You’ve asked all of your friends for their opinions. The Magic 8-Ball keeps coming back with “Reply hazy, try again.” Your mind keeps changing. Yes one day, no the next.
Wise counsel can be hard to find. Sometimes it doesn’t arrive in a timely fashion, in the form you anticipated or at all. There’s one particular source, however, that you might not have considered. It’s always available, and it’s as simple as stepping out your front door.
First name Mother. Last name Nature.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the increasingly popular Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which translates to forest bathing or forest therapy and is used to promote healing and maintain good health.
“The forest is really the therapist,” said licensed professional counselor and art therapist Tamara Herl. She recently finished the first part of training to become a certified forest therapy guide. “As the guide, I open the doors.”
The founder of Wild Divine Retreat Center in Cascade recently opened a Forest Room at Cottonwood Center for the Arts. The room is filled with outdoor-reminiscent treats for the senses, including the soothing sound of running water, potted plants and a forest mural. It’s designed to re-create the natural environment for a forest therapy session if you can’t make it up U.S. 24 to Herl’s 8 ½-acre property or if the weather won’t cooperate.
Growing up in Kansas, a spot not known for its lush, forested lands, Herl made do by hiding in cedar hedges in her family’s yard. It’s where the self- described introvert would go to make herself invisible. When the urge to move took hold, she headed to a huge open space near her home, where she spent hours walking through a meadow and old creek bed. It’s where she cultivated her love for finding answers and comfort in the natural world.
Forest therapy was a foreign concept to her until a year ago, when a friend mentioned the practice. She did some research and was impressed with the many health benefits it can bestow, including boosting the immune system, increasing the number of cancer-fighting cells and reducing stress. She found a training offered by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and is now finishing a six-month practicum.
A blog post by a forest therapy guide in New York City inspired her to create the Forest Room. He created a temporary forest room installation, complete with a dirt floor, and wrote about its popularity.
You won’t feel the wind blow through your hair or the sun on your face in her secluded room, Herl said, but you will slow the heck down, and that’s what forest therapy is all about.
“It’s really different than a hike,” said Herl. “In a hike, the goal is to get from point A to point B. People like to go quickly. We could take a hike in this room. We’d move slowly. I’d have you notice all the different colors you see. In here, there’s not a lot of space to cover. But even outside, we don’t go any farther than a quarter of a mile.”
Using a guide might seen nonsensical. Why would you need somebody to help you walk through a forest or pseudo-forest? Herl understands. Her role is to work with the forest and to trust her instincts about where to take the client. A session follows a sequence of events, beginning with the principles of pleasure. She asks questions and has people begin to take notice of their senses, which helps them to slow down, be present and enter the liminal space, where they can lose track of time and begin to relax.
“That can help the immune system function better too,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize how stressed out they are. They think their stress level is normal.”
A tea ceremony, with homemade tea often made from plants or other natural sources such as spruce trees, ends the session. The ritual, called the threshold of incorporation, is intended to incorporate what you learned into your life.
Walks at her Cascade property and forest room sessions at Cottonwood are offered on a sliding scale of $20 to $40.
A combat veteran Herl worked with felt discouraged upon his reentry to society. He wondered what he had to offer now that he was back.
“Some people say the way you can give back, or make a contribution to society, which is what we all want to do, is just by appreciating the beauty you see around you, like in a leaf or birdsong,” said Hurl. “It can be something simple. It doesn’t have to be some monumental thing.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270