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DB resident Amanda Yik pulls double duty to prove wellness and environmentalism can be one and the same as Hong Kong’s first Shinrin-Yoku guide. Elizabeth Kerr reports
PHOTOS BY Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com

It’s mid-September and still blistering in Hong Kong, and even in allegedly breezy Discovery Bay Amanda Yik is fanning herself with her shirt as she takes a seat with a matcha latte. She marvels at the atmospheric misery nearby typhoons have brought with them but she looks remarkably cool. There might be a bead of sweat at her hairline. Whether that’s a sign of emotional and mental health manifesting in her pores is debatable, but many would argue Amanda’s regular forest baths may indeed be the reason.

Amanda is Hong Kong’s first (possibly only) forest therapy guide, a therapeutic practice she took up four years ago after coming off a serious illness at just 36 years old. Her route was a circuitous one. A lawyer by training and a diversity and inclusion pro with Community Business by trade, Amanda eventually heeded her interest in environmental activism and completed a master’s degree in corporate environmental governance and went to work for an NGO in corporate responsibility.


Amanda and her husband of eight years relocated to DB just around the time Amanda started a battery of cancer treatments. The resulting low energy forced her to slow down. Prior to that Amanda admits she didn’t deal well with downtime and was uncomfortable with the idea of doing nothing. But as she wandered her neighbourhood and the surrounding environment – the forest – she found a level of acceptance she needed at a time when no one around her really ‘got it.’ “There’s nothing in the forest that asks you questions,” she says.

Amanda and her husband settled in a flat halfway up the hill overlooking the beach; it was the view that got them. But they’re pretty unique to DB, having neither children nor dogs.

“That was one of the reasons we moved to DB. I really wanted a dog. But once we moved in we were kind of…” she tails off with a shrug. “It does mean giving up quite a bit of freedom. It’s like having a toddler that never grows up. My husband and I really enjoy our freedom, it’s part of the reason we’re here. We have space and distance from the brouhaha of Hong Kong. That’s rarely talked about.” They’re happily child-free – not childless, an important distinction for Amanda. She points out how an explanation for not having kids is asked of too many. “No one asks you why you have kids,” she argues. “It’s really just thinking about the many different ways life unfolds. It’s so easy to make assumptions.”

Amanda is easy to talk to, possessed of a gentle, lowkey sense of humour and comfortable talking about what she’s feeling and thinking. She’s the perfect forest therapy guide. Ultimately, Amanda discovered the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (which operates in 60 countries) and earned guide and trainer certification before launching Shinrin-Yoku Hong Kong (www.shinrinyokuhk.com). Now she runs her own public or customised walks, running up to three hours, in English or Cantonese. But the million-dollar question remains. What is forest therapy?


Amanda admits the concept is hard to grasp intellectually. “The most common question I get is ‘So what exactly do we do?’ There is a rundown,” she explains with a laugh. “When I take people into a country park for three hours, I’m not winging it. I have a plan but if I tell you what it is, you’ll be turned off or think you can do it yourself. It defeats the purpose.” The purpose, very simply, is to immerse in nature and enhance wellbeing. It’s a way to connect with nature, wake the senses, and heal the mind, body and spirit. Forest bathing’s purported benefits include reduced blood pressure and stress, and enhanced immune system strength and mood.

Amanda’s been fortunate in that she hasn’t had to deal with accusations of peddling new-agey ‘woo-woo’ nonsense, and most who sign up do so because they’re open to receiving whatever the forest may provide. Though ‘forest’ evokes specific ideas – think the Black Forest in Germany – the proper definition of forest as more than half a hectare of land with trees higher than 5 metres and a canopy cover of more than 10% (according to the UN) makes 25% of Hong Kong a forest.

As Amanda explains it, forest therapy is a chance for anyone to meet what she calls their edge (satoyama in Japanese): “The space somewhere in between, where we explore our edges in our encounters with nature. “I know people who have never touched a tree,” she adds. “It’s common to grow up in Hong Kong and spend all your time indoors.” By the same token, Amanda has encountered many so-called nature lovers who have never spent time in nature doing nothing. That’s forest therapy

“It’s not traditional therapy, and we don’t call ourselves therapists. We’re just guides. Some guides prefer the word healing. I had an older gentleman last week who teared up on our walk, and he had no idea why. That’s a sign of healing. Often we receive exactly what we need.” For anyone wondering, guides are necessary to worry about what most bathers would be fixating on were they alone, and most importantly to facilitate sharing experiences

“Plenty of people can let go and immerse themselves, and they wouldn’t need a guide. Personally, I couldn’t do it,” Amanda admits. “If I were alone, at some point I’d pull out my phone.”

Another key aspect of forest therapy for Amanda is its ability to make an environmental impact. By immersing ourselves in nature the chances of appreciating just how harmful our actions are will inspire positive change. “Forest therapy can change people from the inside out. It can make them feel nature,” theorises Amanda. The idea is that our instinct to protect that which we care about will be stoked by receiving something positive from the forest, which is more empowering than just reducing, reusing and recycling.

“We are selfish and we do prioritise ourselves at the expense of other species and the earth, but that kind of problem isn’t solved by naming and shaming, or by science and technology. It will be solved by love, compassion and empathy,” Amanda says.

While forest therapy is still at the ‘excursion’ stage, forest therapy as wellness practice, environmental activism and social repair has seen its profile rise in the wake of COVID. Amanda agrees the past 18 months have made emotional and mental health a priority for many, and that the demand for balance in work and life, between city and nature, is gaining traction.

But Amanda’s a realist. “That’s not to say we need to go back and live in caves,” she finishes. “It’s just that our extremely digital and indoor lifestyle is terrible for our health. We’re built for mobility and being out in nature.” Just make sure you have a fan

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