Kandi Karkos tries to reconnect people with nature

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Kandi Karkos from Wilton is a certified forest therapy leader. The science-based program reconnects people with nature and offers a range of health benefits. photo submitted

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

As a certified forest therapy guide, Karkos offers individual or group hikes. 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 means absorbing the atmosphere in the forest,” Karkos said. “It came about because people are unimaginably stressed. A 1980 study in Japan found that when people went into the forest, cortisol levels dropped, happiness increased, depression and blood pressure decreased. It’s all scientifically based.”

karkos website, reconnectwithnatureandyourself.com lists additional benefits of forest therapy: it strengthens the immune system, accelerates recovery from illness, reduces stress and anxiety, and improves sleep and mental clarity.

As a nutritional services coordinator, Karkos oversees the food and nutrition departments of North Country Associates’ long-term care facilities in Maine. She may be the only certified forest therapy leader in the state.

Karkos is also a professional Maine guide, a registered Maine guide for hunting and recreation, 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’s website and I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s me!’ I took a chance and assumed it was real and six months later I’m certified.

“I went straight 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 and created the program,” she said. “He has forest therapy guides in 60 countries. It just fits.”

Before COVID-19, there was a week-long intensive study period, but that was changed online to once a week for six months, Karkos said. Students complete homework outdoors where they are and at the end of the course participate in one of the four-day immersions offered “around the world,” she said.

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

“As a certified forest therapy guide, I bring people into nature,” she said. “When I take someone into the forest, I get people to reconnect with nature. Long ago, the only time cortisol was elevated was the “fight-or-flight” response. Now it’s being increased by a variety of things all the time.”

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 walked maybe half a mile, looking at everything around them and using all their senses.

“When you use all your senses, you communicate with nature, hear things that nature might be telling you,” she said.

Karkos’ walks initially focus on the “pleasure of presence,” a form of meditation that causes people to calm down and become aware of their breathing. Second is “what moves,” or walking very slowly to notice nature, like spiders in their webs, mouse tracks, or the way some leaves turn while others wave, she noted. After each stage, Karkos stops and asks the participants to share what they notice.

“Some have an enlightenment, some silently perceive it, you can do what your body wants,” she said. When there is a really cool tree, encourages them to use all their senses to explore what the tree has to offer the viewer. Exploring rocks and sharing memories are other ways to connect with nature, Karkos noted.

“We’re not getting very far, but we’re exploring so much,” she said. “You can feel your body relaxing. Some people are afraid to be in the forest, the guide is safety for them.”

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 she is not a therapist. “The Natur- und Waldtherapie association has a saying – ‘The forest is the therapist, the signpost opens the door.’ We’ll bring you in,” she said.

Trees are being cut down frantically for construction and other uses, which Karkos notices. She hopes to encourage people to care more about them 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 should do.”

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

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