Vancouver Island

West Coast Wellness

by Kat Tancock

Photo courtesy of Christopher Pouget

Go Forest Bathing in Parksville

According to Japanese researchers—and Japanese custom—time spent in the forest can do wonders for your mental health and well-being. Called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, the practice of immersing oneself in the forest environment (which means paying attention to your surroundings and not trying to snap the perfect selfie) is said to improve levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower pulse and blood pressure, and even stimulate the immune system.

Parksville-based Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours Inc. offers a guided introduction to forest bathing. On your excursion, you’ll learn to consciously slow down as you walk along the trails of some of the region’s old-growth forests. Your guide will encourage you to be present, and to use all five senses to explore the environment. She might snip off a piece of western red cedar and ask you to inhale its scent, point out the call of a Swainson’s thrush hidden in the trees, or pluck soft, light-green Sitka spruce tips for you to taste (their flavour is reminiscent of lime and spearmint). It’s hard to imagine not experiencing a lift in mood after a couple of hours spent taking in the beauty around you.

Find Balance in Tofino

On Vancouver Island’s west coast, Tofino is known for its wild surf, a popular attraction whether you like to ride the waves or watch them from the shore. The area has calmer waters too, and for a wellness experience with a twist, Tofino Yoga offers a SUP (stand-up paddleboard) yoga session.

Prior to a paddling out to the sheltered waters off Mackenzie Beach, your small group (usually no more than six people, but private bookings can accommodate up to 12) will be coached in basic SUP strokes and falling techniques. Once anchors are deployed about 50 to 100 metres from shore, the focus turns to yoga asanas, matching the movement of the body to the gentle rocking of the ocean swell. Seals and salmon may swim by you as eagles fly overhead, a soft breeze whispering across your face from the west as the rising sun peeks over the headland.

Classes are beginner-friendly, less about the postures and more about connecting a physical practice to the surrounding environment, using breath and movement to forge a deep intimacy with nature. “SUP yoga may seem like a fad,” notes owner Dede Monette, “but I’ve had people leaving the class deeply humbled by the beauty we are able to connect them to.”

Retreat to Cortes Island

At Hollyhock, a remote retreat and educational centre on Cortes Island (a northern Gulf Island), carefully crafted restorative getaways are designed to rejuvenate the body and mind. Surrounded by forest and ocean, and visited by bald eagles and pods of dolphins, the property is an ideal location for focusing on wellness.

Hollyhock’s three-night restorative getaways include guided outings, vegetarian meals and private body care sessions. You might start your day with yoga or a sunrise rowboat excursion, or wander up a narrow path through the woods toward the bodywork studio, picking wild berries along the way and watching for deer. Then you’ll breathe in the aroma of fresh-picked flowers as you relax into a hot stone massage. In the afternoon, join one of the staff naturalists on a hike through the forest trails, perhaps to a low-lying peak for an invigorating, panoramic view of the landscape.