A forest therapy walk is all about “self-care.” The idea is to take your time to open all your senses, ”explains the local forest therapy guide.
Imagine that you are in the forest.
“Close your eyes, breathe, then breathe, notice your breathing. Pay attention to where your feet rest on the ground, wiggle your fingers, adjust your position if you want; now turn your attention to your sense of hearing; notice the sounds closest to you, maybe the leaves moving around your feet.
“Now turn your attention to the sounds that are farther away, all around the forest. Take these two circles of sounds and bring them together. Now turn your attention to your sense of smell, notice how the forest smells today, can you? you pick up odors in the air?
“Open your mouth slightly and inhale through your mouth; see if there are any likes here. Now turn your attention to your sense of touch – notice how the air feels against your clothes and against your skin. Place your hands in front of your face to create a wall in front of your eyes. Open your eyes slowly and look at the forest in front of you. “
Do you feel calm and relaxed?
This was the start of my recent experience with the local Forest Therapy Guide, Fran Mills, and I really felt a sense of both calm and awe. Mills walked me through the first in a series of “invitations” designed to make a therapeutic connection to nature.
As a nature lover and enthusiast of the outdoors, I consider myself to be someone who probably experiences ‘forest therapy’ every time I go out for a walk, ski in the woods or paddle along. of a quiet river.
It turns out that what I’m used to doing outdoors is quite different from a forest therapy experience. Mills explained the difference.
“The main difference is that when we walk in nature, we usually focus on the destination – where we are going and sometimes how fast can we get there. With a forest therapy walk, you focus on what’s right in front of you and that’s where you want to be – in the moment, ”Mills said.
“It’s about taking care of yourself,” she added. “The idea is to take your time to open all your senses. “
A walk with a forest therapy guide typically lasts around two and a half to three hours, during which participants are given a series of invitations – or opportunities – to connect with the forest.
The invitations explore the sights, sounds, smells, movements and sensations within the forest. The walk itself is done in silence, except for the direction of the guide. Usually, at the end of a walk, there is a tea ceremony with opportunities to share experiences and express gratitude to the forest.
While it’s widely believed that time spent in nature is good for us, what’s really interesting is the studies that scientifically show how forest therapy contributes to our health.
Forestry therapy began as a practice in Japan in the 1980s as a way to counter high levels of work-related stress. Studies have shown that people living closer to nature are healthier, and scientific studies have reinforced how nature positively affects the body.
“They found that cortisol levels drop, blood pressure drops, and feelings of dread increase over time in nature. The studies also found that the effects went beyond the actual time spent in the forest and lasted for days, ”Mills said.
The term “forest therapy” comes from the Japanese “shinrin-yoku”. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest” and yoku means “bath”. Thus, shinrin-yoku means to bathe in the atmosphere of the forest or to soak up the forest through our senses.
For Mills, becoming a forest therapy guide was a natural progression.
“I feel like I’ve been in conversation with nature my whole life. Even as a child, I always found a place to sit in the forest. And when I was a student at York University, I was often found in the arboretum.
On her rural property in Ramara Township, she spent a lot of time in the woods and it was there that she went to mourn the death of her partner.
“One day I was on the trail with my dog and I said, if I could find a way to share this with people, I would be so happy.”
Within hours, an ad appeared on his computer for a forestry therapy training group. At the same time, her bakery business (including the popular “Franni Granola” products that she sold at the Orillia Farmers Market) was shutting down. Puzzled, Mills walked around with the group.
“In 10 minutes my stress was gone and I knew it was for me and I signed up for the training.”
Mills has become a Certified Forest Therapy Guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) and the Global Institute of Forest Therapy (GIFT). She started offering rides from her Elder Tree Farm location in Ramara.
“The amazing thing about the forest therapy experience is that it is transferable, wherever you are you can get the same benefits. It is something that you carry in your pocket and take with you.
Mills added that it is good to take a guided walk because you are letting go of the responsibility, freeing yourself up for the experience. She also stressed that forest therapy guides are not therapists; the forest is the therapy.
“As guides, we just hold the door so people can come in,” she explained. “Once you have the tools, anytime you’re out in the wilderness you can practice any of the invitations and it’ll bring you right back to the present moment.”
“Some people say it’s about learning to be in nature. But I think it’s not so much about learning as it is about remembering. We, as a species, grew up in nature, as a part of nature. It was only recently that we parted ways. Little by little we parted ways, living on concrete and driving our cars, ”Mills said.
The joy for Mills as a forest therapy guide is seeing the participants’ responses. People told him that the experience made them feel like a child again, or helped them remember a lost loved one, or understand their own thoughts. She says she is also obligated to encourage people to connect with nature because “our world is in serious trouble”.
“You only save what you like and you only like what you know,” Fran said.
“It all comes down to something a fellow guide told me. I had mentioned that we need nature, but nature would be fine without us. She responded by speaking of a teaching from the 8 Lakota Shields which says that all beings on earth have their gifts to give – food, medicine, shelter, beauty; the gift that humanity brings is gratitude. Being grateful for all the gifts nature gives us connects us, ”said Mills.
“It really resonated with me and I’ve cultivated gratitude ever since. Connecting with nature gives me the opportunity to plant seeds of gratitude in others. It makes my heart sing.
As a first-time forestry therapy participant, I look forward to using the tools that I now have in my back pocket. My next nature walk, hike, or paddle might be about the experience, not just the destination.
To learn more about forest therapy or to find out about guided walks, visit Fran’s website at simcoemuskokaforesttherapy.ca.