Lindsey McLellan was 13 years old when she started suffering migraine headaches. The condition lasted four years and forced her to be home-schooled.
When she got her driver’s licence, part of her therapy included driving to forests around Kelowna.
“Even when I was in that place of deep pain, I would come out and I would just sit,” McLellan says as she walks barefoot along a rocky trail at KLO Creek Park, tracing her fingertips along the massive tree trunks. “I would cry. I would write. I would sing. I would just be. I would look at everything, and I just started feeling.”
A dozen years later, McLellan finds herself among the trees as part of a career. She is a certified forest therapy guide who has started a business called Forest Therapy Kelowna. Forest therapy is the ancient practice of connecting with nature and deepening self-awareness through guided sensory invitations.
In other words, it’s not out of the ordinary for buried emotions to bubble to the surface after taking a slow, two-hour walk with McLellan.
“It can be quite powerful,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be, but it can be.”
The 25-year-old was working as a nanny in Italy last year when the pull of the B.C. forests brought her home once again. Part of what drove her to forest therapy, however, was the vibe she got from Kelowna’s citizens.
“Sometimes they get too wrapped up in technology and in their own busy lives and they don’t remember how to connect, even just meet each other’s eyes,” she says. “It can feel a little bit lonely, which is another reason why I love to be out here, because the trees just … are.”
The cost of a walk with McLellan is $40 per person, and there is a maximum of 10 people per group. McLellan will also conduct walks with singles or couples for a higher fee.
“I’m really interested in doing couples walks,” she says, “crafting the invitations to bring them closer together and see through each other’s eyes in unique ways.”
‘Invitations’ are how McLellan engages her customers, who don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. Forest therapy guides claim the benefits of forest therapy include reduced blood pressure, depression and anxiety symptoms, and cortisol levels, which control stress. A strengthened immune system and increased white blood cell count are other reported advantages.
McLellan wanted to make it clear that the two-hour sessions are gentle walks and not hikes. She heard nothing but positive feedback from clients during a three-week series of walks she conducted recently through the Regional District of Central Okanagan.
“They all agree that they feel very relaxed, very calmed, which is what we’re going for,” says McLellan, who secured her certification in Ottawa. “The longer-term benefits of forest therapy come with practising it regularly, coming out here.”
McLellan conducts therapy walks on Friday and Saturdays at either KLO Creek, Scenic Canyon orMission Creek park, and her goal is to make it a full-time career.
“This is the passion of all passions,” she says. “This is what I want to share with the world.”
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