures we monitor during forest bathing sessions. This approach gives us a deeper insight into the physiological mechanisms at play during nature exposure and, perhaps most importantly, allows us to adapt our intervention to be far more effective.

How does The Forest Bathing Institute work with governmental bodies, healthcare organisations like the NHS, and charities to make nature therapy accessible to a broader audience?

At The Forest Bathing Institute, we believe that access to nature should be a human right. People of all ages and walks of life should be able to go into nature daily and experience its benefits. Therefore, we work with circa 30 charities, including Catalyst, Amber, Mind, Mary Frances Trust, and others, to help deliver forest bathing to those who need it most. 
As part of our research with UCL, we examined the effectiveness of a course of six forest bathing sessions for vulnerable groups, including people with mental health problems, homeless young people, refugees, and others.

Thanks to our research, we are excited that forest bathing is now part of NHS green social prescribing. This means that if your GP thinks that forest bathing can be helpful to your current condition, they can recommend forest bathing to you. You will then be directed towards a charity suitable for your condition and to one of our sessions, which we run in cooperation with your chosen charity. An interesting fact is that while the waiting list for certain types of therapies on the NHS can sometimes reach months or even years, we can get people to our sessions within days of them seeing their GP. We are determined to help the wait times for mental health assistance.

Some of the researched benefits of forest bathing include reduced depression, improved mood, reduced anxiety and stress, and reduced rumination of thought. Forest bathing can also reduce blood pressure, improve the immune system, help regulate weight, and improve sleep. This comes with no known negative side effects. The main side effect is an enhanced appreciation for nature, which flows into wanting to give back something to nature for the help we feel we receive. This is why we are passionate about promoting forest bathing and nature immersion.

Your appearances on BBC Sounds People Fixing the World, BBC Two Countryfile, and other platforms have garnered significant attention. How do you leverage media exposure to amplify the message of nature therapy and ecological protection?

When we launched The Forest Bathing Institute in 2018, the UK papers did not mention forest bathing. As we started running our sessions, we contacted nature charities to collaborate on events and raise awareness about our work. 

As part of our outreach, we caught the interest of RSBP Sandwell Valley Reserve in Birmingham. Fortunately, We contacted their PR person, who helped us get the message about forest bathing into Metro and newspapers. From there, we saw a huge boom in forest bathing articles in mainstream papers. Nowadays, even the RHS Chelsea Flower Show includes a forest bathing garden as part of this year’s show (in which TFBI will participate).

Some of the most extensive media coverages we took part in were BBC Sounds People Fixing the World, BBC Two Countryfile, BBC Two Stories Of US, and BBC Earth, where we discussed some of the potential benefits of forest bathing for health and wellbeing, as well as current research projects and applications of forest bathing.

Could you tell us more about your podcast, TFBI All Nature Connected, and its role in spreading awareness about the benefits of spending time in nature?

The TFBI All Nature Connected podcast was created as an education platform to spread awareness about nature’s benefits for human health and well-being. It is also where we discuss important social, economic, and political topics related to nature preservation, climate crisis, and practical tips on introducing nature into everyday life. 

We invite guests to talk about everything related to nature—a nature-inspired lifestyle, nature and ecotherapy, wild swimming, foraging, herbalism, climate crisis, native traditions, and more. We are always looking for exciting people to interview who would like to share their passion for nature!

What inspired you to write a book on nature connection, and what key insights or messages do you hope to convey to your readers?

One of the most important goals I want to achieve is raising awareness about nature and its untapped healing potential. Only a few people realise how powerful nature is and how much good it can do for us. Rediscovering something so helpful on your doorstep can be empowering and help us connect as a society while returning to our roots and nature.

In the upcoming book, Gary and I will share some of the benefits, research, and, most importantly, easy tips and practical tools for implementing nature in your daily life, even if you have a hectic schedule. All people can benefit from time in nature, but accessing nature can sometimes be challenging due to our busy lifestyle, location, nature availability, etc. This book will be a helpful, inspiring guide to all who would like to benefit from nature exposure – whether you live in a metropolitan city or the middle of the wilderness.

As an environmental activist, what are some of the most pressing challenges you see in terms of protecting natural habitats, and how do you envision addressing them?

I can currently observe two main issues: time, or lack of it, and lack of awareness.

Climate scientists have long warned us about the devastating effects of climate change on our planet. Many habitats are already under threat due to a climate crisis, and while some of us might be experiencing less severe effects, we might still notice things changing (have you noticed any changes in the weather here in the UK in the past few years?).

Unfortunately, scientists tell us we only have a short time to act. We have just crossed the Paris Agreement threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase, which means that things will only get worse from now on. And how much worse and how fast the situation deteriorates – that is something that scientists are debating on. But what all (or nearly all) agree on is that measures need to take place immediately if we even have a hope to combat climate change. These measures include economic, social, cultural, and political changes.

While we are running out of time, each one of us can make a difference. It all starts with daily choices, which combined can produce a considerable effect. 

However, while solutions are available, the most significant issue is the general need for more awareness. What I can see is many misconceptions about climate change and climate activism, false information, and, worse, lack of coverage. The Climate crisis should be at the forefront of all governments’ agendas. It will cost all of them a great deal of money over time. Far more money than action now will cost. 

We do not see the required urgent action happening; talking without action will not get us out of the hole we have dug for ourselves. Governments even go as far as silencing peaceful protestors who are trying to educate and warn the public about our dire situation. This is counterproductive. 

On my side, I am trying to raise awareness about the problem—sometimes simply by talking about it, supporting organisations that make a change, educating people and organisations about the climate crisis, and, of course, showing people how to connect with nature and what a big change it can bring into their lives. 

Together, we can bring much-needed positive change to the planet. We need enough passionate and caring people to follow their hearts and contribute in whatever way they can. 

How do you plan to expand The Forest Bathing Institute’s work to other countries, and what are some of the unique challenges and opportunities you encounter in this endeavor?

While TFBI is based in the UK, Gary and I have worked internationally since the start. We always envisioned growing internationally. We have Surrey in the UK as our test-and-learn country and the whole of the UK as our test-and-learn country. The lessons learned from working with government departments, universities, media, charities, and healthcare organisations can be used worldwide to help tens of millions. Our major international expansion started last year via a collaboration with Kasetsart University in Bangkok, and we also achieved the status of World Economic Forum Top Innovator.

Our current plans include furthering our cooperation with universities and organisations in the East and continued expansion in the West to the USA and Canada, which already have a market for forest bathing.

The main challenge for spreading our work globally is differences in implementation. During a presentation at Frimley Park Hospital, we were informed that we first had to replicate Japanese studies to introduce forest bathing at the NHS level in the UK. While a considerable body of research has already been conducted by reputable universities in Japan and South Korea, the NHS can’t use this research as there are too many variables between the countries, such as diet, tree types, etc. 

Initially, we were slightly surprised that international research wasn’t directly relatable. Still, we quickly realised we had been presented with an ocean of possibilities, including furthering and broadening the existing research into the benefits of nature. Our university outreach has now expanded to include approximately 100 universities. We have multiple studies underway and a vast pipeline of studies on the drawing board.

Moreover, as we have now conducted research in the UK and facilitated its introduction into the NHS via social prescribing, our results and data with some of the most vulnerable speak for themselves. Now that we have made it happen in the UK, following vigorous regulations, research processes, and ethics, it is far easier for us to replicate this work internationally, and our reputation has helped forge relationships in other countries across the globe.

Our approach helps further research the health and well-being benefits of nature. Also, it facilitates the implementation of forest bathing and nature therapy in other countries to assist human health and well-being and preserve nature.

Looking toward the future, what are your aspirations for the global movement toward nature therapy and ecological conservation, and how do you envision your role in shaping that future?

I hope that with the introduction of research and the support from reputable universities, governments, and the NHS, we can make nature therapy part of people’s everyday lives. We hope that forest bathing, alongside other forms of nature and ecotherapy, can become available to all people from all backgrounds on the NHS or equivalents in different countries.

We hope that by spreading awareness, we can better understand the value of natural environments for human health and well-being. This, in turn, can help raise awareness about the importance of nature preservation, help with the current climate crisis, and prevent future climate and eco-related issues.

By re-introducing nature as part of everyday life, we can change our perspectives on its place and learn to live in harmony with nature. Rather than trying to conquer nature, we can cooperate with natural systems. Once the cooperative model is adopted, we can work with natural systems to rebalance our ecosystem far more quickly than our current domination philosophy will ever achieve. We can see this model at work in areas of the sea returned to fish as breeding grounds; quickly, the local fishermen have more fish in the surrounding areas. In the rewilding movement, fields return to woodland in the space of 10 years. This change in mentality can have an incredibly positive impact on natural environments, inhabitants, and our societies worldwide. 

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