The RAWC has received an alluring new addition to its services, known as Wellness Routes. These consist of weekly walks around campus, each woven with a keynote lesson on wellness, and led by UTM staff and faculty every Tuesday from 12-1 p.m. The main point of these walks is to impart a needed boost of resilience to our immune systems for mental and physical health.
This October 16, the RAWC initiated its first nature walk led by UTM’s lead counsellor, Cristina Domingues, and characterized by a central theme of “fall colours and mindfulness.”
Meditation is recognized as the practice of sitting dead quiet in one spot with your eyes closed and trying to control your own mind. However, monks, especially in Buddhism, usually punctuate these Zazen practices with meditative strolls as well. A practice of simply being in the present through active mindfulness of your surroundings, as well as yourself. When void of an actual destination, the journey is itself the main focus and allows one to expand his awareness to the trifles, such as plants, clouds, birds, and sunshine. The Wellness Routes embody this exact spirit of living in the present. Domingues suggested that within these walks, the ground is an important element. One should take notice of how it feels to step on the different textures and the sensation or pressure of the muscles in your legs as you walk through the soil or concrete. Another crucial factor is that the walk was conducted in silence in order to emphasize the meditative quality of cultivating your awareness.
The second half of the theme concerning fall colours was also quite conspicuous throughout the route. Being engulfed in the woods, wholly smothered all hikers with gargantuan white trees and their immersion of pale coloured yellow, orange, and red leaves. The route meandered through the woods on a nature trail and along the Credit River. The air at the time was perfectly chilly and filled with the rustling of leaves and the steady roar of the river. The most apt description of the scenery would not fall short of majestic. In fact, it was quite similar to the journey in Lord of the Rings where Frodo and the hobbits deliver the ring to Rivendell with Gandalf’s ranger Aragorn II, of course absent the manhunt of the nine Nazguls.
The RAWC has scheduled three more nature walks with various themes for wellness education. The first, led by Darren Turner, focuses on walking with posture. The route will emphasize all hikers to actively pay attention to their posture while walking as well as conduct several useful stress releasing stretches. The one on October 30th, titled “Nutrition for Walking” and led by Cindy MacDonald, looks to be the most exciting. Hikers can enjoy healthy snacks along the route and receive lessons on the most ideal form of nutrition for physical activity. The last one by Nikki Robichaud will be a Yoga Hike where hikers perform Asana and posture exercises during the walk.
Along with the obvious health related physiological advantages in taking an hour long walk every week, a nature walk is also defined by many other benefits not as well-known. Reflecting the practice of forest bathers or shinrinyoku, trees are known to emit chemicals known as phytoncides in a defense mechanism against their environment. These phytoncides are, however, known to impart a benefit for humans in terms of mental health, by lowering stress while also promoting calmness and focus. Nature walks are also an indispensable exercise through their exposure to fresh air, vitamin D, sunlight and especially their overall empirical support in positive psychology to increase happiness.