Personal trainer, yoga instructor and forest therapist Heather Matherly uses the meditative and healing properties of nature to promote emotional, psychological and spiritual well being in her clients.
The founder of holistic well-being program Stay Amazed, Matherly has lived in Athens for 20 years and has been involved in the health and wellness industry for 15. Matherly's business revolves around the idea of providing forms of forest therapy — the practice of immersing oneself in nature as a form of holistic healing — to Athens.
Matherly is not a licensed therapist, but said the “forest is the therapist — the guide [that] opens the door.” She she discovered forest therapy after typing the term into Google. The term is defined by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy as being “inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, which translates to ‘forest bathing.’” The benefits of forest therapy are more than just psychological — they can also improve physical health as well, Matherly said.
“In my experience the forest allows us to calm our minds,” Matherly said. “It's a mirror that gives us a deeper look at our lives and it can be a source of inspiration for overcoming all kinds of blocks.”
A central part of Stay Amazed’s approach to forest therapy is its guided group walks. Matherly said her group walks are for people interested in connecting with others as they begin their journey of self-exploration, while her one-on-one walking sessions are for those who desire privacy and undivided attention. While they are meant to be introspective, Matherly said her forest therapy walks aren’t all serious.
“We laugh and we connect and it's a really great time,” Matherly said.
A gravitation toward the outdoors has stayed with Matherly since her childhood, she said. Before she started her forest therapy buisness Stay Amazed, Matherly used her love of nature to help people meditate by holding yoga classes in Bishop Park. Through teaching these outdoor classes, she was able to notice how nature was healing her, she said.
For Matherly, walking in itself is a form of meditation. Anyone who knows her knows she always feels better when her body, mind and energy are moving, Matherly said.
“When we’re talking about the things going on in our lives we’ll go on a walk around the neighborhood or go to the botanical gardens or just be outside moving and I think it's just a great healthy way to get close to a friend,” Sydney Nettles-Coates the owner of Root + Kettle Herbals said.
Retired Clarke County School District elementary teacher Heather O’Keefe and Nettles-Coates, both friends of Matherly for over 10 years, believe Matherly’s ability to listen and her “motherly nature” play a large role in her ability to get people to open up to her during forest therapy sessions.
O’Keefe, also a personal training client of Matherly, said even though she hasn't been on a forest therapy walk, she still finds the time she spends outdoors with Matherly to be therapeutic.
Matherly also oversees the community-based Athena Women's Circle, a gathering of female-identifying Athenians that occurs only during new moons or full moons. Each month revolves around a different theme, with March's forthcoming theme circling around the topic of "exploring the stories you were born into."
Usually held at Indie South, Matherly said the women's circle serves as a place to “cultivate the feminine spirit” and strengthen the connection of sisterhood.
O’Keefe said her experience with the Athena Women’s Circle was “absolutely wonderful.” In particular, she enjoyed the welcoming environment and the support the women's circle provided her.
“She knows how to lead a group but also isn't really the leader,” O’Keefe said. “Although she's organizing it there's no ego there, everybody feels of equal importance,” O’Keefe said. “It just feels like a safe and open place to be.”