Sikes set up Walkinginspirit which offers mindful walking retreats through the stunning Somiedo Natural Park in the green and verdant mountains of Asturias.
Why did you choose Spain and what inspired you to set up Walkinginspirit?
Life in the Iberian Peninsula seems freer than in other European countries and, despite recent economic difficulties, it remains, for me, a place where people have a confidence in who they are and a strong sense of ownership of the places where they live. Asturias is just stunning. I first came in the mid nineties and it has become my second home since buying a smallholding on the borders of Parque Natural de Redes in the district of Laviana.
The Walkinginspirit mindful walking retreat came about because of my own experiences of hiking alone in the forests and mountains of Somiedo Natural Park. It had a profoundly positive effect on me and as a therapist I became interested in the idea of bringing groups of people to experience something similar. The retreat has now been running for four years and is attracting more people every year.
What exactly is 'wild therapy' and 'mindful walking'?
All therapy takes place via a person's relationship to something or someone. With “Wild Therapy” it is a person's relationship to the natural world that becomes the medium through which the therapy is done and all without any cognitive effort at all.
The walking is done in silence using a simple mindful practice of engaging with the natural world via the senses. The auditory sense is key to this kind of mindfulness as it is impossible to listen fully to the sounds of the external world and your own internal dialogue at the same time.
People who have trouble meditating at home find the walking meditation easy and natural and there is so much beauty in Somiedo to fill the senses that worries and concerns soon fade away, giving way to a peace of mind that is hard to achieve in the spectacle of modern daily life.
All the big thinkers from Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs have said that their best ideas came in the same way - they just bubbled up when they were least expecting them. When the conscious mind gets out of the way, all the things you already know have a chance to reassemble themselves in entirely new and novel ways and produce solutions you literally never thought of.
Visitors to Somiedo are invariably blown away. Photo: Frankie Sikes
What is so great about Somiedo?
Somiedo is truly Western Europe's Eden. It is a precious fragment of an intact ecosystem that once existed throughout Europe. Being green and mainly consisting of oak, beech and chestnut forests, it has a familiar feel for people coming from the UK. It's like visiting the world of our own ancestors and, if recent genetic studies are to be believed… that is quite literally what it is.
Visitors to Somiedo are invariably blown away.
What kind of work did you have before WIS?
Too many things to mention but I still work as a therapist, trainer and coordinator of service user involvement in the substance misuse field and I am currently authoring a set of standards for patient participation in healthcare in the justice system for NHS England.
What kind of people join the groups?
Anyone can benefit from Walkinginspirit but the majority tend to be women over 30.
No telephones, television, radio, no talking while walking, does anyone crack?
Ha! No, everybody loves it and even people who come with concerns about those things soon come to appreciate having permission to be silent as a rare and beautiful thing. Walkinginspirit is not one of those earnest retreats and, personally, I can't abide po-faced spirituality. It's all about establishing a connection to nature without ceremony. Outside of the walks people are free to do what they like. There is no restriction on diet or alcohol consumption although I don't recommend getting drunk the night before a day walking in the mountains.
What are your future plans for the business?
Next up for our smallholding "Pomar" is to go into cider apple production and eventually to produce traditional Asturias cider. We will be planting the orchard within the next 12 months.
Click here to visit the walkinginspirit website.
Interview by Samantha Chappell