February 28, 2024

Tech Gadgets Medical

Tech Gadgets Medical, Satisfies The Need

Local guides offer a walk on the calmer side with forest therapy

It’s not a medical practice, not to be confused with clinical therapy, but there are benefits to being outdoors and taking time to appreciate the surroundings

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It’s more than just a walk through the woods; forest therapy is about getting into nature and taking in the details of the space, recognizing what’s going on with yourself.

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It offers a panacea for a hectic modern life an ever-spinning world full of deadlines, responsibilities and pressures. Led by a trained guide, participants head out into nature to reconnect. Forest therapy offers that peace, a sort of guided meditation done in natural spaces. With the city’s abundance of natural places, Edmonton is perfectly situated for a bit of calming nature time.

For those unfamiliar with mindfulness, it can take some time to adjust.

“It’s about slowing way down, which is not always comfortable,” says Laura McLaughlin, a forest therapy guide. “Slowing down feels really weird at first. Through that slowing down, we are able to notice things, be present.”

McLaughlin is the owner of Mala Wellness Collective, which she runs with her husband, offering forest therapy and yoga.

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The benefits of forest therapy reads the same as to be expected from exercise and meditation: reduced stress and anxiety, boosted creativity, better moods and emotions. It’s not a medical practice, not to be confused with clinical therapy, but there are benefits to being outdoors and taking time to appreciate the surroundings. Groups of up to 10 head out to a local park or natural space, and the meditations and gentle nature means individuals with mobility issues can take part as well.

Forest therapy involves invitations from the guide to connect with nature through their senses and through imagination. Participants are asked to observe their surroundings, looking for fine details, things they would likely miss if they were breezing through on a hike or a run. Between each invitation, there is sharing with the larger group, talking about what they see and what they are feeling about themselves.

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“I have a lot of participants who are nature enthusiasts and it’s a shift in perspective for them,” says McLaughlin. “They tell me, ‘I haven’t done this since I was young; I haven’t just sat by a tree and noticed the bark.’”

Forest therapy evolved from a practice in Japan called shinrin-yoku, literally translated as forest bathing. In the 1980s, the country was in the midst of a tech boom and shinrin-yoku offered a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, put away the gadgets and be present. Japan gave it a name, but the idea of de-stressing through mindfulness and a connection with nature is shared across numerous cultures and worldviews.

Where forest bathing is a straightforward immersion, forest therapy involves a trained guide, someone to help calm the mind and immerse into nature. Today, organisations such as the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs offer training for potential guides; they are based out of Arizona but offer courses worldwide.

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McLaughlin did her training through the organisation in 2018 in Ottawa, a one-week immersive program followed by a six-month practicum from her home.

Milena McWatt discovered forest therapy at about the same time, taking the training about a year later in Golden, B.C.

“I was personally going through a difficult bout of depression at the time,” says McWatt. “I found myself drawn to the woods. I spent time wandering the river valley with my dog and found it made me calm and hopeful.”

She turned that interest of parks and meditation into a business, Wild Calm Forest Therapy, where she offers forest therapy sessions. This is on top of her day job working for a small land stewardship non-profit, which aligns nicely with forest therapy.

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There’s no minimum space or required density for the practice to be effective, no threshold for nature to be absorbed. A few trees in a small park would likely be enough, according to McWatt, though Edmonton offers a good variety of outdoor spaces for forest therapy.

Two years of pandemic restrictions have increased interest in outdoors spaces, and Edmonton features some incredible parks. Whether it’s the river valley cutting through the centre of the capital or great trails in the surrounding communities, there’s a lot of places for forest therapy within an easy driving distance.

“It’s great that people are keen to go outside because there’s a lot to discover, even in your own backyard,” says McWatt. “I have had some folks who have lived in Edmonton for a long time and say they have never been in the river valley.”

One limiting factor can be weather, though McWatt says she pushes on rain or shine, with the exception of the coldest depths of winter.

Both McWatt and McLaughlin offer registrations for upcoming walks through their respective websites, with a spot going for about $50 for approximately three hours.

For more information about forest therapy or to book a session with McLaughlin or McWatt, visit malawellnesscollective.com or wildcalm.ca.

yegarts@postmedia.com

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