Nurturing Whole Health
How often do you find time to play in the woods? I have childhood memories of spending my days in the forest next to my home in S.W. Iowa. I built forts with my friends along the wooded trails. We lined them with thick green moss, pine cones, rocks and sticks, making them our second homes. I also had a nature room to myself under the shade of an old weeping willow, in a partially shaded spot, tucked away next to a secret staircase near my house. The sunlight filtered through the willow branches creating what I thought was "fairy light." I filled my little room with rocks, pieces of bark, sticks, flower petals, moss, buckeyes, milkweed, dandelion fluff and willow branches I wove into works of art. When there was no school, I spent hours there in quiet solitude. I wandered home for lunch where soup and grilled cheese sandwiches awaited. Once sated, I was back in my little room for the remainder of the day, touching, listening, feeling, smelling, imagining and observing all the life around me. That was decades ago and yet, those memories remain fully alive in me.
"Today, my focus was on intricate pieces of "forest treasure", splashing in the waterfall and exploring a grove of trees spread out like a mansion, with one distinctive room after another. I was swiftly pulled out of my small sense of self and life's stresses into an experience of something much greater, as I dropped into the life of the forest."
I still go on playdates in the woods, sometimes solo and sometimes with friends and play in ways quite similar to when I was a child. Today I spent a couple hours in the forest, off the trails in the woods of Southern Oregon. When I hit adulthood, I thought play meant activities like skiing, hiking, dancing, going to the beach, going out for a meal with friends or planning my next vacation. And now, one of my favorite ways to play is through immersing in the woods. Through this practice, I have reclaimed the world of imaginative creative play that I lost myself in as a child. I readily drop in to the intricate beauty of the forest, initially starting with a hike and then, I am called by the forest to slow way down and connect with the more than human world, the sentient community of nature. Today, my focus was on intricate pieces of "forest treasure", splashing in the waterfall and exploring a grove of trees which spread out like a mansion, with one distinctive room after another. I was swiftly pulled out of my small sense of self and life's stresses into an experience of something much greater than myself, as I dropped into the life of the forest and a deep sense of awe.
Two years ago, I began moving my practice as a Whole Health Educator, with its solid basis in evidence-based health research, in the direction of the healing medicine of the forest. When I discovered the practice of Forest Therapy, also known as Shinrin Yoku, which translates to Forest Bathing, I was not surprised by all the evidenced-based research there is on the healing power of nature. Shinrin Yoku refers to the practice of spending time in the forest with the goal of enhancing health, wellbeing, happiness and connecting to nature. The practice is based on the idea that it is beneficial to spend time "bathing in the atmosphere of the forest." The Japanese began studying the positive effects of Shinrin-Yoku on health over 30 years ago when they found their nation in a health crisis and turned to the forests for healing. Today, thanks to Shinrin Yoku in Japan, we have decades of medical research, which correlates the time spent in nature with increased wellbeing.
Many have found forest bathing to significantly alleviate the source of numerous stress-related ailments. It can decrease stress hormone production, at the same time increasing mood. High stress levels can contribute to development of arthritis, asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, headaches, high blood pressure and skin conditions, and numerous other health conditions. Forest bathing regulates parasympathetic nervous system activity which calms and regulates the system, conserves energy, and slows the heart rate.
Spending time in nature can also boost the antiviral natural killer cells of the immune system which can become compromised by high blood levels of stress hormones. These factors in turn offer support of increased immune function. In a 2007 study, the body's disease-fighting agents, natural killer cells, rose by 50% in men taking two hour walks in the woods over a two day period. Another factor in boosting immune function is a chemical released by trees called "phytoncides." These essential oils are part of the tree's immune system and in turn, as we breathe in the forest air, our immune system gets a boost.
"The guide opens the door and the forest offers its healing medicine, unique to each person."
In January of 2018, I completed my immersion training to become a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, through The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. Although the work I do as a forest therapy guide is inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku, as an A.N.F.T. trained guide, the use of the terms Forest Therapy and Shinrin Yoku do not fully reflect the specific practice as offered by A,N.F.T. Participants are guided on a very slow, mindful walk in nature in a way that facilitates and invites healing interactions. The guide opens the door and the forest offers its healing medicine, unique to each person. In cultures throughout the world, there has been a long tradition of healing through the natural world. This work is about helping people find their wholeness and helping them connect to the natural world, themselves and others in a new way. At the same time, something very subtle happens- people discover a powerful connection with nature, which fosters a new awareness, catalyzing a strong desire to advocate for the care, healing and repair of the natural world.
Wild Wellness Guide offers several Forest Bathing Experiences, including scheduled Public Group Walks; Private Groups for special occasions or life passages; Individual and Couples Sessions and Team-Building or Corporate Wellness Walks for your organization.
Come join me in the world of nature and discover the medicine of the forest through the beautiful healing and playful practice of Forest Bathing.
Though I always had a close relationship with the natural world, during a sudden, debilitating healing crisis, several years ago, something shifted on a massive level and nature fully opened to me, allowing for a deep new connection. Through this experience, I became clear that my work was as a healer, teacher and guide to facilitate others in exploring the depths of what it means to be fully alive.
During this period, I spent close to two years in solitude and meditation, practicing gratitude and medical qigong in my meadow, under an oak tree by my creek. One day I realized that the trees, the running water, the rocks, the sky, the breeze and the animals had become an essential part of my life. I began having experiences with wild animals which resembled something out of a fairy tale. While napping in my hammock by the creek one warm afternoon, I was awakened by a large buck nuzzling my knee. His twin was on the other side of me and a female was in the creek. We all gazed at one another before the two bucks moved beside the creek, rose up on their hind legs and loudly clacked their antlers in play before running off. Soon after, a large black bear appeared one evening, gazing into my kitchen window. That was followed by a pair of screech owls taking up residence in the nest box under my bedroom window. Each spring the owls breed a clutch of babies. They have taught me their hoot and continue to teach me their wisdom. One morning as I finished qigong, I looked at the beauty of the natural world around me and asked aloud, "When will I get my life back?" "This is your life now.", came the answer. I understood then that the natural world had become deeply integrated into my everyday life and played an essential role in my ability to heal.
Soon after, I discovered The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) and Shinrin Yoku. I first began integrating some of my health education coaching work into nature, taking my clients into the forest for deep stress reduction. I began offering "Elemental Forest Medicine" groups, where I discovered the power of the forest as "therapist" and its potent ability to reduce stress levels and support physical and emotional healing. I awakened to the healing power of "the more than human world."
I am grateful to be a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, through The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. I invite you to join me in the trees and discover for yourself, the healing power of slowing down; connecting with the natural world in a new way and letting go of stress and supporting your wellness through the evidenced-based healing practice of Forest Therapy.