Blog Post By Kelsey Desmond

#StayatHome Mini-Wellness and Nature Retreat

Did you know we have a yogi extraordinaire on the Casey Trees team? Kelsey Desmond has been preaching the importance of trees in cities *and* mindfulness for quite some time and we’re thrilled that she put together a wellness feature to close out Mental Health Awareness Month.

The D.C. Stay-At-Home order has been an interesting time for urban forestry and wellness. On one hand, I have had more opportunities to thoroughly explore my neighborhood, and delight in the change of the season from winter to spring, and now to early summer. I have been able to teach yoga and my tree lessons online, reaching new and different audiences than before. On the other, I am inside more than ever, with increasing levels of stress about a global pandemic. How to manage?

Kelsey Desmond, far left, with a teacher and students at a recent School Tree Planting

As National Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, I’ve reflected on how I can make a continual effort to take care of me. I feel better and know that I am a better colleague and friend when I slow down and tend to my body and my breath. I got into urban forestry work because I loved to be outside; it made me calmer and happier. I notice when I am inside most of the time I feel irritated and detached. Being outside and practicing mindfulness has been instrumental in maintaining a healthy life at this time.

Why May?

May became Mental Health Month in 1949. The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ campaign this year is “You Are Not Alone.” This feels prescient now more than ever, especially in DC as we social distance and stay safe at home.  We are connected. We need each other. We are better together.

I have developed some quick and restorative practices you can do with your family at home or on a walk-in your neighborhood. As our Youth Programs Coordinator at Casey Trees, these are great for kids but adults may enjoy, too!


Breathe with me

When I ask fifth-graders throughout the city what trees do for us, the first thing they always say?

“Oxygen!”

That’s right! Trees give us the air we breathe. Not only that, but they are critical to maintaining healthy air quality in the District and beyond. Connecting to our breath is step one in mindfulness practice. It brings us clarity to the present moment and can connect us to our climate. Here are  breath practices you can do with your family:

Calming breath

Take a seat with a tall spine. You can imagine that you are a tree. Take a deep breath in, and a full breath out. Now, each time you breathe in, count to 4. Hold for 4 counts. Breath out for 8. If this is too long, you can try 4-4-6, or even 4 even counts. The more you practice, the longer you can breathe out. Doctors and yoga teachers alike find that this breath can keep us calm.

With each breath we take in the good, clean air trees give us. With each breath, we give it back.

Bee breath

Trees and bees are such good friends! Trees need bees to pollinate their flowers and turn them into fruit. Bee breath can remind us of pollinator friends and can make us very aware of our breath and this moment.

Bring your hands over your eyes. Take a big breath in. With your full breath out, buzzzzzzzzzz like a bee. It’s really fun to make noise! You can also close your eyes and bring your fingers to the top of your head. Feel your body and face buzz with noise.


Move with Me

When I’m feeling down or low on energy, I get up and move! I do the same thing when I see the kids I work with need a brain break.

What would we look like if we were a tree? I have made a helpful video where we use our bodies like tree parts. Enjoy a short stretch break!

Need to stretch from your seat? Here is a short, tree-inspired video of desk stretches to move your muscles.

How lucky are we in D.C. that we have such great parks, trails, and streets with trees? While our city is on stay-at-home, we are still encouraged to get outside and take a walk for exercise. This is a great time to practice walking meditation.

Here are some suggestions from a Maryland Master Naturalist! Walking meditation is all about taking your time, feeling your feet touch the Earth, and enjoying the world around you. What do you see when you walk? What can you smell? What do you hear? Make a list as a family and see who can see, hear, and smell the most!


Look with me

There is emerging scientific evidence that nature exposure can be powerfully good for our bodies and minds. Being in nature, or even looking at trees out of your window, can bring you calm, boost your immune responses, and improve heart health. This, of course, compliments other health habits. Enjoying nature can give you respite from an anxious, difficult world. See you, from a distance, out there!

What do you see?

Pick a spot where you can see a tree or many. What is special about this tree? Write a story about this tree, what its personality is like, what its history is.

Draw a tree

Trees change so much as the seasons pass! Take one minute and draw a tree. Don’t worry about it being pretty. My trees almost always look like a stick figure, but I like them anyway. Come back to your drawing in a few weeks and draw the tree again. Has it changed? Have flowers bloomed?

I hope you enjoy these invitations! Take care, and stay well.

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