Students Helping Each Other Find Wellness in the Woods

Melanie Priesnitz, Conservation Horticulturist

Lots of great things have been happening behind the closed gates this year at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens. While we dearly miss having members of the community in the garden, we have been very happy to be able to offer a safe outdoor space for Acadia students, faculty, and staff to enjoy. Students are spending more time than ever in front of screens in their dorm rooms and apartments so having an outdoor space to call their own has been greatly appreciated.

Two Acadia students organized a 4-week Mindfulness Walking Series using the Gardens and Woodland Trails to encourage fellow students to get outside and make their own mental and physical health a priority. Both organizers are third year Acadia Community Development students and have just completed internships on campus. Sarah Lavallée, Acadia Woodland Trails Community Intern and Janine Annett, Student Mental Health Programmer for the Acadia Counselling Centre, designed and ran a successful program for 10 Acadia students that was very well-received this spring.

Each week the students went on a group walk through Acadia’s Woodland Trails, spent time sitting silently in nature, and ended with good conversation around a bonfire at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens. For two sessions the students were treated to wonderful guitar music by Acadia School of Music student Mitch St. Peters. Participants also had the pleasure of being led through an intuitive nature-based partner activity during one of their sessions facilitated by Sarah Pittoello, counsellor with the Acadia Counselling Centre.

One participant shared with us some of the aspects of the series that they enjoyed the most: “I loved getting outside and giving myself the opportunity to enjoy the sun and fresh air, meeting new people, using the sit spots to observe my environment and give my brain a break, also eating s’mores, the live music and sharing lots of laughs!”

When asked how the walking series benefitted the students, one participant explained that she “now felt more comfortable using the trail system at Acadia after being introduced to it in such a welcoming manner.” She went on to say, “I also feel more connected to the community here and more at ease upon completion of each week’s session.”

While we try to never force anyone to visit the Gardens, sometimes we do need to force ourselves to step away from our computers and get outside! One participant had this very experience. “This series ‘forced’ me to get outside every Saturday and enjoy the sun and fresh air which was super beneficial for both my physical and mental health! I think the sit spots really benefited me as well. This wasn’t something I had done a whole lot of, but I really enjoyed it. I liked taking the time to observe my environment and try to free my brain from any thoughts.”

During this strange and often stressful year, it’s inspiring to see these young people taking responsibility for their own mental and physical health as well as each other’s. Sarah and Janine are offering another similar series this summer on Acadia’s Woodland Trails open to both the Acadia and Wolfville communities. This series runs from June 24–July 15h from 12–12:45 and requires pre-registration. More information can be found in the Events section of our website: kcirvingcentre.acadiau.ca.

Photo: Sarah Lavallée, courtesy of Melanie Priesnitz.