Tag: forest therapy

What is the practice of “Council” in Forest Therapy, and why do we do it?

Council is a deep and effective communication practice which has been used for generations, traditionally in indigenous cultures. In its simplest form, Council involves a group of people gathered in a circle (representing the circle of life) for a conversation about a specific topic. Each person within the circle is given an opportunity to share spontaneously with the whole council, while being attentively and respectfully listened to, without judgement by all members. It is important to feel safe enough to share our heartfelt truths without the fear of judgement and gossip. A commitment to integrity and confidentiality creates a safe and accepting place to express ourselves.
Sharing during Council is always optional.

The practice of Council is used widely in schools, communities, businesses, restorative justice, and many other settings as a means of powerful and insightful communication. We use a less formal format of Council in Forest Therapy – our circle gatherings draw attention to the present moment, participants’ experiences during the walk, and practising gratitude for the more-than-human world. As a mindfulness practice, Council enables people to become more self-aware and aware of others, as well as their natural surroundings. Each person has a voice and wisdom that should be given the opportunity to be heard and witnessed.

Speaking and listening from the heart can connect people in a way that strengthens relationships and builds stronger communities. In Forest Therapy, we recognise that human connection is an important part of nature connection. It helps us overcome the isolation we can feel when we don’t have the opportunity to share our nature connection experiences with others. It’s also a powerful way to reconnect with your community in a world massively absorbed in technology, where regular and healthy forms of social interaction and communication may be strained or lacking. Being part of a community has many benefits, especially for one’s mental and emotional health.

Become part of the Forest Therapy community near you by attending one of our walks in central Scotland, see events here.

Vitamin N: Nature as a prescription for depression

Did you know that depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide, closely followed by anxiety?¹

Depression is a common mental health disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest, inability to experience pleasure, hopelessness, isolation, restlessness and lack of energy, among many other symptoms. It affects how you feel, think and behave and impacts our emotional and physical health enormously.

Spending time in nature has many proven health benefits that we have known about for some time. However, as a society we seem to have largely forgotten about them. One of these many benefits includes alleviating feelings of depression and anxiety in adults and children. As a species, human beings have been deeply connected with nature throughout the ages for a variety of reasons: foraging for food, hunting, spirituality, and medicine, to name a few. Yet nowadays, as we immerse ourselves more and more in concrete jungles (busy cities), our ever demanding work schedules and electronic communications, over time we have lost touch with the deep calm and comfort that even a few hours spent in a green space provides.

From personal experience of challenges with mental health over the years, I highly recommend that if you are suffering from depression or anxiety, whether it has been a short or longer term issue, finding ways to spend more time outside will do you a world of good! I can say that with 100% confidence. Please remember that if you are suffering from severe mental health issues, working with trained mental health professionals is incredibly important as far as diagnosis, appropriate treatment and support is concerned.

My deep love of nature was inspired as a child from spending the summer holidays in the Lake District or the Highlands of Scotland: camping, roaming, climbing trees, fishing, building dens, and all sorts of childly shenanigans! I have always felt a calling towards returning to the outdoors when I feel down, lonely or stressed. Even sitting in the same spot or taking a slow walk for 20 minutes in a local park a few times a week, simply noticing what’s happening in the natural world around me, has a profound way of soothing the anxiety that our fast paced lives create. The best part being that Nature aka ‘Vitamin N’ is easy to do, and it’s free with no side effects! Miles better than a prescription of citalopram, if it can be avoided!

What I love about practicing Forest Therapy is that, not only do you benefit from the fresh air, connection with wildlife and calming the mind, you also have the opportunity to share the experience with others in a community setting. On a Forest Therapy walk we include brief meetings or “councils” where participants have the space and opportunity to share with the group about their experience. Many people never get the opportunity to share their experiences in nature with others, and the welcoming and witnessing of these stories, feelings and experiences can be deeply nurturing for individuals. Everything and everyone is welcome in the forest!

Forest Therapy walks are facilitated by certified Forest Therapy guides, like myself, who take the stress out of finding a location suitable for relaxation and inspiring nature connection. Your guide plans the route and ensures it is safe, and sets the ideal pace so that you can simply let go of all of your worries and find pleasure through connecting deeply with your different senses. Through ‘invitations’ your guide also suggests ways of interacting with nature that you might not immediately thought of. Each walk offers the space to reconnect with yourself, with the natural world and with your community. Social interaction and connecting with other people can provide important benefits for health and wellbeing. Social relationships, a sense of ‘belongingness’ or community, interaction and the support of family and friends are important for wellbeing and can also protect against becoming ill.²

So, however you wish to spend time in nature, I hope this brings some motivation and inspiration for self-care and falling in love with the outdoors! Remember – Vitamin N is a wonderful way of treating depression.

Caitlin x

1. Vos, T., Barber, RM., Bell, B., Bertozzi-Villa, A., Biruyukov, S., Bollinger, I., …Murray, CJ.. (2013). Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990-2013: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease study. The Lancet, 386(9995), 743-800.

2. Tones K and Green K (2010). Health promotion: planning and
strategies, 2nd Edition. London: Sage.

Forest trips help childhood asthma and allergies

Asthma and allergic diseases like atopic dermatitis – chronically itchy skin – are increasing in children who live in cities. Recently, a research paper (2015) provided evidence to support what forest therapy guides know – that the forest environment has beneficial health effects for participants with chronic diseases.

To find out about the favourable clinical and immunologic effects of forest, the study examined changes in the children’s symptoms before and after a short-term forest trip. The forest trips involved 21 children with asthma and 27 children with atopic dermatitis. All the children in the study were living in air-polluted, urban, inner-city areas. By measuring the children’s symptoms both before and after the trips, the study found out that short-term exposure to forest environment does appear to have beneficial clinical and immunological effects for these children with allergic diseases living in the urban community.

So this weekend, plan a family outing to a woodland or forest near you. The walk will literally do you good. And bring home a few beautiful small branches of pine trees to use as home fragrance, instead of commercial ‘home fragrance’ that is well-proven as an asthma and allergy trigger!

Read the full study to see which markers the study measured and the significance of the health improvements.

Forest Bathing in Winter

Shinrin Yoku is not just for Spring and Summer! Sometimes it’s in the middle of winter that we feel the most disconnected from nature. From inside looking out, the skies look grey, wet, cold and blustery so we don’t venture out. However, staying inside we deprive ourselves of light and fresh air and often sadness sets in. I heartily recommend wrapping up warm, putting on a pair of waterproof boots, a windproof and waterproof coat and getting outside for a walk, whatever the weather. Once in the woods or forest, the trees will shield you from the worst of the elements. There is a calm among the sleeping trees. Did you think all would be dead at this time of year? Look closely around you. There’s purslane and bittercress, two wild winter vegetables. And winter fungi – oyster mushrooms, velvet shanks and turkey tails. These little signs of new life encourage us to observe the earliest signs that spring will renew the earth, bringing hope and cheer to our spirit.

Caitlin Keddie, Forest Therapy Guide