Guest blog from Lindsey, a Life and Executive Coach at www.lindseyhood.net.
I have just come back from one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had.
I spent 3 wonderful hours in Itchen Valley Country Park with the amazing Sonya (and 4 other participants) for some Forest Therapy.
What is Forest Therapy?
I met Sonya at the Hampshire Health Hub event in January and she had the stall opposite mine for her Adore Your Outdoors business. As the day went on, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to find out what Sonya’s business was about!
Sonya started her business in 2019 to follow her dream to help people connect with nature, connect with their creativity and to lead happier and healthier lives. She does this through Forest Therapy, an evidence based therapeutic practice that is held in nature and through various mindfulness practices can help us slow down, listen to our intuitive wisdom and feel the power and energy of a forest.
This sounds very hippy dippy…
I won’t lie, one of the reasons I was drawn to it is because of the nature connection and the idea that I could ‘connect’ on a deeper level with nature. But, Forest Therapy is a therapeutic practice and as Sonya explained at the beginning of the session:
- there are essential oils being emitted from trees that we are breathing in that can calm and protect our systems
- slowing down and allowing ourselves time and space to just ‘be’ has been proven to support better mental health
- the relaxation effects can last for hours, days and sometimes weeks after.
So, what exactly was this beautiful experience like?
The session is split into different activities where I was ‘invited’ to do certain actions but I was always in control of what I did and could choose to do other things if that felt better to me in the moment. I’m not going to share details of all the activities as I think they are best experienced but will share with you some of my highlights.
My first highlight was when I focused in on my other senses by closing my eyes. I was invited to cup my hands behind my ears and the change in what I heard, or rather, how I heard it, was unexpected.
My second highlight was when we took a very slow walk through the forest with the invitation to explore as we wanted to. I’m not sure if it was an effect of lockdown and using nature as a substitute for human connection, but I touched many trees, smelt leaves, and picked up twigs and stones to feel the different textures in my hand. I also took the opportunity to look up and wonder at the sparkle of the sunlight coming through the leaf and branch canopies. It is mind-blowing to me that without any intervention these trees have grown, evolved and lived for hundreds of years. I could see how they have supported each other at times with the intertwining of branches and how things have been tough for them, with dead branches and damaged bark, but they survived and kept going. It made me feel quite small, but in a really good way – that sometimes I am making my own problems bigger than they need to be when I consider these against the bigger scheme of things.
My third highlight was [re-]connecting with the sounds of nature. I mentioned in my Lockdown lessons blog post, that I loved hearing nature. As life is starting to return to ‘the new norm’ the noise levels where I live have increased and I can hear the gentle hum of the traffic on the M3/M27 rather than as many birds tweeting. Being in the forest, there were birds, but the thing I really tuned in to were hover flies. There were so many and when you are still and they are around you the low buzzing sound is such a wonderful white noise – I don’t think I’ve ever heard this before and am so grateful I got to tune into this natural wonder. (I also felt slightly like Snow White connecting with the wildlife around me which is always going to appeal to my need to be a Disney Princess!)
My fourth highlight was giving myself permission to ‘be’ and explore. Sonya sets the scene perfectly when we start, and says we will get out what we put into the session. There was part of me that felt self-conscious to begin with, but once I got out of my own way and just let myself go where I was drawn to and to not be my normal analytical self; to not have to have a reason why I was drawn to a particular tree, or felt the need to touch a particular root, or pick up a particular leaf, it was oddly freeing. My monkey mind did hijack me many times. As with anything, and as the name suggests, a mindfulness practice takes practice but being immersed in a comforting, safe, natural environment with so many ways to focus my senses in the present, I found it easier than some other mindfulness practices I’ve done to stay in, or pull myself quickly back to, the moment.
My fifth highlight was the gift I felt I had been given in these 3 hours. It was both grounding and uplifting, peaceful and awakening, solitary and connected. I felt gratitude and my heart actually felt larger in my chest when I saw a heart shaped leaf. A wave of deep emotion washed over me when I laid my hands on the bark of an old tree and I wanted to cry – I’m not sure what it was or where it came from. I sat under a tree and did nothing but listen to the sounds around me for 20 minutes – when do we ever allow ourselves the gift of time to just truly be in the moment? Of not having to think about what you need to do next or worrying about what you haven’t completed? To have the permission to just sit and watch and listen and fully take in what is going on around you, without the need to have a purpose or next step in mind?
You absolutely need to try it yourself!
If you have been following me for a while, you know I am a fan of mindfulness but I feel Forest Therapy with Sonya has taken this to the next level! Words really can’t do this experience justice, so if you are in the Hampshire area I would really recommend booking in and experiencing a session for yourself.
About Me, Lindsey Hood
I’m a life and executive coach who specialises in working with amazing women who secretly struggle with imposter syndrome to help them feel genuinely confident in their unique experiences and skills. If you’d like to know more about me, visit my website https://www.lindseyhood.net