Cherishing the Magic of the Forest

If you are lucky enough to have walked through a forest, big or small, in your lifetime, you may have been lucky enough to experience the magic it holds. Hearing the word forest, you might be setting up a big expectation for this forest, that you had to have been hiking in the rainforest or the forested mountains of the west coast for this magic. But I am talking about a space that has trees, perhaps running water, perhaps grass…. but is sheltered from the human made world. I’m talking about a place that you can walk into and forget about the drama of our human society. Somewhere that embraces all of your senses and brings you ultimate calm

My name is Kristina, I am a nature based Occupational therapist, working with children, teens and adults in nature. Amongst specific goals that clients and their families and teachers create with me, one of my main goals is to provide programming and experiences in nature to my clients with the hopes that they will find the magic. Many of my clients have diagnoses that change the quality of their life. There are many with autism who are seen as “dangerous” or “incapable” by their schools, and they don’t feel mentally safe there. There are many who feel like burdens, or who’s entire lives are filled with the stress of coping with their mental illness diagnoses because they feel different than others. These clients have a hard time feeling peace or relaxation because they are so consumed with their diagnoses and coping with daily life.

In my programs, I like to create activities and experiences for my clients. I often incorporate art exploration, fine motor skills, gross motor activities, social games etc, but at the end of the day my goal is for my clients to discover an appreciation for nature on their own. My crafted experiences are just in the hopes of guiding them there!

And what is that magic you ask?

It’s not completely magic, there is an art and a science behind our human/nature connection. There is an entire study on forest medicine, and the Japanese celebrate the art and science of Shinrin-Yoku, forest bathing. I have a book on my to read list all about this art, but that will be for another post! In my opinion, the magic of the forest that I want to share is different for everyone. The forest can bring relaxation, peace, calm, and rejuvenation. It can bring you the energy you need to slow your mind and connect to yourself, and it can also bring you the energy you need to wake yourself up and become inspired.

Many of my clients on the autism spectrum also use nature to support their sensory and emotional regulation. Many of my adult clients choose to go for nature walks on our facility to help cope with challenging emotions or sensory overwhelm during programming. Many of the schools that my younger clients go to are shocked when I share that the children don’t have a sensory diet at our program – but this is not because they don’t need one at school, it’s because they have the outdoors as their sensory diet! Our program allows for the children to find the sensations they need, as our schedule gives them time in different areas of the property (inside, out on the lawn, at the park, in the forest etc). Our children have their senses hugged by nature; by the wind, the sun, the rain, the snow, the grass or mud in their toes etc.

For many of my clients who have a hard time with mental illness, we work on grounding strategies using nature, mindfulness and gratitude for the things around us! In my forest program, we sit on the observation deck, surrounded by trees and birds, and my clients share one thing they are grateful for in their life. I remind them that the point of this is not to ignore the hardships we are going through, but to remember that even on the hardest day we can find a tiny thing to be grateful for, like the chirping birds, the warm sun, or the quiet of the fallen snow on the ground. This is not to erase their problems, but to remind us of beauty and hope.

We also use nature to help ground us. If you like you can watch the video to the right, this is me talking through the 5,4,3,2,1 Senses Grounding technique.

Basically, the idea is that by connecting with your senses, you get yourself out of your head and connecting with your body, which is supposed to help you in times of high anxiety or panic. This is something that does require practice in a calmer head space, but you can also do this with a partner in more challenging times (co-regulation). You can do the grounding technique in any environment, but I love doing it with my clients in nature! Take a moment and try to name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch/feel, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste (if you don’t have food, you can get creative like with this one! Don’t lick a random piece of nature hah!).

For me, one of my favourite ways to cherish the magic of nature is by trying to see nature through the lens of a child. As an adult, our life passes us by sometimes, as we are so in our own heads thinking about work and processes and what is coming. Children like to live in the present (they don’t know otherwise!) and this is such a beautiful reminder for us adults to slow down. One of my pediatric clients, for the whole 1.5 hours of our nature group, would pick a dandilion about every 5 minutes and with the most excitement and wonder in his eyes shout “KRISTINA LOOK AT THIS DANDILION!”. I have another child that I work with who can just sit by the creek and instantly is so happy, while another one looks up at the trees whenever there is wind, like it is pure magic. Whenever I am in the forest, I try to approach nature with this mindset, finding magic in every flower, tree, rock and leaf I see. The way it makes me feel carefree and joyful is something that I can never ever take for granted.

This was a bit of a fluffy post, with stories and photos of some of the nature I saw today on my hike at Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, but I hope that it inspires you to get out into nature, or at least watch some nature videos or listen to some nature soundtracks! I will be continuing my reading about forest bathing and share some more of that in the future! For now, may you enjoy cherishing the magic of the forest, and take some time to stop and smell the flowers, or touch a tree 🙂


Published by maiiflowerr

Pronouns She/Her/they/them. I'm a millennial just trying to make a difference in the world, and create space for people to accept themselves and live their best lives. My fiancee, Sydney, and I are mothers to our two goofy cats, and the queens of creative adventures. I am an Occupational therapist, a dancer and a yoga instructor with a passion for supporting people and creating community.

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