Go on a Self-Care Retreat in a Hudson Valley Forest
One man helps others destress, heal, and reconnect with nature.
Scenes from a Hudson Valley Forest Therapy session
Photos by Nicole Graf
What comes to mind when you think of self-care? Off the bat, the concept might bring forth notions of breathing, yoga, or meditation. Perhaps it means a night at home, a trip to the spa, or an hour at the gym.
One thing it most certainly does not mean is a trip to the forest.
At least, not at first.
John Polemis is here to help you rethink that. As the founder of Hudson Valley Forest Therapy, Polemis makes it his mission to provide some much-needed self-care in the heart of the Hudson Valley’s forests. We chatted with the master guide to learn why he founded the program in the first place and what actually goes on when the cellphones go off.
Hudson Valley Forest Therapy is quite the program! When and why did you begin it?
I formed [it] this spring . I had been offering the service informally to friends and colleagues visiting from Manhattan for the past year and felt this would be a great way to bring more appreciation of nature.
When did you first learn about forest therapy as a concept?
I had been unknowingly practicing a type of forest bathing since my youth, but it was while studying Japanese that I learned the word shinrin-roku, which is where the word “forest bathing” came from. It took a simple search to open a whole new world up to me. Forest therapy is a common way it is worded in the west, and often implies a facilitated experience.
Why do you host the program in the Hudson Valley?
I absolutely love the Hudson Valley. Besides the great food and cute towns, there are so many natural gems and so much history hidden in plain sight along the trails. It never fails to amaze me how a seemingly unremarkable side road can open up to farms, gardens, monasteries, and other surprises. The more I explore the more I realize I am just scratching the surface!
Where do you go for forest therapy?
I am slowly trying various locations on both sides of the river from NYC up to around Rhinebeck, but since I live in Cold Spring, that area currently gets the most attention. Ultimately it comes down to where I find there is interest. There is certainly no lack of locations for this!
How many people do you bring with you at a time?
I tend to limit to a maximum of 10 people, but three to six is the most common attendance range. Sometimes I get requests for private sessions for individuals or couples.
Can you describe a therapy session for us?
A typical session is around two and a half to three hours long. We start with a simple guided meditation to get comfortable and then I invite the attendees to do various things to help them slow down, become present, and get engaged with their surroundings. These “invitations” vary with the location and season and tend to last 10-15 minutes. At the end, we sit as a group for some tea and snacks and chat about our experiences.
What should anyone who’s interested in a therapy session know before they go?
While sometimes we include some hiking, this is not really a hike. Typically sessions only cover a short distance (under a half mile). It’s about the experience of being in the woods and exploring it on a deeper lever more than about going someplace.
Do you run Hudson Valley Forest Therapy all year?
Indeed! Fall is the most popular, but as long as the weather does not pose any safety concerns, every season has something to offer to the experience. It can be rather fun to observe the changes as the seasons progress.