I recently had the honour of presenting a webinar with Aspira Retirement Living. Their participants were curious about what forest therapy is all about. I share with you the two part presentation.
I distinctly remember an ah-ha moment that came to me while I walked an old path through a forest near my home. I noticed a tree that might have been 75 years old, in my estimation. Somehow, it had a hole right through its trunk, just above my eye level. In the late afternoon, the light of the sun shone directly through the tree and if I moved to the right place, I could stand in the path of the light. Despite this wound, which had healed beautifully, it was fully leafed and look quite healthy. I wondered about its story. How did this happen? How did it manage to survive? How did it go on to flourish?
The tree had learned how to cope.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary tell us that the word cope means, “to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties”. Coping was a key element of this tree’s healing.
I imagine that the tree focused on mending its wound. We might call this ‘self-care’. Instead of spending all its resources in developing more roots, or leaves, or thicker bark or seeds, it allowed nutrients and immune system defenses to rally at the place of the wound. It prioritized its wellbeing at this time of crisis.
This tree reminded me of Maya Angelou’s wise words, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
I think about the things that I have done at my time of crisis. What did I do to learn how to cope with new circumstances? How did I decide that I was going to not just cope, but move towards thriving?
I just let my emotion come in waves. I didn’t try to stop or bury or exaggerate my feelings. I let them wash over me. I created a garden. I walked in the woods. I read books. I talked to friends and family. I was surprised that I felt relief when I shared my story. I listened to the stories of others and took lessons from their experiences. It helped me to feel normal as pain and suffering was part of life, not unusual. Just like the tree already had innate mechanisms that helped it to heal, so must I.
Take your time
Upon examining the wound on the tree, I could see years worth of effort to overcome the wound as it incrementally found its way back to wellness. I imagine this was slow. So slow that it would be hard to see with the human eye if we were to sit and watch. This is true with healing a human soul as well. It may take a while and that’s okay. Others watching may not notice the healing that is taking place, but indeed it does. Relax and allow the pace to be natural for you. Slow down your mind, unbusy yourself and it will happen.
Look after your body
The tree took nourishment from the earth and sky. It didn’t forget to look after its basic needs and become distracted by its wound. This was a great contributor to its healing. As your mind works things through, don’t forget to look after your body. Proper rest, food and exercise will keep you strong enough to provide that extra energy you will need as you cope with stress. In times like these, it is easy to ignore your body’s request for attention, but it is paramount that you pay attention.
Studies have demonstrated that trees communicate. A wounded tree can ask for help, and they do. Through a microbial network, a tree will signal distress. Surrounding trees will respond by sharing resources to help the wounded tree revive. Friends and family are your network. They might offer a casserole, to walk your dog, to sit at your child’s soccer game, to listen over a glass of wine, to celebrate your loved one’s birthday with you, or to chat on the phone for an hour. They have love to give. If you can share a laugh about something, do it. The rush of endorphins will help your mood and your mind.
Stay on track
I’m sure my tree doesn’t use sticky notes, but I do. Maybe the seasons are the thing that keeps the tree organized to do the things it needs to do. When to leaf; when to take in nourishment; when to drop leaves; and when to rest. I found it necessary to write myself notes and ensure my calendar was reliable with the details that I needed to get from day to day. The extra effort to enter my tasks and meetings in this way gave me sanity during a tumultuous time. My sticky notes helped me to prioritize my tasks without forgetting the task altogether, which was easy to do. Sometimes I was even able to give a task to a loved one that wanted to help. Whatever tools work for you to sort this kind of stuff, be sure to stay on track. It will ease your mind.
For several years now, I have walked the path to visit that special tree. It signified a beautiful nature lesson. It became my reminder that my healing takes time, but it is worth the steady effort. With this healing, I would develop grit and resilience that helped me to eventually flourish again.
Connect with nature, one step at a time.
We are thrilled to be chosen for the #TrailblazerAwards2022 in recognition of Mindfulness in Nature's contribution to culture change in aging Canadians, and to our community.
Mindfulness in Nature is more than a video series. It is crafted as a nature-based program to help seniors connect with the natural world via an online program. It is designed to give access to the forest, lakes and mountain tops; to the changing seasons; and the fauna and flora that transitions throughout the year. It supports wellness in the familiar setting of a slow-paced nature walk. Each film is filled with the sounds of the natural landscape; photos and films of life within the forest; invitations to notice and reminisce of times spent in nature; and it is accompanied by soothing music. A Sensory Kit can be part of the experience, including wild-foraged tea, a scent stone, mindfulness invitations, and a snack that corresponds with each monthly walk. The goal is to offer an accessible sensory experience that fosters the plethora of benefits that have been scientifically proven to nourish the body, mind and spirit. Nature allows a person to be their authentic self, with acceptance and grace. The program fee is very low in hopes that many seniors, senior living communities, caregivers and others will participate. This program was designed, during the pandemic, by a certified Forest Therapy Guide, Senior Living Experts and a group of Seniors living in a retirement community.
A special thank you to the sponsor of this award:
The Brenda Strafford Foundation
Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA) and
Capital Care Group
During my darkest moments, I wanted to shut down, sit in a corner and allow life to past by. I was numb and felt paralyzed by grief. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, although several people thought they should tell me. What I did know was that I wanted to grieve in my own way, in my own timing.
I remember standing in the grocery store and seeing the turmoil of people coming and going down the aisles. They seemed to be oblivious and uncaring about the pain I was holding, as they went about their day of eating, socializing, working, playing and sleeping. I was just trying to get from one day to another. I was figuring out a way to cope with my new reality, but it was so hard. Who am I now? How has this loss changed me?
I was processing.
I started to rely on the wisdom that I found in nature. The lessons that it would share when emotions, thoughts, ponderings and confusion overwhelmed me, helped me to be open and honest with myself. I sat with grief. I allowed it wash over me.
In those early days of spending time in nature, I focused on my breath. I had read somewhere that when I inhale, the trees exhale. When I exhale, the tress inhale. This felt poetic and beautiful. I had not given breathing much thought, most of my life. It was just something I did out of necessity, nothing more. I didn’t even know how to use breath as a method to calm myself. I experimented.
Notice and pause.
I found myself wandering along a path until an aroma caught my attention. My sense of smell would heighten as I closed my eyes and tipped my head back to take in the fragrance in the air. My breath would slow, but become deep, filling the capacity of my lungs. I would hold it as long as was comfortable and release it ever so carefully. This seemed to allow my whole body to relax. I felt release. I envisioned that I was pulling in goodness and pushing out unhealthy thoughts and toxins.
Life went on.
Just as the people in the grocery store were demonstrating that life went on, so did the forest. Even after stormy nights, the dripping foliage in the morning sunlight seemed to bring louder birdsong, fresher scents, vivid green and hope floating along the gentle breeze. I practiced my breath. I found I became more patient with myself as I could remember to take several long breaths before becoming distracted by the happenings in the forest along my path. It became part of my walk, every time.
It started small. I would pause for a deep breath, when I could remember to do it. New aromas in the woods helped to nudge my brain to trigger the response of pausing. The more I listened to this signal, the easier it became. In fact, I eventually sought out my ‘breath moment’ as I wandered. It filled me with anticipation, and it seemed to make the experience deeper. Maybe because I became more open to it. Maybe because I saw its value. Maybe just because it was calming.
While in the midst of grief, there is confusion, distractions, and heightened emotions. I found that I needed to choose the things that brought me calm moments. I often had to deliberately make an effort to pursue them. You may need to as well. There is no ‘normal’ way of being and I needed to find what worked for me, just like you will need to for you. The most important lesson of the forest here is that experiences like this await you. Choose to notice.
Connect with nature, one step at a time.
I was recently asked to tell my story. How does one do that? What part of it is important to share? Is it the pain points, the ah-ha moments, the hope that sat there in my heart, the listening that changed things for me, the path that brought me to my ‘now’?
How would you tell your story?
Life got complicated. I found myself in a whirlwind. I escaped a tremendously dangerous abusive marriage; I survived the death of two children; I clawed my way back from bankruptcy after my spouse secretly borrowed money against our assets; I was blindly supporting my mentally ill family member; and I was stressed to the max with my intensely demanding work. All this turmoil was part of my every day when a friend of my mother’s encouraged me to go walk in the woods.
Walk in the woods? Would that fix anything? My fear, anxiety, grief, worry, sleeplessness and helplessness all seemed to overwhelm me. I was eager to find snippets of calm and joy. So, into the forest I went.
What did I find there?
My senses came alive. I moved slowly. I drew a deep breathe, then another. The pine needles seemed to emit a soothing, familiar scent. The colours and textures of my surroundings were vibrant and fascinating. They made me curious. I listened. I heard sounds close and far away. I focused on the ones that were pleasant to me. I felt the breeze on my face and the rough terrain below my feet. I tasted a wintergreen berry and noticed it’s pasty texture on my tongue. I could feel myself slip into a state of calm. It seemed so simple.
What happened next?
I reminisced about my walk for hours after it was over. I thought about the sensations I felt. I wondered if there was something to this. Was it my imagination or real? Did it matter?
I found myself craving my next walk. I was able to go again within the next couple of days. I felt child-like as I wandered and waited for my senses to notice and witness experiences that awaited me. I sat for a bit beside a little pond, that was really nothing more than a big puddle. I became still, but was soon surrounded by movement. The leaves rustled, a chipmunk scampered, a moth flitted through the ray of sunlight that gleamed into the green forest. Was this orchestrated just for me? I experienced a moment of awe. I felt small, but somehow knew I belonged there. I considered the lesson in this thought.
What did it feel like to belong?
I felt like myself, supported, comforted and accepted. This seemed rather foreign to me as it had been a while. I had connected to the natural world, but also to myself. It nourished me. It didn’t solve my problems, but it helped me to think more clearly, more creatively. I could see beyond my little world into a bigger perspective.
This is where my story took on meaning.
I walked some more. It became a regular activity. I started to have restful sleep, handle stress better and build resilience. My memory improved and I felt joy again. I knew that I was returning to happiness and wellness.
When I was ready, I did some reading on the science of a slow-paced walk in natural settings. I discovered a plethora of research and various programs that have demonstrated the health benefits of this sort of activity. I learned that several countries around the world have spent millions of dollars to develop ‘nature therapy’ centres to conduct research and program offerings to their citizens. They too agree that time spent in nature promotes well-being. This practice is simple, straight-forward, affordable, and accessible as a health initiative. I knew that I wanted to study and become a teacher to deliver this sort of support to others, in hopes that they could also find wellness. So I did.
It is what we are remembered for. I knew that amongst all the hardships that I have suffered, I wanted to do meaningful work and turn the unpleasant stuff into something beautiful. And so, I walk in the forest and offer reciprocity. My love for the natural world is what I strive to pass on. Maybe someone, somewhere will rediscover themselves because of the story I share. Maybe someone’s sparked love of nature will bring appreciation and motivation for the preservation of wild places.
Connect with nature, one step at a time.
This video will give you an introduction to the type of content that is included in The Shifting Seasons series. You will find photos, film and mindfulness invitations in this sampler, helping you to connect with nature in this very special way.
Mindfulness in Nature is also known as ‘Shinrin Yoku’ or ‘Forest Bathing’. It is unlike any other nature walk you have taken before. Over the past 45 years, many scientific studies have proven the benefits of this practice. Participants consistently report that they have meaningful experiences during their walk. Participants are often surprised by the simplicity of the practice and how it can evoke profound thought, connection to the natural world, and to themselves. Some of the benefits of Forest Therapy include:
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Taimi Post, Certified Forest Therapy Guide
Learn about the innovative Forest Therapy program that Wayfarer Forest Therapy developed specifically with seniors in mind. This program has included education about the development of Forest Therapy; virtual Forest Therapy walks to remote areas; as well as 'foot friendly' in-person walks to local areas. Each walk has been adapted to meet the needs of the participants, making it accessible to those who have difficulty with mobility. We have enjoyed sitting and walking in nature as well as the beautiful connection of sharing wild-foraged tea at the end of each event. Are you curious? Watch the video in the link below.