My Approach to Helping
.Forest De-stressing is the practice of mindfulness while walking under a canopy of trees. A plethora of recent medical research has revealed that simple walks in a wooded area for an hour can produce health benefits such as reduced cortisol production, reduced blood pressure, and boosted immune system functioning. Even small amounts of time spent this way can function as an antidote to chronic multi-tasking, city driving, and employment stress.
I teach my own form of mindfulness while guiding my “Pioneers” through selected woods in Northern Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. During 3-hour walks, I instruct pioneers to focus on each of the 5 senses to take in as much of the wood’s environment as possible. The sensory recall from these experiences can function as a negative thought stopping event long after the walk has ended. The Woods does all the work.
My goal is to get as much of the forest into my pioneers as possible. My forest engagement practice includes: 1) structured mindfulness practice, 2) silent walking, 3) active sensory engagement with the forest environment, 4) Group Debriefing, and 5) Pre-Post Assessment of Stress indicators.
Mindfulness Sequence- before we enter the forest, I teach a sensory mindfulness exercise based on monitoring the 5 senses. There are scheduled stops at 3 different environmentally complex stations along the route. Each mindfulness session lasts about 20 minutes.
Silent Walking- before we enter the woods, I demonstrate the practice of slow heal to toe walking. I also explain about the utility of silence as we walk. I have learned that many forest critters use each other in interdependent ways to keep safe from predators. Each forest, for example, will have several sentry birds that herald the entry of human beings into their space. If one of the goals is to meet animals, silence is necessary. We use visual group communication and clickers to keep group interaction going in another way. We walk a mile loop in the forest.
Sensory Engagement- along the way, I pick-up natural artifacts for inspection. We can carry some of these and use these in mindfulness exercise. Pioneers may also do the same and pass these around to other group pioneers. During the walk, I invite pioneers to touch and smell leaves, twigs, and bark. I also point out unusual natural occurrences that we discuss later.
Group Debriefing- At the end, we share our experiences of 1) Mindfulness, 2) Sensory observations, and 3) Naturalistic observations. We take as long as we need at this activity. I am not a naturalist or a certified forest therapy guide. I do all I can to keep us in safe walking areas (cannot avoid walking over some obnoxious contact plants but we will be hiking dressed defensively). I have some prior knowledge of forest succession and native plants as a starting point. In my experience of forest walking, more questions about the environment are raised than can be answered. This always leads to good follow-up research. We learn from each other.
Pre-Post Test- My hope is to find the smallest unit of forest exposure that will result in reduced body stress indicators. Before the mindfulness experience begins and at once after, I assess for blood pressure and stress induced body temperature changes
I choose forest environments that are within an hour’s drive from the City of Chicago. There forests are selected for preponderance of tree canopy, mixed coniferdeciduous, wildlife viewing, and walking safety. The forest paths are flat. These forests are all publicly accessible and do not require an entrance fee.
I charge a flat rate of 45.00 for a half day adventure. This can be payable by cash, check, or PayPal. (See ResetCounselingLLC.com). Insurances will not reimburse for this service. This is not therapy.
I have been a woods hiker since age 11. I grew up in Ottawa County, Michigan and spent some of my most formative years fishing in creeks and ponds there. The height of this experience was discovering an entrance to a land locked pond through a hobo camp behind the Holland Train Station. This adventure and the bluegills in the pond cemented my eternal curiosity about the environment.
As a young adult, I was blessed to hike the Michigan central Northwoods. There is now a national trail system running through these woods known as the North Country Trail. I used this trail system in an experiment of introducing behaviorally disturbed children to forest engagement. (Central Michigan Community Mental Health of Big Rapids, 1988-1996). I discovered that a canopied forest had a remarkable effect in neutralizing hyper-vigilant behavior associated with trauma syndromes.
Later in adult life, I had the good fortune of living in the foothills of Mt Baker in Washington. While there I was able to fish for wild golden trout in remote streams. This experience confirmed my conviction that a light-footed approach to the environment was helpful to both humans and animals.
Finally, I was able to live in Northern Alberta for 7 years. While there, a certified Hunting and Fishing Guide invited me to help him scout new hunting and fishing opportunities. I was blessed to spend several days surviving in primitive lake wilderness areas without cell phones, tents, electricity, charcoal, grills, gasoline, sugar, packaged carbohydrates, bottled water, and fire. The survival experience stimulated a new reverence for the interdependence of trees, fish, moose, deer, bears, wolves, birds, plants and water.
How we Do This
Travel- Currently, I meet up with “forest pioneers” in a location in Hyde Park, Chicago, and caravan from there. There are the normal tolls on the Skyway. We are in the woods by 8am. This seems incredibly early for most folk on a Saturday morning, but also produces the best opportunity for viewing animals and birds. We are done by 12 noon.
Eating- Pioneers can bring snacks with them but must keep all wrappers, plastics, and paper. There are no toilets so packing a roll of TP in a plastic bag is necessary. I am aware of potty breaks and do not hurry anyone. I serve a forest-based tea at the end of the adventure.
Bugs- In late summer and fall, we are thankfully past fly and mosquito season. There is still the ever-present danger of ticks. I carry Deep Woods Off for a modicum of protection. Pioneers will do well to wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
Obnoxious plants- Walking paths are free of poison ivy. There is poison ivy everywhere off the paths. Plant contact can be minimized simply by wearing long pants, and thick, overlapping cotton socks. Hiking boots are not necessary.
Tripping- There are tree roots crossing the paths. There are a few step-on creek logs. Pioneers can bring a hiking stick. I carry a bandage pack for scrapes. There are hospitals within a few miles of each location. I will continue to hike during the winter months. We will switch to boots and snowshoes, as necessary.
Wild animals- There aren’t any. No bears, no snakes, no coyotes.
Curious but cautious animals- Many. There are deer, woodpeckers, muskrats, owls, frogs, butterflies, and dragonflies.