I spend a lot of time in and around Fforest Fawr but last month I experienced the forest in a new light. Tommy Carr invited me to join him on one of his guided mindful walks.
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training. Wikipedia
I’ve never been on a walk like this, or done any form of meditation, so I didn’t know what to expect. I met Tommy and some other members of the group in the car park and we started chatting until everyone had arrived. A few members of the group lived locally and knew the forest, while others were visiting for the first time. Tommy introduced himself and explained that walk would be very relaxed. He recommended that we didn’t take photos, which made sense considering the aim of the walk. For the purposes of this article I discretely took a handful without disturbing the group.
We began walking slowly from the car park while Tommy pointed out things to consider. We slowed down to listen, feel, smell and look closer at the environment. I felt slightly awkward at first but quickly got used to it and began noticing things that I’d normally ignore. We carried on until we reached the first sculptures and then we took a break in one of the log circles.
Tommy talked us through a body scan exercise, which was very relaxing and peaceful. It’s one of those things that you’d feel strange doing by yourself but seems very natural out in the open with a group and an instructor talking you through it.
Tommy told me how he got started running the walks, “I’ve been interested in meditation since my teens and started doing some martial arts that emphasised present moment attention and flowing movement. Many years later I started working in Occupational Therapy and learning about how activity could be used to help people lead healthy and meaningful lives. I then started to combine the two through discovering that secular mindfulness was often taught in health contexts to help people be in the present moment, less swept away by patterns of thoughts or emotions.
“I completed an 8 week mindfulness course and from there started to do more training and helping a colleague to run Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) courses in the NHS. At present I co-facilitate mindfulness courses in the NHS locally and have started a Master’s course in Teaching Mindfulness at Bangor University. I practice mindfulness daily whether walking or sitting and also have regular peer supervision.
“Ironically my mum has been running mindfulness walks in Cheshire for the last 4 years or so but I hadn’t made the connection myself until last winter when a back problem left me unable to walk short distances. Becoming aware of how important walking was to me I started bringing my mindfulness practice to walking. I linked in with Ian Banyard in the Cotswolds who is a pioneer of mindful walking in the UK and started to research and experience for myself the benefits. I’ve come full circle now by integrating elements of Occupational Therapy, mindfulness and movement in offering these guided walks in the Cardiff area.”
Feeling invigorated, we went deeper into the forest and did another interesting exercise. Forming a train, holding onto the person in front’s shoulder, we followed Tommy with our eyes closed. Although I felt conscious of treading on the heels of the person in front, this was another strange but rewarding feeling. The calmness of the forest was accentuated as we walked slowly listening to the ambient sounds and heightened smells.
Tommy explained why he uses Fforest Fawr, “I wanted to offer walks in an area that has a lot of trees because of the health benefits of ‘Forest Bathing’ or Shinrin-Yoku, a practice developed in the 1980s in Japan which is essentially a mindful walk in a forest. I wanted to use a location with a range of paths, views, running water, parking and ideally somewhere to share a drink. Fforest Fawr fits the bill especially due to the excellent Forest Tea Rooms where I end my walks. I felt it was important to have permission to run walks on a site and approached several organisations, Natural Resources Wales were one of the most accommodating and though I had to pay for a permit I feel that it is a good fit for me.”
Even though we’d only been walking for 90 minutes, the group already felt like friends as we’d shared this experience with each other. For some people, mindfulness is a way to cope with their hectic lives. It can help with physical and mental well-being. For me, it was an interesting new way to experience a familiar environment. Next time I take a walk through the forest, I’ll slow down and take in the surroundings with a new appreciation.
We finished by having a drink and snack at the Forest Tea Rooms before heading back to normal life.
I find that people are amazed at what they observe when they slow down and pay attention to what is around them, just feeling what moss feels like or noticing how the sound of water is perceived all of a sudden can be a wonderful experience when your attention is guided to it. Tommy Carr
I asked Tommy how people can be mindful in their everyday life, “I’d suggest taking a walk somewhere natural, it doesn’t have to be a forest but trees do help. Find a local park and just wander letting your attention to what is around you, investigate using all of your senses and pay attention to how your breathing or thinking changes. Notice how the ground feels beneath your feet and the feelings of movement as you take each step. If you feel like you need some guidance you can listen to a short recording I’ve created.”
Tommy’s next mindful walk in Fforest Fawr is on Sunday 19th August. Full price tickets are £10. If you are a member of The Woodland Trust it is £8. A concession rate for students or the unwaged is available at £6.
Disclosure: Although I didn’t pay the standard fee to attend the walk, I haven’t been paid for this article. I promote local activities that I think my readers will be interested in.