Tegan Kaptuska is a Certified Nature Therapy Guide based in Illinois. The following is an excerpt from her final project.
Before the Walk
Our walk took place on a beautiful Sunday morning, with temperatures in the 70s. Clients began arriving 20 minutes early, and I greeted them with joyous energy and checked if they had sunscreen, bug spray, water, towels, and bags. Unsurprisingly, the kids had forgotten some items, but I was prepared and had extras on hand. I thought this feeling would make me anxious, but in fact it made me laugh a little inside, ready for the challenge.
We started at benches under the canopy of trees. We talked briefly about nature therapy, the plan for the walk, and safety and trail ground rules. Then, we passed out individual bags to the group filled with Energy Rocks.* I told the group that this “heavy load” was filled with energy drainers. I informed them that we would be letting go of this negative energy during our walk, ground with the earth to let in the positive energy, and by the end of the walk we would feel renewed, reconnected, and refreshed.
Meeting Walter the Big Burr Oak Tree
I could see the positive energy and the feel the excitement of everyone. As an icebreaker, I introduced them to Walter the Big Burr Oak Tree. I quickly listed some facts about Walter, with the final fact being that he symbolizes power and strength. I concluded, “Walter wants to share his power and strength with you. SO, WE NEED TO HUG A TREE.” Everyone laughed and did not waste anytime giving Walter a HUGE hug. I added, “My challenge for you during our walk today is to keep an eye out for all of Walter’s cousins. When you see one of his many cousins, give them a hug!” Sure enough, during our walk, everyone hugged those trees and it was a hit!
Feeling loosened up and full of excitement, we began our trek. I led the group to our first stop, which was at the start of the creek we would be following throughout our walk. I invited the clients to increase their dopamine by putting their hands in the cold running water and splashing it on their faces and arms. It felt great and you could feel the energy of vulnerability shifting to a more open state.
Releasing Negative Energy
We looped around a tree to a small beach area. I asked everyone to sit by the running water. I asked if anyone knew why it was beneficial to sit by running water. The answers were flowing with ease. At this point, I instructed the group to have hold of their energy rocks. I explained that we would be releasing our first negative energy rock. I had the group take turns removing a rock from their sacks, express what energy-depleter they would be releasing, and add it to the group stack. After we set ourselves free from our first negative energy dump, I asked, “What does it feel like when your energy is completely tapped?” Without hesitation, the answers came flowing. At this moment, I knew the group was ready for more.
We continued the walk through the wooded forest along side the flowing creek. Our next stop was at another small beach area. This time around I asked everyone to remain standing in a line so we could toss these nasty energy suckers right into the water. The group went down the line, expressed the negative energy they were getting rid of, and skipped their rocks right down the creek. They all embraced the send off.
Before we continued our hike, I announced to the group that I would be removing myself from the creek-side trail and walking to our next stop in the creek.* I invited those who felt comfortable to join me. For those who did not feel comfortable, my colleague would walk with them to the next destination. All but one person decided to get in the creek, and we continued forward.
This was by far everyone’s favorite part. The water was not deep, the terrain under our feet was safe and easy to maneuver, and the cold felt amazing. I could see, hear, and feel everyone’s curiosity of how deep the water would get, what was under their feet, and so much laughter. I truly had a brave and willing group.
We reached our next beach area. This area was bigger, with another flowing stream, and small shells blanketing the shore. Now that the group was fully engaged while growing in confidence and wonder, I used this area as an opportunity to touch base. I invited everyone to pull out their towels, have a drink of water, and a snack if they would like. As everyone did this and settled in at our new area, I asked how everyone was feeling. I received such a lively response. I expressed how great it felt to have left so much negativity behind us and that we were on the right track to refueling ourselves.
At this point, I wanted the group to really embrace grounding. I pointed out some of the grounding we had already done during our walk. I chose to hang out at this stop for a longer period of time, encouraging everyone to release another energy rock on their own terms while exploring and grounding in this area.
Some took their shoes off and felt their feet in the water, sand, and walking over pebbles. Others dug their hands in the earth finding worms and shells. I had parents and their children walking along some of the shore together talking about their negative energy rocks and letting them go together. The kids were worried that we were finished with our walk, and I reassured them that we still had more to explore and a lingering load to still release. They we relieved and that made me feel great to see everyone enjoying themselves.
Before moving on, I asked everyone to make sure there was no garbage and to reapply sunscreen, if needed. I then let them know we were going to continue uphill and walk above the creek. My colleague was available to anyone who may have needed help on the incline and swinging their legs over a large fallen tree.
When you look up at the incline the trees are perfectly placed, giving an illusion that you are about to enter a new magical world. We continued upward with ease. At the top of the hill everyone noticed Walter’s cousins and ran to give them big hugs. Prior to moving along the path, I gave directions for safety and made sure the kids were with their parents.
We did not have energy dumps along this route; instead, we enjoyed the natural element around us: listening to birds, seeing fallen trees, discovering plants, maple trees, and smelling flowers. We reached a steep, but safe, incline that I took the children down (with permission from the parents) for some adventure and team connection.
The Fallen Tree
We arrived at the end of our wooded hike by what I like to call The Fallen Tree. It’s strong roots were holding it into place as it leaned over the edge. I took this moment to read the clients a short fact: “Researcher Paul Piff of University of California found that people who spent 60 seconds looking up at the towering trees attune them to things larger than themselves. This leaves them to feel less entitled, less selfish, and to behave in a more generous and helping ways.” I thought this was a nice way to transition into a more humbling and relaxing experience that would lead us into our final activity.
I invited everyone who felt comfortable to take a turn laying on the tree for 60 seconds, looking up and tuning out everything else around them. As everyone took an individual turn, I asked the rest of the group to give them privacy while the person at the tree allowed themselves to calm their minds and bodies and open themselves up to a vulnerable and challenging experience.
Everyone was thrilled to take a turn. To my surprise, they asked to go again because they loved it. Unfortunately, we did not have time for that, but I encouraged them to come back anytime and go for as long as they like.
When the 60 seconds was up, I privately asked if they found it easy to tune out what was going on around them. I then stated, “Throughout our walk, we connected with nature, and each other. We have also worked on recharging our energy. As we reach our final activity, keep those experiences and this brief one we just did in mind. Your final challenge will be to connect you mind, body, and soul. To do that you will need to find your focus, tune out all excess noise, feel the good that occurred here today, breath, and allow yourself to become one with everything around you.”
It made me happy to hear, “Wow. I feel like everything we did is starting to all come together.” That was my goal! I felt like I accomplished what I set out to do, and seeing how it was having a positive effect on everyone brought me so much joy and confidence.
As we continued forward with our walk, I explained that there would be a slight decline on our trail and we would reach an open prairie bring us be back along side the creek. I explained that I would be showing them small pockets along the creek that I wanted them to take mental pictures of, which we would discussed during our last activity for the day.
After the group looked at the small pockets along the creek and the large field with two towering trees, we sat down in a cozy nook underneath a large Burr Oak. At this point, the group was relaxed, and we transitioned into our final activity.
I summarized what we had set out to accomplish for the day, grounding and energy:
- Our grounding techniques
- What we identified as energy-depleters
- How we released that energy
- How we were able to tune into own mind and bodies after these two experiences
There were a few energy rocks remaining in their sacks. As the final activity, I instructed everyone to find one of those pockets, somewhere near the creek, or in the field under the trees. My rule was that they have their own areas and do not share one. I wanted them to fully allow themselves privacy for complete vulnerability. Once they found their spot, I asked them to let go of the remaining negative energy they were carrying around with them, in any way they wished: stacking, placing it around the area, tossing it in the water.
Once they finally let go, they could allow themselves to get their final charge in. I advised them to then ground themselves one last time in anyway they saw fit: with their feet in the water, back against a tree, laying on a branch (if safe to do so), or laying down. Their challenge was to tune out their running thoughts and excess noise. I encouraged them to use their senses in the present moment so they could have a full connection to earth, nature, mind, body, and soul. I asked them to set a 20 minute timer for this experience and to meet me back under our Burr Oak when they were done.
Once everyone’s 20 minutes were up, they made their way back. They looked refreshed as they walked over, as if just waking up from naps. I received warm embraces from adults telling me, “You have no idea how much I needed something like this.” I hugged people while they cried. I had one of the kids still in their spot, fully engaged in the activity that she did not want it to end. I had the kids asking me if we could still keep going. I had one telling me how good this was so good for helping her ADHD. Overall, my responses were heartwarming.
When everyone arrived back at the tree, I had Positive Energy Rocks laid out under the tree. I asked everyone to refill that back with positive energy, take it home, and to put it somewhere that would remind them of what could recharge them when they are feeling depleted or simply maintain their energy levels:
- Good company
- Forgiving / letting go
- Cozy Living (Hygge)
- Meditation / grounding
- Being present
- Being mindful
My colleague pulled our car up to a parking lot near us, and I offered for him to drive anyone back to their cars if they did not want to walk back. To my surprise, everyone wanted to continue on, adding to the experience on their own. Some wanted to find a nook together and do some bounding while grounding, others wanted to continue on with a hike and lay on the tree again, one pair wanted to explore the woods, while another wanted to explore the creek and picnic. It was truly the picture perfect day and even a better ending.
Although I know that I could have adjusted certain things here or there, I truly cannot say that looking back I would have. Timing was great, the activities were fun and meaningful, and everyone left feeling the way I set out to accomplish.
Personally, I believe I should have taken a little more time for myself to relax. I worked myself hard, as I usually do. I think going forward I will put the same effort in but allow myself time to ground and reenergize myself. After this, I think I will celebrate!
I am looking forward to new challenges, different experiences and activities, a variety of environments and people, and building new relationships. I expect to learn more as I go. Regardless, I am ready and thrilled! LET’S GO!
*Prior to my walk, I asked for permission from the Nature Center to use the rocks in my activities and to enter the creek.
© Tegan Kaputska