A nature walk can help you navigate urban life says this forest therapy guide
A childhood climbing trees in Hong Kong’s New Territories had quite an impact on nature and forest therapy guide Jasmine Nunns. She finds it as easy to navigate her way through the crowds on the territory’s notoriously crowded subway system as she did on childhood climbs around people crowding the branches of a tree. More significantly, it has left Nunns with a deep reverence for nature and its healing powers in a hectic world.
Sipping a jasmine kombucha, Nunns explains the thinking behind Forest Therapy Walks, which share an idea of connecting and listening to nature, common to the practices of many indigenous cultures. The term itself comes from Japan’s ShinrinYoku movement, a phrase that translates to something like bathing one’s senses in the forest. Forest Therapy Walks are often taken by people who want to slow down from Hong Kong’s urban busyness. The guided sensory meditation opens up the senses to the space they are in, allowing their curiosity to come to the fore. Attention may be drawn by a falling leaf or the sound of an animal rustling in the distance.
Walkers come from many backgrounds and with their own personal experiences and relationships to the outdoors, and so Nunns does not call what she does an ‘activity’. “That implies a way you must do it. The forest is the therapist; as the guide you just open the door,” she says. The role of the therapist is not to tell people what they need but to allow nature to let her do her work. Nature invites a dialogue with a being, be it a beetle or a tree, which sparks curiosity, and could see one possibly speaking to an ancestor, nature having opened up the space for that exchange.
Nunns says that sometimes people find this idea weird, outside their preconceptions of life, spirit, consciousness and understanding of beings. “If it doesn’t have a heartbeat, it doesn’t mean it’s not alive.” She takes much of her inspiration from the practices of aborigines, who name rocks and speak to them as ancestors. She says, “They have a reverence and awe I hope to cultivate through these walks and experiences.” Walks end with a tea ceremony, brewed from whatever edible, fragrant,wild tea leaves Nunns can forage. This is seen as an act of reciprocity, taking the forest into our bodies and giving back to the forest.
Many people say the walk is not what they expect. One man told Nunns that he thought he was going for a hike but ended up taking his soul for a walk. That’s not to say walks don’t have physical benefits, especially for those of us living stressed, overstretched lives. “Science shows more time in the natural environment physically boosts the immune system, proving what we have known instinctively,” she says.
Studies and the impact of change on her childhood environment, awakened her to nature’s power. Nunns read geography at university in Britain, where she became aware of the “aliveness of the earth and tectonic plates.” Woah, she thought. “The earth’s skin breathes.”
Back home, she found the trees she had climbed as a child had been replaced by village houses, and the streams she swum in inaccessible because their banks had been concreted over.
A stint with an animal charity teaching students about dog behavior led to a desire to do further therapeutic work and study at Schumacher College in the UK. Her course in Nature and Forest Therapy focused on how our bodies and psyches are intrinsically linked with the earth. “If the earth is sick— we are—physically and mentally.”