A different way to get outside – Forest Therapy

This post is by Kristina Domsic, one of the facilitators of our upcoming Seeds of Intention: Yoga & Nature Retreat, May 24-26. 

One of the things that makes our upcoming Seeds of Intention retreat unique is that participants will get to try out Forest Therapy, also known as Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing, with a certified guide. This is an amazing way to explore the beautiful landscape around Harmony Dawn retreat centre. The landscape of rolling meadow, gardens, and forest around the centre have so much to offer.

When people first hear about the idea of forest therapy, they often have an intuitive sense of some of the ways this practice could be beneficial; since we were young, many of us have heard that fresh air is good for us! When we have felt overwhelmed by stressful situations, loved ones might have suggested we go for a walk to help shake it off and gain some new perspective. That part makes sense.

So, why not just go for a simple walk outside on your own?

Well, going for a walk outside on your own is definitely a good idea. But, there are also some stand-out benefits to joining a guided Forest Therapy session! Here are some of the highlights of what you can expect on our Forest Therapy sessions at the Seeds of Intention Retreat this spring:

1. Time to unplug

One of the biggest differences from walking on your own is that with a guide, you have a real opportunity to relinquish control, and leave your phone, watch, or other electronics behind. Much like a yoga class, in Forest Therapy you will be encouraged to leave your electronics behind, where their electric buzz can no longer call for your attention. Let your guide keep the time! Put your trust in the idea that now you are just here, doing this forest therapy thing.

2. Slow down

Another great reason to join a guided forest therapy session is that the guide can set your pace. Just like a race pace bunny, the guide will make sure to keep you on track. The big difference is of course that forest therapy isn’t about getting to the finish line in a certain amount of time. Instead, she’ll help you move slowly. Slowing down can be difficult at first, and generally, a guide will help bring you to a much slower pace than you are used to. The slowness creates space for the real magic of the practice to unfold.

3. Connect with nature in a new way

Throughout your session, a number of therapeutic ‘invitations’ will be offered. These invitations are often centered around bringing attention to one or more of our senses, similar to what you might experience in a guided meditation. You might be invited to notice, listen, play, create, imagine, or spend some time getting to know the beings who call the forest home. Sometimes your guide will pick up on the nuances of the weather or the wildlife and be called to co-create new invitations on the spot! A skilled guide can craft these invitations in a way that makes them accessible to all.

4. Be heard

One aspect of forest therapy that often surprises people is that there are many opportunities to share your experiences with the group. Of course, there is no pressure to share anything in particular, or even to speak at all, but the option can be a welcomed complement to periods of quiet time spent on the trail. We often follow a tradition of council in which the participants form a circle and speak to the center one at a time. A talking piece is typically passed around to signal the speaker who is invited to speak from the heart, while the rest of the circle listens.

5. Take it all in

At the Seeds of Intention retreat, our Forest Therapy sessions will end with tea; a wild-foraged, local, herbal tea, to be exact! This is an opportunity to learn a little bit more about one or two of the plants that live in the landscape you’ve been exploring during your session.  Enjoy the scent of the tea and the feel of the steam on your face. Maybe take a sip, or two, or three.

It is important to remember that forest therapy guides are not generally therapists. They do not prescribe medicine, or dictate rules. Guides hold space. They listen openly. They offer ideas of how you might explore your own unique journey.

Kristina Domsic, one of our co-facilitators for the Seeds of Intention retreat, trained with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy in 2017 to learn more about this very special practice. She can’t wait to share it with you at our upcoming retreat. Our retreat sold out last year – click here to save a spot!

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Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The first thing I learned in my yoga teacher training surprised me.

I assumed we would start with poses, or even yoga philosophy. But the very first thing we were taught was the importance of learning our students’ names.

My teacher went over strategies for remembering students’ names, and said, “Even if you have to ask their name every class, make the effort. It shows that you care, that you see them, that they are a real person to you.

Now that I’m in my tenth year of teaching, I cannot say how invaluable that first lesson has become. It is something I think about in every class that I teach. I love saying hello to people and voicing their name. I can tell that some people are surprised that I have made the effort to remember them, and by their smiles, I can tell that they appreciate it.

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Find Your Yoga Buddy

There are so many different kinds of yoga students.

There are the quiet ones who want to meditate on their mat before and after class. There are the chatty ones who talk everyone’s ear off at the water dispenser. There are the earnest ones who listen with rapt attention during class, and the jokers who heckle the teacher in good fun.

I have a tender spot in my heart for all my students, but I have a special spot reserved for yoga buddies, pairs of friends who come to class together. Usually when people come in pairs I get to know them a bit more. They tell me about how yoga is a part of their friendship. They come to class more regularly because they have a friend date and they don’t want to miss it! Yoga buddies often make the whole feeling of the class more like a hangout – they are more likely to crack jokes to each other in class, which makes everyone laugh. It’s a good scene.

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Strong or Flexible – Why Not Both?

When you see the class title Strength & Flow, what feelings or images come up? Does it make you think of a bootcamp class at the gym: grunting and burpees and shouting? Or maybe it brings up an experience of tightness in your body. One of the most commonly cited reasons for coming to yoga that I hear is, “I want to become more flexible.” Those same people often wonder if going to a class focused on strength is going to make them feel more stiff, rather than more flexible. We’ve got news for you: strength is flexibility’s best friend.

First things first though; don’t be nervous to try this class! You should know that Strength & Flow is actually quite doable, and nothing like bootcamp or gym class. The great thing about it is that it’s just as customizable as our other classes. The depth of your squat, the amount you can hinge at your hip, the time you spend time in plank, or the number of push-ups (with knees down if you want!) is up to you. You can sense the balance between fatigue and energy in your body on that day, and act accordingly. (And that’s where it becomes yoga.)

So why not “Flexibility & Flow,” when we know that flexibility is a goal for most people? Flexibility gets singled out as the physical quality that folks most desire. I get that – I began yoga without being able to touch my toes, and I used to fume with frustration and envy in seated poses because there was no way that I could straighten my knees, or tilt my pelvis forward – my back was rounded, my hamstrings felt tight, and that was that.

But: is flexibility all that it’s cracked up to be? And is passive stretching even the best way to feel and move better? You can probably tell that I don’t necessarily think so.

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Everybody has trauma & how yoga helped with mine

This post is by one of our core teachers, Leslie. 

If it weren’t for yoga, I would never have re-learned to enjoy my body.

As a child and teen, I was heavily involved in physical activity, but in my post-secondary years I succumbed to a sedentary lifestyle. The workload of university was overwhelming, but my total lack of movement or exercise occured, in large part, because of a string of traumas. These events left me feeling disconnected from my body, and more often than not, fearful and self-loathing.

Even though I knew it would help me, I resisted all physical activity. Sports were no longer any fun, and going the gym to “work out” seemed not only boring, but overly aspirational. Moving my body felt difficult, pointless, and unpleasant. Any movement or exertion which made me aware of my body, brought with it reminders of my trauma, and the pain that still lived within me.

In my final year of university, a friend convinced me to try a yoga class in the campus athletic centre. I was seduced by the mystery around yoga, and since it was the adventurous thing to do, I decided to join her. I still remember how the instructor led us through a soft and slow-paced class with careful instruction and plenty of room to be a beginner. I’ll admit it: I was hooked.

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Love your Neighbour! Shop DTK this Holiday Season

You know that saying, “When you buy from a small business, an actual person does a happy dance?” It’s not an urban legend – it’s real, and it comes from the joy of sharing the creations of your heart and hands. The longer we live and work in the Downtown Kitchener community, the more we fall in love with the little shops and services that make DTK a unique place. Our small business neighbours are our friends, our partners and the truth is, they’re actually really awesome!

There’s another saying about the intersection of consumerism and community: “When you buy from a small business, you’re not helping a CEO buy a third holiday home.” When you buy from small, local businesses in DTK, you’re helping a young adult make rent and chip away at student loans, or helping parents put food on the table for their family. The dollars we earn and spend do have significance. Shopping local and small serves multiple purposes: your loved one gets a treat, a local business owner or maker succeeds, and you connect to your local economy through an individual relationship that you can feel good about.

In this post, we’re highlighting a few of our favourite downtown places for gift-giving inspiration (and maybe a smidge of treating yourself, too). We highly recommend you check them out, and inspire real life happy dances in our downtown core!

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No one wanted to leave

Last night at the end of class, no one wanted to leave.

Everyone rolled over and sat up. We sang Om, acknowledged the land and said Namaste to end.

But nobody moved.

It was 9pm, and the light was starting to fade from the sky. We could hear the class in the next room start to stir, floorboards creaking as people walked back and forth, putting away their props. But in the front studio, it was utterly still.

Some people had their eyes closed. Some kept their hands in a prayer position in front of their hearts. Some people had their heads cocked, like they were trying to hear as clearly as they could the depth and detail of the silence.

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