Hugues Kraft worked as a mental health therapist for over 20 years before turning to forest baths a few years ago. As an avid outdoorsman, the idea of combining nature with therapy made sense. He already led an annual father-son canoe excursion and ski trip for home-schooled students to provide positive and enriching experiences.
So he got his forest therapy certification online during the pandemic and became certified in March. Even so, the Portland outdoorsman and medical professional hadn’t realized how much of an impact forest therapy would have. Or that his new guide service would be so sought after.
The old practice is gaining popularity in Maine, where it was first offered about five years ago in some land trusts. This fall, for the first time, Pineland Farms is offering Kraft-led Forest Therapy Walks twice a month. until the end of the year.
“The more I slowed down, the more I picked up. There is a lot of healing magic in the forest. If I learned to slow down, I would become more in touch with my inner nature. Then I felt more grounded, healthier, ”Kraft said. “Often times we humans approach nature as a destination or a type of experience, like when we are climbing a mountain. But you don’t have to go that far into the forest to have an eye-opening experience, a healthy experience.
Forest therapy or forest bath, in Japan called “shinrin-yoku” aims to improve mental and physical health by moving slowly through the woods, usually with the help of an experienced guide. The walks go beyond becoming more connected to nature. Meditation in motion requires participants to experience the forest slowly using the five senses to increase awareness of self and surrounding trees. Studies have shown that the practice can improve focus, creativity, and even the cardiovascular and immune systems.
“Interest is definitely rising. We hope to expand and add more dates, ”said Cathryn Anderson, Director of Education at Pineland Farms.
Earlier this year, Kraft led some of the Pineland Farms staff on a forest therapy walk for two hours. As is usually the case, he divided it into five different reflective moments, where staff were asked to close their eyes, listen to the sounds of the forest, smell or smell their surroundings – and to consider Kraft questioned.
Anderson said it was completely transformative.
“I felt like I didn’t have the time to do this, to take the time to slow down in my busy professional life,” she said. “But he let us all feel our cups were full again. It really gave us the opportunity to reconnect with our priorities. Our culture is so geared towards moving so fast, we have so little time to do it all. It provided an incredible opportunity to reflect.
The Schoodic Institute, an educational non-profit associated with Acadia National Park, this year began offering more forest walks at its Winter Harbor campus. He plans to offer more in 2022 due to the growing popularity of the practice, according to Susi Acord, the institute’s development coordinator.
Coastal Botanical Gardens of Maine first forest swimming walks offered in 2018, and others are planned on the 300 acre property in Boothbay which is 90 percent forested.
“Our mission is to inspire meaningful connections between people, plants and nature. This is why we are here. Forest baths are a perfect fit with our mission, ”said Daniel Ungier, vice president of customer experience and garden education.
Susan Bickford is an artist and art professor at the University of Maine, as well as an outdoor enthusiast who kayakes the coastal rivers around the Midcoast. So when she became a certified forest therapy guide in 2017, it was in order to teach nature as well as art.
Corn during the pandemic, she began to be hired purely for her work as a forest therapy guide as the demand to be outdoors increased. Now, Bickford runs Forest Therapy Walks in the Botanical Gardens and for the Midcoast Conservancy at the Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson, among others.
“I did not present myself as a forest therapy guide. People discovered it through my works of art. Now it is starting to flourish as its own viable entity. Suddenly everyone wants forestry therapy. And they’re paying for it, ”Bickford said. “The pandemic has given us the chance to discover that we need to connect with nature. “
Here are a handful of guided forest therapy walks at the pump in Maine this fall:
NATURE CENTER OF THE HIDDEN VALLEY
When: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., October 9
Cost: $ 25
Sign up online
When: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., October 28; 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Oct 10, Nov 14, Dec 5
Where: Education Barn, 15 Farm View Drive, New Gloucester
Cost $ 20
Other outdoor sites are expected to offer more therapeutic forest walks over the coming year: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay and the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor.
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