“If I am quiet, I see more”: remotely-guided outdoor nature therapy experience

Note from the instructor: Allison is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) based in Arizona. She recently graduated as a Certified Advanced Nature Therapy Guide. This project is particularly special as she developed a unique, successful approach to guiding outdoor nature therapy experiences remotely yet in nature! This approach maintained physical distancing for pandemic purposes, but it holds great potential for remote guiding of clients for various reasons. Great job, Allison!

I recruited participants via Linked in and Facebook. Three women responded to my request for participants. All three women live in different localities around the country and all had a similar reason for responding. They are all seasoned outdoors people but always with other people – either a partner or group. They each wanted for a long time to experience nature alone without the distractions of other people but have always been scared to try it.

DG lives locally (Arizona) and is a volunteer for the local State Park. CW Recently moved to Southern California. NG has a home in Colorado and a home in rural New Jersey.

Each participant chose an area nearby that they’d been curious about. CW and NG chose places that they had previously visited with others but never alone. DG choose a place nearby that she had heard about but still hadn’t visited in Catalina State Park.

I spoke individually with all three and we had one video call before doing a group call for our Nature Therapy Walk.  Each had different supplies in their daypacks (bear spray, bug spray, more water, etc.), which we went over on our individual calls. All brought note pads and something to write with. Only DB wanted to take photos.

We met in late afternoon. I asked the participants to pick a place where they could walk for about 15 minutes slowly and to bring something to sit on. When we got on the call, we talked about the weather and their individual concerns. They started walking when they all agreed they were ready. I asked them to take turns talking about their individual experiences in the moment. What was the terrain like? What were they hearing and seeing?

In about fifteen to twenty minutes, they all chose a place to sit. I asked them to breath deeply and take in their surroundings silently. (We had agreed ahead of time that they would only use one earpiece at this time.) I then asked them to close their eyes if they were comfortable while I did a quick breathing exercise to help them ground and relax and asked them all to quietly, with eyes closed, to simply be present and notice.

They sat quietly for a few minutes before I began hear rustling. I quietly asked them to notice any sensations on their skin. Wind? Cold? Hot? Any smells or sounds they hadn’t noticed before? When they opened their eyes I asked them to write down any thoughts or impressions they wanted to record or share.

DG opened her eyes to a beautiful sunset and clouds moving in. Both CW and NG wanted to return and plein air paint “their spot.” They all noticed the temperatures change and more birdsong. NG said it was hard to keep her eyes closed, and she had to look every time she heard an unfamiliar sound. They all said they had a hard time being quiet initially—but now wanted to walk back to their cars quietly.

On whole, I thought this session went well. I generally technology distracting when hiking or camping. I am more comfortable with social cues I can see or sense when I am in the presence of people. It worked well though. Each woman was able to experience solo time in nature with the safety and support of the rest of us if they got into trouble.

As a guide, I exhibit confidence in myself and my participants. I am comfortable allowing people to have their own experience. I also have a good handle on guiding meditation—keeping my voice low and slow and noticing cues when to stay quiet and when to move on.

Participant Feedback

During the nature walk, I saw: staghorn milkweed, beautiful sunset

During the nature walk, I felt: curiosity, present

During the nature walk, I learned: If I am quiet, I see more

The most important thing I took away from the walk was: Determination to go out more alone with my camera

Things that the Guide did well: I appreciate her creating a venue to have us have this experience alone and together. I liked that she had us meet one another first and I like the way she had us slow down and breathe, like meditation. Well paced.

© Allison Griffin

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