The water was boiling in an outdoors ‘kelly kettle’ ready for a warming drink as 17 people, mainly strangers to each other, arrived to sample ways to reduce their stress and anxiety.

Ahead of them was two hours away from day to day cares, time to concentrate solely on what was around them, in the trees, on the water, the sounds of the birds and the river.

The Valleys Steps project aims to improve everyone’s emotional wellbeing, delivering free Mindfulness and Stress Control Courses across Cwm Taf University Health Board area.

Now it has teamed up with community partners Actif Woods to take its mindfulness lessons out of more traditional venues, in libraries or community halls, and into open spaces.

Anna Stickland from Actif Woods is the group’s woodland mentor for the session.

She said: “Just being outside for me is being mindful. There’s so much around you, little things you can focus on. It’s a busy environment but it’s not stressful. Going into a building, opening that door, for some can be threatening. But we are going out for a walk.”

The group will learn about five goals  during their time together: connecting with nature and with each other; getting active, through walking in the outdoors and light exercises; taking notice of what is around them; learning about new experiences outside their comfort zone; and giving – being involved in helping each other.

Exercise breaks the ice

After tea, the group sets out for a walk around Clydach Vale lakeside.

First stop is for some light yoga style exercise which soon breaks the ice.

Each member has an egg box in which to collect items on the walk. When they get back to the shelter, these are arranged into patterns.

One of those taking part was Alison Davies, 65. She said: “Just being out in the fresh air – it’s not something I normally do. If I wasn’t here I would just be in the house. It’s been lovely just meeting some lovely people.

“It’s taught me to be more appreciative of my surroundings and the beautiful places I live near, which we often take for granted. I thought we would be in a little room being talked to but this is fabulous.”

Ryan Emmett, 46, said: “I met a lot of new people and enjoyed a wonderful time outdoors. I didn’t realise the natural beauty that is all around us.

“It’s easy to think mindfulness is something you do in a classroom or at home by yourself. But this shows a different dimension – that you can be mindful in a group.”

Valleys Steps well being course practitioner Paul Griffiths said: “It’s gone very well. People were ‘being well’ as they were walking around and that’s the aim. There was a buzz about the group and the session had energy about it and people were bonding and forming a relationship and that’s important.”

Valleys Steps is planning further outdoors sessions across Cwm Taf, in areas where they have not held events before.

Find out more

Full details about courses and upcoming events can be found on the project’s web site www.valleyssteps.org or contact 01443 803048.

Actif Woods Wales’ aim is to improve the physical, mental and social well-being of people through outdoor woodland activities. More information is available here www.coedlleol.org.uk

Valleys Steps teach people ways to manage and reduce stress, anxiety levels and low mood, freeing them up to focus on achieving the things that really matter. They do this by providing free Stress Control and Mindfulness courses across Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr Tydfil.

Local GPs and pharmacists have welcomed Valleys Steps as it provides a genuine alternative to patients who are seeking to improve their wellbeing and reduce their stress.

Cwm Taf University Health Board is supporting the project and hopes this will help people to manage emotional distress by improving resilience to the challenges we all face in everyday life.

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