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Nature Helps Woman Find Inner Peace


Petra Sliwiak knew she had to change her life. At 40 years old she faced myriad health issues, suffered from depression and couldn’t sleep

“I had four vertebrae in my neck that were almost fused from two car accidents, I had scoliosis, and I had sciatic pain,” Sliwiak said. “I was a single mom raising a boy, and I was exhausted and in so much pain. Every day was just chronic, chronic pain.

“I knew that if I was going to be 60 or 70 and still be happy and blissful, I would have to do something about the pain,” she said.


Petra Sliwiak has been meditating, chakra balancing and doing yoga at Danada Equestrian Center for 10 years.

So Sliwiak started studying different methods of self-healing, starting with yoga and moving on to a practice called tantra, which predates yoga and involves movement, breath work and mantra.

“It took me 2 1/2 years of practicing every day 3 times a day for 45 minutes, and I did it,” Sliwiak said. “I got rid of the scoliosis, I opened the vertebrae and straightened them back out, got rid of my depression and insomnia, and I pretty much healed.”

“Now I’m 54 and I’m always happy no matter what happens,” she said.

We caught up with Sliwiak recently as she hosted a “Chakra Balancing Wednesday” meetup at Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton.


Discovering DuPage Forest Preserves

I’ve been coming out here for about 10 years, since I moved to Wheaton. It’s a natural connection for me. I’ve learned how to create a deeper connection to earth.

Last year I was about to move to St. Croix and … three weeks before I was set to go was in a car accident, which could have taken my life. I’m still healing, I’m not healed completely. So I decided to come back out to nature, which is a sacred space for me, and ask for assistance, which I’ve always done.


What Brings Her Back Time and Time Again

When I come here to meditate, I hear lawnmowers and traffic and so … I focus my mind on cicadas, feeling my body on the ground, feeling the ant crawl across me, smelling the smell of the pines, feeling the breeze on my skin. And then you don’t even hear the lawnmowers and traffic.

Meditation isn’t about being meditative when you’re in peace and quiet. Meditation is about being able to be in peace and quiet when there’s chaos all around you. So it takes practice to get to that state. That’s where self-hypnosis comes in.


Sliwiak practices tantra, which predates yoga and involves movement, breath work and mantra, at Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton.

Catching the Nature Bug

I’ve been going to the forest preserves of the world my whole life, since I was a little girl. This is a natural connection for me; it‘s not something that was taught to me or that I learned over the years. What I’ve learned over the years is how to create a deeper connection to it through the movement, through the breathwork, through the mantra.

Favorite Nature Activities

I stay as heart-focused as possible. That’s where the earth comes in. Mother Earth brings me back to my heart with the smells, the deep breathing helps me circulate the energy through my body, and the mantra reminds me what to stay focused on — the solution rather than the problem. My mantra is always the solution, not the problem. I inhale healing energy and exhale everything that doesn’t serve me.

I also enjoy earthing, or walking barefoot in the preserves. People go to acupressure and acupuncture and pay so much money. Why go to foot massage? Just walk barefoot on the limestone paths in the forest preserves. Breathe the air, smell the smells, hear the birds, feel the breeze, notice the sun. That is healing. You don’t need a doctor or a pill. These are the things that cure anxiety. 


Sliwiak enjoys earthing, or walking barefoot in the preserves, to connect to nature and focus while meditating. 

How Nature Inspires

When you’re lying on your floor at home, whether it’s tile or carpet, it’s not natural. So you’re not connecting as deeply as you can when you’re lying on earth, feeling the lumps of earth beneath your back, smelling the smells of pine trees and pine needles, hearing the birds and the cicadas, feeling the wind on your face, feeling the heat of the sun, noticing the shade. There’s so much going on around us that we take for granted and we don’t listen to because we’re too busy listening to the traffic horns and the lawnmowers.


Advice to Others

Connect with nature when you’re here. Don’t put on your earbuds, don’t have a conversation, don’t be thinking about your bills or car payments or family. Stop, connect with your breath — take those deep belly breaths — and feel the nature. You can literally feel the air out here.

When I breathe I can feel the humidity, I can feel the heaviness of the air. I can smell the trees, I can smell the pines. Use your senses — all of them. You can taste the air almost.

When you can connect with the earth, then you can connect with what’s beyond it. But you have to stay grounded. Staying grounded is so important because everybody’s up in their heads worrying about this or that, trying to create this or that. But until you stay grounded, you will not be able to create anything or fix anything. Have to be grounded so you have a starting point.


Sliwiak connects to the sights, sounds, feel and smells of nature while meditating at Danada Equestrian Center.


If you have a fun or unique way of catching nature in our preserves and would like to be featured in a “Catching Nature” blog, please contact Deb Humiston at

Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Photo of blog author Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County welcomes more than 6.2 million visitors a year; and manages nearly 26,000 acres in 60 forest preserves containing prairies, woodlands and wetlands.

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