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 theSeeds of Intention Retreatthis spring:
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.
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.
We’ve all done it. Declared a new path forward (“No more facebook, I am going to read a book instead!”) only to find ourselves, hours later, back in the habit. Scrolling, barely present, and regretting it later.
It’s not your fault. There are literally millions of dollars being poured into making smartphone apps, television shows, and sugary/salty foods addictive. It’s big business. Manipulating human habits is an enormous business.
We are a small business. We want to make space for people to connect with their bodies, examine the habits of their mind and movement, and learn to care for themselves in our overly busy world.
It’s hard to compete with big business. And we don’t really want to. We are not interested in manipulating people into yoga and meditation. We refuse to do it. Many marketing strategies suggesting that to grow your business, you need to create a problem for people, and tell them how you are going to solve it. (We recently saw a website for meditation that wanted you to click on “10 ways you are messing up your mindfulness practice”. Yuck.)
A Message from Leena & Emma: We *love* Chris. He is a riot. He’s deeply thoughtful and deeply funny. Which is why we asked him to lead a retreat for QSY this fall, along with the wonderful Leslie. Chris approaches his yoga and mindfulness practice with zeal and curiosity. We’re tickled to share this story about the first time he tried a float tank. It gives a little taste of his humour and personality. Check it out!
Last year – after years of hearing hype and fanfare – I decided to try out a sensory deprivation floatation tank. Everyone I knew who had tried them swore they were deeply restorative. A wonderful place to relax, notice your experience, even meditate. So, I eagerly went to my local float place determined to check out the salt water experience for myself.
I was feeling worked up, and they were feeling impatient with me. So their shortcut to harmony was to tell me to “relax!”
You can imagine how that went.
I didn’t lash out at them, but I did feel hurt. I wasn’t trying to be dramatic, but I had real feelings about the situation. And being told to relax was a quick dismissal of my feelings, rather than an acknowledgement of them.
I have this same thought about the phrase “Love your body,” which is a phrase I don’t really use, especially not when I am teaching yoga. I don’t think it’s bad, I just think it’s on the same end of the spectrum as “relax.” It is an instruction that, while well-intentioned, might miss the point. Telling someone (even yourself) to “love your body” may not acknowledge the real and complex experience that you have with your body. That it might be hard to love your body when you feel that the world has been telling you it’s ugly, dysfunctional, or bad your whole life. It might be hard to love your body if your body is the site of trauma. It might be hard to love your body if your body is in pain a lot of the time, or experiences anxiety or depression.
What I wish my friend had asked me (instead of telling me to relax) was simply “What’s going on?” Taking a moment to acknowledge my feelings might have made a huge difference in how I was able to be present.
I called it my artist’s retreat, to describe to others why I was going away all by myself.I have always been one to juggle too many balls in the form of jobs, socializing, craft projects and learning new things. A few balls in particular had been dropped for too long, so I decided to set aside some time just for them. I began constructing an agenda of how I’d spend my time on my fantastic retreat: yoga practice, meditation, plenty of sleep, hikes and bike rides through the wilderness, and above all, making a lot of art.
I booked a cabin for the week leading up to the Summer Solstice. I was ready to get up early, tackle my art and get somewhere with my meditation and yoga practice.But my retreat had something else in store for me.
Arlene started coming to my classes ten years ago, when I was teaching out of a small rented space in Waterloo. One day after class she came up to me and said something I have never forgotten. With a big smile on her face she exclaimed, “I think this yoga is actually making a difference! Yesterday I was playing with my grandkids on the floor, and I realized that for the first time in years, I was actuallycomfortable sitting on the floor with them!”
I think back to that story often. It has stayed with me and became my inspiration for learning how to make yoga more accessible and useful for people in their golden years. Arlene, who was now completely sold on yoga, rallied a crew of friends to help me get a Basics class going at a time that worked well for everyone. I have been teaching that same group of students now every Wednesday morning for the past 8 years. It’s been fun and fulfilling to learn alongside those folks, many of whom are 60-75 now. One of my students, in fact, just turned 85! These past 8 years of teaching this demographic of “goldeners” and the continued studies I’ve been doing in strength and functional movement, led me to develop courses and special content for people 50+, specifically myYoga for Dynamic Aging course that launched last spring.
Hold on a second! I can hear you saying. I wear practical, supportive footwear. I don’t even wear high heels! It is *not* my shoes.
I know. Your shoes may seem like a smart choice. But…it’s probably still your shoes.
Alright, the shoe thing is a bit of an oversimplification. Your feet probably hurt for a number of reasons. One is that our culture has created a flattened world so that our ankles, calves and feet are conditioned to walking only on artificially flat and hard terrain. This has consequences for our feet and our whole bodies, as our feet are deprived of the different kinds of movement and conditioning they would get if they had to walk on different textured and varied ground. And don’t even get me started on how much we sit. So partially your feet hurt because they don’t move enough, in enough different ways.
I asked people to gather together near my mat, and I acknowledged that we all live and work on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. And that a land acknowledgement is only the first step in growing awareness and beginning to redress the harm that has been done and continues to be done to the land and the First Nations people.
I was nervous. I am always nervous to do a land acknowledgement.
I think I am nervous for several reasons. One is that I am afraid people might be angry that I am bringing a political issue into a space where they might not have been expecting it. Another is that I am afraid I will somehow do it wrong, say it in a way that somehow shows my ignorance about the issues. Should I say First Nations or First Peoples? Should I say Indigenous or something else?