Hawai‘i’s First Forest Guide Helps People Connect With Nature

Phyllis Look leads people to realize the wonders of being alive.


Forest Bathing

Guide Phyllis Look leads meditative treks through the forest. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


Four years ago, Phyllis Look left the day-to-day hustle of a career in communications to embrace a new path: leading walks through the forest to help people reconnect with nature and themselves.


The walks combine simple appreciation with mindfulness, calm and a meditative attitude.


Forest Bathing Hawai‘i is inspired by shinrin-yoku, a Japanese relaxation technique that resembles a series of mindful yet meandering walks, and despite its name, all of the walks are done fully clothed. “I’ve come to realize that, for me, what it took to be happy was to pause, listen to and heed that inner voice that was guiding me to just be me,” Look says.


As simple as it sounds, a peaceful immersion in nature can affect people rather profoundly, as I saw when a mentor pulled me into a group of talented, busy, influential women the week before Christmas 2019. Each of us felt thankful for the opportunity to pause our hectic holiday pace even as we acknowledged that it was something we rarely did.


After more than 330 in-person and virtual walks, Look has earned recommendations from The New York Times, Forbes and National Geographic and expanded the walks from Mānoa’s Lyon Arboretum, to a Kahalu‘u garden and the Nānākuli Lookout.


Numerous studies indicate that spending time in nature boosts our mood and self-esteem, reduces stress, improves sleep and even fosters a sense of connection to others. But Look circles back to that simple act of feeling connected to nature and our fellow humans that reminds us of the sheer wonder of being alive. “And that feeling of gratefulness,” she says, “translates to feeling quietly, profoundly happy.”



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