The subject line of the email I received from a colleague at the Forest Preserves of Cook County was certainly intriguing… “You’re Invited to a Guided Forest Therapy Walk.”
Born and raised in the Northwest Suburbs, I’m no stranger to the Forest Preserves. They’re woven into the fabric of my life in memories of picnics, trips with my grandfather to get well water, afternoon walks with friends, solitary visits to find some peace and quiet, and the seasonal drives through Dam #4 with my mom to take in the year round beauty.
But a “guided forest therapy walk”? That would be a new experience.
I accepted the invitation and headed out to Thatcher Woods on a spectacular fall morning. The sun warmed the early November air and a brilliant blue sky was dabbled with puffs of bright white clouds. The leaves were in full color, some blanketing the trails, some hanging on in the trees, others floating down to find a soft landing. It was quite simply, perfect.
My fellow forest walkers, Forest Preserves’ staff and community partners, began to arrive. Taking in the beauty of the day, they too, seemed curious about this experience we were about to share.
We met our guide, Kimberly Ruffin, a Certified Nature and Forest TherapyGuide and professor at Roosevelt University, who had designed an event that would include a full-length walk (90 minutes) and opportunities for sharing, observing, exploring, and just being present.
We learned Guided Forest Therapy Walks are sensory-focused, easy-paced, short-distanced ways to promote human wellness and connections with nature. Sometimes referred to as “forest bathing” and “Shinrin-Yoku” (in Japanese), this unique way of being outdoors has been gaining worldwide popularity.
Kimberly provided supportive “invitations” to help us enjoy nature individually and as a group. We relied on our senses — sight, hearing, touch, smell — to discover tranquility, peace, and wonder as we walked the trails.
Sharing our reflections, reactions and impressions, we discovered so much on our walk. We were able to see even more in the nature around us through the eyes and words of each other. Our “ah-ha” moments were all unique, all significant, and enhanced our individual experience that morning.
Before we knew it, our 90 minutes were up. We shared a tea ceremony and the opportunity to thank our guide and each other for our walk and went on with our day…with a new appreciation for nature and its benefits.
Whenever #NatureInvites you to walk the woods, let the Forest Preserves be your host and your senses your guide.
To learn more about Ruffin’s meditative forest therapy walks, visit her website Cardinal Encounters.
To learn more about Forest Therapy visit the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs.