Kingston leading the way with guided forest therapy walks

Kingston leading the way with guided forest therapy walks

It's no ordinary walk in the woods. Or is it?

In the Kingston area, the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority has begun a guided forest therapy program they say will help participants fully realize the power of the outdoors. 

Stana Luxford-Oddie is the authority's senior conservation educator. She has been accredited as a guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides. But she hopes that doesn't deter people. 

"The guide opens the door and the forest is the therapist," she said. "And sometimes people get hung up on the word 'therapy' and it's meant just as this idea that you get whatever you need from the forest. Be it slowing down, healing, whatever you need, it shows up for you."

In 2016, Luxford-Oddie embarked on her training which included an eight-day intensive course in Massachusetts and then a six-month-long practicum in Kingston.

"The aim of the practicum is to deepen your own connection to the more-than-human world, so with nature, but also to practice guiding people so you go out and lead people on walks and you experiment and you get to know different trails in your area really well."

The groups are limited to ten people and there are still spaces available for the next walk on November 4, she said. 

"We're hosting them at our Little Cataraqui Creek conservation area and there's mixed forest, sugar bush, hemlock, there are some planted pine areas. We're the limestone city, so there's limestone here. But we're on the edge. We're kind of that land in between where the limestone and the granite meet."

Inspired by Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku

"In Japan, there's over 40 years of research showing how it helps to reduce stress levels, your cortisol levels, blood pressure." 

"Sometimes we really need that permission. So someone bringing you into the forest with this intention of allowing you to let go, and just be present. It can be really helpful to have a guide do that. And it can last you the week. You don't suddenly have to move out to the forest to gain the benefits."

Like a yoga practitioner who goes to yoga classes, Luxford-Oddie feels her guided walks get people started on a greater appreciation for what the woods can do for their well-being. 

"Our aim is to really help people slow down and cultivate that connection and encourage people to practice this ... to find in their yard or in their local conservation area and really allow themselves that permission to slow down and re-connect," she said.

"I think a lot of us really are so connected and have such busy schedules that it's really hard to turn our thinking brains off and slow down and be present. And so, with a guide, we have a standard sequence that we follow that really helps people notice where they are, have some gratitude for the space and then slowly become aware of their senses."