Wilton Region Certified Forest Therapist Guide seeks to reconnect people with nature

WILTON — Kandi Karkos is now a certified forest therapy guide, a new calling for a woman who has always loved nature.

As a certified forest therapy guide, Karkos offers individual or group walks. Walks can be arranged in the Wilton area, on a person’s property or at another agreed location.

“Forest therapy is based on the Japanese practice of ‘Shinrin Yoku,’ which literally means forest bathing and translates to soaking up the atmosphere of the forest,” Karkos said. “It happened because people are stressed beyond imagination. A 1980 study in Japan found that when people went into the forest, cortisol levels decreased, happiness increased, depression and tension lowered. It’s all based on science.

Kandi Karkos of Wilton is a Certified Forest Therapy Guide. The science-based program reconnects people with nature and provides a number of health benefits. Photo submitted

Karkos’ website, reconnectwithnatureandyourself.com, lists additional benefits of forest therapy: it boosts the immune system, speeds healing after illness, decreases stress and anxiety, and improves sleep and mental clarity.

As Nutrition Services Coordinator, Karkos oversees food and nutrition services at North Country Associates long-term care facilities in Maine. She may be the only certified forest therapy guide in the state.

Karkos is also a Maine Professional Guide, a Maine Registered Hunting and Recreational Guide, and is certified in Wilderness First Aid. Her latest certification is through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy.

After seeing something about the program on Facebook, Karkos started Googling “nature”. “I love being in nature, that’s where I’m happy,” she said in a recent interview. “I came across the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy website and was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s totally me!’ I took a chance assuming it was real and six months later I’m certified.

“I walked into it,” she said.

Amos Clifford is a wilderness guide and therapist who wanted to do something to help people, Karkos said. “He went to Japan, created the program,” she said. “He has forest therapy guides in 60 countries. It’s just fine.

Before COVID-19, there was a one-week intensive study period, but it has changed to once a week for six months online, Karkos said. Students do their homework outside where they are and at the end of the course take part in one of the four-day immersions available “around the world”, she said.

“I chose Colorado because my little brother lives there,” Karkos said.

“As a certified forest therapy guide, I take people out into nature,” she said. “By taking someone into the woods, I get people to reconnect with nature. Long ago, the “fight or flight response” was the only time cortisol was elevated. Now he gets uplifted all the time by a variety of things.

People tend to go from point A to point B and back without stopping, Karkos noted. On a recent walk with a client at Thorncrag Sanctuary in Lewiston, she said they may have walked half a mile, looked at everything around them, used all their senses.

“When you use all of your senses, you communicate with nature, hear things, what nature might tell you,” she said.

Karkos walks focus first on the “pleasure of presence,” a form of meditation that leads people to calm down and notice their breathing. Next is ‘what’s in motion’ or walking very slowly to notice nature, such as spiders in their webs, trails of mice or the way some leaves twist while others ripple, she noted. . After each phase, Karkos stops and asks participants to share what they notice.

“Some have an epiphany, some take it silently, you can do whatever your body wants to do,” she said. When a really cool tree is seen, she encourages using all of your senses to figure out what the tree might have to offer the viewer. Exploring rocks and sharing memories are other ways to connect with nature, Karkos noted.

“We don’t go very far, but explore so much,” she said. “You can feel your body relaxing. Some people are afraid to be in the woods, the guide is their safety.

A tea service at the end of each walk allows participants to share what they have learned and are grateful for.

Karkos emphasizes that the program is not therapy and that she is not a therapist. “The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy has a saying – ‘The forest is the therapist, the guide opens the door. We let you in,'” she said.

Trees are cut down like crazy for construction and other purposes that stand out from Karkos. She hopes to encourage people to care more and reconnect.

“I’m so worried about the world, we need it,” Karkos said. “Children have lost this contact with nature.

“I think that’s what I was supposed to do.”

For more information, call Karkos at 207-754-0742 or email [email protected]

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