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3 June 2022
Melanie Cop, front, shares Forest Therapy with a group of colleagues.
More than simply a walk in the bush
Words Melanie Cop
Around three years ago, I was working in a highly stressful role. I was functioning on adrenaline and found it very difficult to settle. I was even speaking quickly just to keep up with my thoughts.
One day, my supervisor/counsellor took our monthly session outside for a walk. I was power-walking, and he had to slow me down to a stroll. By the end of our one-hour session, I remember slowing down and even stopping to smell the lavender in the front yard of my home. My heart rate had settled, and my mind was so much clearer. All in just one hour. This was the beginning of my Forest Therapy journey.
Forest Therapy has become a regular practice that I have since studied and shared with groups, colleagues and friends. I have connected with Forest Therapy Victoria, and they have given me many opportunities to fine-tune my skills and broaden my experiences.
Forest Therapy is about stillness – allowing our bodies to slow down so that we experience time in the same way nature does. It’s not about walking a certain distance, counting steps or achieving a certain speed. It’s slow!
Once our bodies have ‘tuned in’ to the bush, we are more able to receive what it offers. Our sensory input is enhanced, and people often comment on how much more they can see, hear, smell and feel (we don’t taste!) once they have slowed down.
Once we have slowed down, our bodies ‘bathe’ in the clouds of naturally occurring phytoncides (mixtures of essential oils derived from plants). While we are yet to discover how these phytoncides connect with our internal health systems, they produce beneficial results in several areas.
It’s quite a beautiful experience!
Taking time to ‘just be’ in nature is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. When I focus on what is near me, what is in the distance, what I can see close or far away, and what I can smell and touch, it is so grounding. It offers a space to breathe, walk, and even talk to the trees to calm and refocus.
One of my biggest challenges was just to stop. My thoughts will take off on all kinds of tangents, but when I take time to ‘tune in my senses’ and redirect my thoughts, clarity, calm and peace result. God and I have had many a chat in this space. I am so grateful for the creation gifted to me.
Forest Therapy is also about raising the awareness of conservation and climate change issues. As we understand better how closely connected our well-being is to the natural environment, the more outraged we become when it is needlessly destroyed. We are hurting ourselves when we hurt the bush.
Forest Therapy or ‘bathing’ can be practised anywhere there is a tree – your backyard, the local park, the mountains, the rivers or a local creek.
My job remains stressful, but my Forest Therapy practices have made a difference in how I practise self-care. Exploring nature, breathing, and just being in an outdoor environment offers so much more than I could have ever imagined.
I know exactly what I need when I begin to feel my stress levels rise or deal with something tough. I also like to make it a regular part of my week to try to maintain a place of well-being rather than it becoming a solution.
I cannot recommend enough taking time-out in nature.
Captain Melanie Cop is a Salvation Army Chaplain, Domestic and Family Violence Victoria.