Forest Bathing – What, How, Where? A beginner's guide

The state of our mind, designs the state of our life. In this post we look at the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing – a simple way to relax your mind, revitalise your body, and rediscover your Self. The article answers important questions about Forest Bathing, it’s principles and it’s practice. Fascinating insights from Japan as a society show us why forest bathing has become specially relevant in today’s turbulent times and how we can benefit from it.

FOREST BATHING – Introduction

Forest bathing is the practice of immersing yourself into the nature in a mindful way, using your senses to derive a whole range of benefits for your physical, mental, emotional and social health. It is also known as Shinrin-yoku. ‘Shinrin’ means forest and ‘Yoku’ stands for bathing. The idea took birth in Japan in the 1980’s and proved to be a very effective tool to overcome the ill effects of a hectic life and stressful work environment.

* Watch with sound.

Connecting with nature allows the stressed portions of your brain to relax. Positive hormones are released in the body. You feel less sad, angry and anxious. It helps to avoid stress and burnout, and aids in fighting depression and anxiety. Being in nature is known to boost immunity and leads to lesser days of illness as well as faster recovery from injury or surgery. Nature has a positive effect on our mind as well as body. It improves heart and lung health, and is known to increases focus, concentration and memory.

Certain trees like conifers also emit oils and compounds to safeguard themselves from microbes and pathogens. These molecules known as Phytoncides are good for our immunity too. Breathing in the forest air boosts the level of natural killer (NK) cells in our blood. NK cells are used in our body to fight infections, cancers and tumors.

An intangible outcome of nature connection is enhancement of emotional intelligence and self confidence which leads to improved relationships and better social health. Something that we know intuitively is now getting scientific proof and validation through research.

JAPANESE SHINRIN-YOKU

Japan, the island nation in the far east has a unique culture that has withstood the test of time. It is also a country that has been at the forefront of technological adoption and advancement and is counted among the most developed nations of the world. And yet this progress and development is not bereft of challenges.

Japan is known for one of the most demanding work environments in the world. In fact they have even coined a specific term for death by overwork (Karoshi). The performance pressure from jobs is so high, that there’s very little time left for a personal life. An interesting consequence of this culture is the fact that the marriage rates in Japan have fallen drastically in the last 30 years.

The urban cities of Japan have a hyper digital culture and a peculiar obsession with technology. In the age of internet many Japanese people are spending more time online and having fewer social interactions. It is leading to higher incidents of anxiety and stress. Depression and loneliness are also on the rise.

The country also lies on a seismic fault line, being prone to devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, such that the Japanese have had to face a disproportionate amount of trauma. In Japan, neuropsychiatric disorders are estimated to contribute to 24.6% of the overall burden of disease (WHO, 2008)

Fortunately, over 70% of Japan is still covered in forests. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries came up with the idea of shinrin yoku in the early eighties. Shinrin yoku stands for a forest bath, or enjoying the forest atmosphere in order to relax. Due to the relentless Japanese working culture, the stress levels of Japanese employees was running rampant already then and the forestry department saw a wonderful possibility that would benefit the stress levels of people and increase demand for forest cover needed by the forestry department. And so shinrin yoku was born.The Japanese, who were under the stress of competitive metropolitan life, were lured into the healing atmosphere of the forests to engage in different relaxing activities (Huusko, 2019).

ZEN FOREST – FOREST ZEN

There is something to be said about the central role that Zen Buddhism plays in Japan. Zen Buddhism encourages the practitioner to learn to gather one’s scattered mind and stabilise one´s attention so that it can be easier to see things more clearly and with a new perspective. When some space is created between our experiences and how we react to these experiences, we are able to respond with greater wisdom and care.

While traditionally, Buddhist monks in India, China and later in Japan, traversed long distances to meditate in nature, in the recent decades the phenomenon of headspace creation has become known as restoration in environmental psychology. The Restoration Theory (Kaplan, 1985) and its closely connected Stress Recovery Theory (Ulrich, 1991) state that our psychophysical recovery from stress starts within minutes of entering a green space. When the physical body has started to calm down – blood pressure stabilises, stress hormones in our blood decrease, muscle tension decreases – the mental health benefits also kick in. We start thinking more clearly, our feelings of vitality increase and our mood starts to lift. The urbanite can now exhale a sigh of relief, as the time needed in nature has been narrowed down to just 20 minutes a day in order to manage one´s mental health.

*For an in-depth article on the healing forests of Japan visit Katriina Kilpi’s article on Natureminded.

Meditation is difficult when you try, easy when you don’t.

The simple act of sitting and focusing on your breath can be quite difficult if you are not in the proper frame of mind. Keeping your thoughts in control or maintaining your awareness on one particular object is a very challenging task for beginners. A large number of people give up meditation due to a frustrating experience in their initial attempts. That’s why the role of a good teacher becomes so important in this journey of learning mindfulness and meditation.

However, when you are in nature it becomes easier to reach a peaceful state of mind. By paying attention to our senses and moving in the forest mindfully we can not only get all the benefits of meditation for our mind, but also boost our immunity and create good health for our body. It’s because we are guided by the greatest teacher of all – Nature.

BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION

Learn to switch off unwanted thoughts.
Feel less angry, anxious and sad.
Increase self worth and confidence.
Overcome fear, self doubt and a wavering mind.
Avoid stress and burnout.
Get better sleep and rest.
Strengthen the ability to control cravings, give up addictions.
Find peace and happiness in the present moment.
Build empathy. Improve relationships.
Find answers for important questions and decisions.

HOW TO GO FOR A FOREST BATH?

You can practise forest bathing in any safe nature space. The main principles are to go in silence and go slow. Use your senses to find things in nature that bring you peace and happiness. Through nature connection activities and sense exercises, you can alter your mood and energy levels resulting in a host of benefits. Recommended time for forest bathing is at-least 2 hours a week.

STAGES OF A FOREST MIND

Attention: Beginners and young children start with simple activities which focus on objects in nature to hold our attention and slow us down. By directing and controlling our attention we are training to control the direction of our thoughts and feelings.

Awareness: Once we are able to reach a calmer state of mind, we can grow our awareness. In the depths of the forest, one can sense the cycle of transformations that all life goes through. Things that we were. Things that we are yet to become. Just like a seed in the ground. Like a child in the womb. Growing our awareness is growing our connection to all life.

Answers: Our mind gets a much deserved rest so that it can apply itself with renewed energy and come up with surprisingly creative solutions. It begins to ask the right questions rather than simply seeking answers. The forest provides the light to spark new insights and learning which can give us a deeper understanding of life. It is the beginning of a journey into self discovery.

Not everyone has an access to a forest in their backyard. In fact most people who live and work in cities will have to travel a fair amount to get close to the woods. But nature is all around us. You can consider trying out the sense based exercises in any urban park near you.

For people who are unable to go our into the urban parks, or are restricted due to disability, the sense based nature therapy activities can be carried out even in the confines of the their house. Just bring elements of nature indoors. You can use your creativity to build the nature connection even in a closed enclosure.

There are multiple games, activities and meditations in our learning program on forest bathing. You can try some of them on our forest walks page or create your own.

Forest Bathing works best as a form of prevention and a way to retain a healthy mind and body. It is not a replacement for medical advice or counselling for those who are seriously ill. However under a trained therapist, Forest therapy can be an important part of their treatment as well as recovery. Many people keep coming back after one time “treatment” (Iwasaki, 2019).

Forest bathing has shown positive results across age-groups – from children to the elderly. It’s extremely helpful for parents as well as working professionals. As a company welfare program, forest bathing can be used for employee recreation, new employee training, and mental health management. However, as Prof. Dr. Iwao Uehara points out, it may not work for people who feel uncomfortable in the outdoor environment.

Forest Bathing Benefits

FOREST BATHING AND YOUR MIND

Our mental health is a very precious gift. For most people, the real value of our mind only becomes clear when things fall apart. Once a person becomes affected by any mental health issue, the road to recovery can take a lot of time, effort and money. Finding the right help and guidance is not easy and on top of that there is still a lot of social stigma attached to mental disorders.

A large portion of the human evolution has taken place in nature. Nature connection is intrinsic to our behaviour, and is inscribed into our genetic code. It’s only during the last 200 years or so, that we have reduced our interaction with the outdoors. Going back to nature can bring us to a heightened state of sensory awareness and a feeling of alert calm. It is akin to a feeling of returning home and gives spontaneous rise to peace and happiness.

The story of Japan teaches us that material wealth and economic progress are not enough to create a healthy, happy life. To create health and happiness one needs to prioritise them over materialistic pursuits and actively work towards achieving a balanced life. And this whole process of giving form to a beautiful life, starts by listening to the state of your mind. After all, the state of your mind, designs the state of your life.

END NOTE: Please share this post with friends who might benefit from it. Many more useful nature based arts, games and meditations are available through our forest bathing learning program.

We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal. You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link

FOREST STORIES – 7 Tales from far-away lands

Stories of forests, rivers, mountains, deserts and magical beings who call these places home. Journey to amazing places through these short stories and learn the wisdom of the forest. These stories have been collected or created especially for you, to fill you with wonder and awe for nature.

FOREST STORY FROM AFRICA | The Bushmen

Amazing fact: The Bushmen are one of the oldest inhabitants of Africa and have lived in the Kalahari Desert for over 20,000 years.

Fable: A long, long time ago the Creator was distributing the lands on the earth amongst various races. Some people got beautiful regions with plenty of sunshine and rain. Some were lucky to get big rivers flowing through the lands which were fertile for growing food. A few of them got thick forests rich with animals and birds. One by one the races came to the creator and went back happily to live in the land given to them. Only a tiny group of people were left. When the Creator looked on to Earth he only found a vast stretch of sandy desert left. It was a terrain that was very harsh to live in, with many difficulties. The Creator told the people that while all he could offer them was a life in the desert and the bush, he was going to give them a special gift. He would give them purity of heart and the joy of friendship. The people, now known as the Bushmen, were happy with the offer and learnt to live and love the land they call home. Many other races have not been able to survive in much better climates and regions, but the Bushmen have continued to live in the Kalahari for thousands of years.

Moral: If you have good friends, the harshest of places can become bearable.

Li River – Picture by Sam Beasley / Unsplash

FOREST STORY FROM CHINA | Artist and the river

Fable: In ancient China lived an artist whose paintings were almost life- like. The artist’s fame had made him proud and conceited. One day the emperor wanted to get his portrait done so he called all great artists to come and present their finest work, so that he could choose the best. The artist was sure he would be chosen, but when he presented his masterpiece to the emperor’s chief minister, the old man laughed. The wise old man told him to travel to the Li River, perhaps he could learn a little from the greatest artist in the world.

Reduced to tears with anger and curiosity, the artist packed his bags and left to find out this mysterious master. When he asked the villagers on the banks of the river for the whereabouts of the legendary artist, they smiled and pointed down the river. The next morning he hired a boat and set out to find the illustrious painter. As the small boat moved gently along the river he was left speechless by myriad mountains being silently reflected in the water. He passed milky white waterfalls and mountains in many shades of blue. And when he saw the mists rising from the river and merging with the soft clouds surrounding the peaks, he was reduced to tears. The artist was finally humbled by the greatest artist on earth, Mother Nature.

Moral: We have a lot to learn from Nature, the most important thing being humility.

FOREST STORY FROM VENEZUELA | Tree of life

Amazing Fact: Orinoco Delta is a vast fan shaped delta located in eastern Venezuela, where the Orinoco River meets the sea.  

Fable: The kids were lost. A group of children from a small village at the edge of the Orinoco River had stolen a canoe to have some fun, but the currents carried them far out into the delta. They shouted for help, but deep in the jungle there was no one to come to their rescue. As night fell the children were afraid they would never be found and end up being eaten by a jaguar. 

Tired and hungry, they were on the verge of tears when they heard a gentle whisper. They looked up to see a Moriche palm tree, waving in the wind. The palm offered the children its fruit. With food in their stomach, the children gained strength to look around. The Moriche palm introduced them to other members of the forest and soon the children had many friends. They learnt to use wood to build houses and leaves for roofs. They found places to find food and water, herbs for medicine and even ways to dress up and decorate themselves.

Many years later, a group of adventures canoeing down the river were surprised to see a small settlement on a forested island deep in the jungles. The children had learnt the ways of the forest and were now living comfortably amidst the labyrinth of waterways. The Moriche palm came to be known as the ‘tree of life’ and the children grew up to be the Warao Indians also known as ‘canoe people’.

Moral: When in trouble, look to nature for answers.

3 Sisters, Australia – Pic by Dougie Frew / Pixabay

FOREST STORY FROM AUSTRALIA | 3 Sisters

The Three Sisters is a rock formation in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. They are close to the town of Katoomba and are one of the Blue Mountains’ best known sites, towering above the Jamison Valley. Their names are Meehni (922 m), Wimlah (918 m), and Gunnedoo (906 m).

Fable: Long ago in the Blue Mountains, three Aboriginal sisters; Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo lived with their father, a Witch doctor named Tyawan.

In the same forest lived a gigantic creature that was feared by all – he was the Bunyip. Tyawan who knew where he lived would leave his daughters on the cliff behind a rocky wall where they would be safe while he would collect food.

One day, waving goodbye to his daughters he descended the cliff steps. On the top of the cliff, a big lizard suddenly appeared and frightened Meenhi. She picked up a stone and threw it at the lizard. The stone rolled away over the cliff and crashed into the valley below. Suddenly, the rocks behind the three sisters split open, leaving the sisters on a thin ledge.

There was a deep rumble from below and the angry Bunyip emerged from his sleep. He looked up to see who had rudely awakened him and there perched on the thin ledge he saw the sisters cowering in fear. Furiously he lurched towards them.

In the valley, Tyawan heard the cry and looked up to see that the Bunyip had almost reached his daughters. Frantically the Witch Doctor pointed his magic bone at the girls and turned them into stone. They would be safe there until the Bunyip was gone and then Tyawan would return them to their former selves.

The Bunyip was even more angry when he saw what had happened and he turned on Tyawan and began to chase him. Running away, Tyawan found himself trapped against a rock which he could neither climb nor go around. He quickly changed into a Lyrebird and disappeared into a small cave. Everyone was safe but Tyawan had dropped his magic bone. The Bunyip returned angrily to his hole. Tyawan crept out of the cave and searched for the bone, and is still seeking it while the Three Sisters stand silently waiting, hoping he will find the bone and turn them back to their former selves.

You can see the Three Sisters today from Echo Point and in the valley you can hear Tyawan, the Lyrebird, calling them as he searches for his lost magic bone.

Moral: The forests are beautiful, but you must always be careful to know what creatures live there.

Leaf ants – Pic by Healing Forest

FOREST STORY FROM MEXICO | Ant and the Bear

Fable: An ant was on its way to collect food when it came across a black bear cub who was crying. Curious, the ant climbed up the bear cub and asked him why he was crying. The cub told her that he had fallen into the ditch and was unable to get out. The little ant told the bear not to worry for she would get the bear out of the ditch. The bear cub was surprised, for how could a tiny any lift him out.

Now it so happened that the ant was no ordinary ant. It was a leaf cutter ant. The ant rushed back to her nest colony which had millions of ants and told them about the problem. Together they cut the leaves off from the orange trees and kept dropping them into the ditch, until the ditch began to fill up and the bear could easily climb out.

Moral: Common people can create big revolutions when they get together.

Amazing fact: Leaf cutter ants live in large and complex societies which are second only to humans. In a few years their nests can span more than 30 meters and contain millions of ants.

Northern Lights – Pic by Vincent Guth / Unsplash

FOREST STORY FROM NORWAY | The Aurora

Fable: To the king of the skies was born a daughter so pretty that she gave the Moon a complex. The King raised her in strict discipline as a prim and proper princess, for he had laid many careful plans for her future. But despite his best efforts the pretty princess fell in love with wild dancing. She would put on her emerald dress with flowing ribbons of light and dance her way into the night. Watching her beauty, many a Star fell for her.
As the princess and her admirers grew so did the King’s anguish, for he could not bear to watch a royal princess dance for the common people. Finally, he put forth a hard choice for the princess – either marry the Rainbow prince, settle down and give up dancing, or be banished for life to the edge of the Earth. The princess made her choice. To this day, you can often catch her dancing in the skies of the northern hemisphere and see the Stars falling. Not many people have experienced her beauty, but those who have are changed for ever.

Moral: Every choice has it’s tradeoff, but it’s easy to choose if your priorities in life are clear.

Amazing Fact: Northern Lights or the aurora is a natural light display in the sky of the arctic regions. The dancing lights are a form of intense space weather, a result of the atmosphere shielding the Earth against fierce solar particles that would otherwise make our planet unsafe for life. The lights occur frequently between September and October and then occur again between March and April. They are also visible sometimes in the winter.

FOREST STORY FROM U.S.A. | The Wolves

Fable: Not so long ago, the minister for environment was troubled, for the wolves were slowly vanishing from the forests. He was desperate to save the noble animal, so, he called all his scientists and ordered them to find a way to conserve the beautiful wolves. The scientists came up with big plans and ideas, from creating protected areas to captive breeding. Some even suggested cloning. To some extent they were successful in raising the population of the wolves, but soon it was found that even more wolves were disappearing.

The minister was very sad, but a wise counsellor suggested he take the help of the storytellers. And so a new approach was found. The musicians made beautiful songs on the wolf, the writers wrote enchanting stories, and photographers and filmmakers captured the beauty of illusive wolf and it’s importance to our forests. Soon the word spread and the people joined in the movement for protecting the wolf, and slowly their numbers began to rise.

Moral: Scientists create a better life, but we need storytellers to create a better world.

FORESTS, STORIES & YOU

If you have a short forest story that you would like to share with us, please add it in the comments below for all the other readers of this post. We will also select a few stories and share them with our followers on social media with a link to the authors.

To find inspiration and motivation, try out our writing walk in nature. It is part of the Healing Forest learning program. Some of the stories in this blog post can be found in our e-book 101 Nature Fables from Amazing places which is only available on Amazon Kindle for now.

END NOTE: Now more than ever, we need stories that connect us to forests and it’s creatures. It’s because these connections create a sense of closeness with nature. And what we are close to, we care for.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal. Our connection with nature is a continuously unfolding story and we are all a part of this magical story.

Forests That Grow People

Emotional Intelligence is the power to understand emotions in ourselves as well as others. It dictates how well we manage our own emotions and react to the emotions of others.  This emotional quotient (EQ) plays a greater role than one’s intelligence quotient (IQ) for achieving success and satisfaction in life.

However, spending more time in front of screens is reducing our ability to understand other people’s emotions. With lesser face-to-face interactions, our exposure to gauge the non-verbal and facial cues of people has lessened drastically. As a result, especially in the younger generation one is seeing a growing lack of empathy.

Our world is becoming more connected, but less caring.

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FOREST and COMPASSION

In the south of India, runs an unusual volunteer driven project called Sadhna forest. The vision of its founders, Yorit and Aviram Rozin, was to transform 70 acres of severely eroded, arid land on the outskirts of Auroville into a a vibrant, indigenous tropical dry evergreen forest. In a spirit of human unity, their aim was also to introduce a growing number of people to sustainable living, food security through ecological transformation, wasteland reclamation, and veganism. They have achieved this and much over the course of 15+ years with the help of over 5000 young volunteers from 50 + countries around the world.

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Sadhana Forest is based on the principles of gift economy. It is not a business and does not generate income. All of the work is supported through gifts (donations). Gift economy differs from an exchange or barter economy because there are no expectations of reciprocity or quid pro quo. Goods and services are given freely out of the willingness of the donor without the promise of a reward or return.

“We have noticed that selflessness and gift-giving is contagious. The gift economy can and does work. One gift to another can start a chain reaction of “paying it forward.” Gift economy is not a single transaction (like in many market based economies) but a catalyst of many transactions of gifting and re-gifting. When implemented, all needs can be met within a gift economy. Sadhana Forest believes the world can be a richer and more beautiful place the more that we all give of ourselves freely.”

Sadhana Forest plants trees to grow forests for future generations. We expect nothing in return for our work and hope that all living beings, from the grasshopper to our grandchildren, can enjoy the rewards of our endeavours now and in perpetuity.

You can learn more about Sadhna and support their initiatives at this link: https://sadhanaforest.org/

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EXERCISES IN EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

Psychologists have created models which define emotional intelligence through five key areas. In this section we will explore some nature based exercises to work on each of these areas and help us grow our emotional quotient.

Self-awareness: Taking a slow, silent walk in nature on your own is a great way to get in touch with your feelings. Avoiding other human and electronic distractions gives us the time to pay attention to what’s going on inside ourselves.

Self-management: In the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku (Forest Bathing) there are multiple ways of using the senses to find your inner calm. The simplest of all, is to lie in a safe space on the forest floor and gaze at the forest canopy and sky above. You could also choose to sit by a flowing stream or under an old tree.

Motivation: Motivation comes from joy, curiosity, or the satisfaction of being productive. Each of the seasons in nature give us many reasons to fill ourselves with awe, wonder and fascination. The more we grow our observation, the deeper our connection becomes.

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Empathy: Empathy is the skill and practice of reading the emotions of others and responding appropriately. When someone volunteers for initiatives such as nature trail management, tree plantation drives, care for birds or animals etc. they being to expand their boundaries of self. In simpler more direct way, when one learns to care for others, it lays the foundation for better relationships and supports the development of empathy.

Social skills: Leading forest walks, connecting other people with nature and helping others to find their own calm is a great way to forge strong friendships and create conscious communities. Working on common causes which improve our living environment gives us a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

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END NOTE:
The decline in empathy and compassion is a disturbing trend. Not just for the ageing population who will need care and attention but also for our environment and conservation efforts. Unless we grow our collective emotional intelligence we cannot hope to create a better future for all beings. As the wise saying from Greece goes – A society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

We hope this article planted some new ideas in your head. In the comments section please let us know of other nature based volunteering initiatives to grow our collective knowledge. You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

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Forest Notes From The Happiest Country In The World

Finland has been named as the happiest country in the world for the last 2 years in a row. Its citizens are relaxed and cheerful and lead generally stress free lives. They live in society with progressive thinking, technological advancement as well as cultural richness.

Over 70% of Finland is covered in forests, and the connection with nature is very important for the Finns. How does this affect their happiness quotient? And what are the different ways Finns use to engage with nature? Let us explore some interesting ideas and initiatives from Finland – the land of a thousand lakes, and see what we can learn to inspire change in our own lives.

FOREST SCHOOLS

The forest school movement is quite popular in Finland. Most of these are pre-schools that cater for 5-6-year-olds. In a forest school you can see the children spending up to 95% of the school day outdoors in the wilderness exploring, playing, and learning about the world around them.
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Forest schools have less of an emphasis on tests and scores, yet still see much better results. They have been proven to improve skills in mathematics, reading, listening, critical thinking, and writing. It is an essential starting point that helps the students when they advance to the next stage of education.

There are may benefits that both parents and teachers see from forest schools. The children are more engaged in their learning. Children’s health and immunity gets a boost. And along with the overall performance, their social skills also improve.

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FOREST LIFE

Did you know that there is a campaign called ‘Rent a Finn’? The project invites people from all over the world to be hosted by a ordinary Finnish citizens so that they can get a taste of an authentic Finnish nature experience.

One of the most important birthplaces of the Finnish identity are the deep green forests, the rolling hills and the glittering lakes that cover most of Finland. There are a total of 188000 lakes in Finland and many families own summer cottages right next to a lake. Spending time out in nature is an integral part of their lifestyle. While active engagement can involve hiking, cycling, horse riding, orienteering and other sports there is also an equally strong movement around slowing down and spending time with oneself in the silence of the woods.
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Finnish people have multiple ways to find their calm in nature. From visiting a national park to spending a weekend fishing at their summer cottage, berry picking in the wilderness, to enjoying a proper Finnish sauna. With such rich abundance of nature everywhere, there is no shortage of options. Many Finns attribute their easygoing stress free demeanour to their connection with nature and their instinct to go outside whenever anxiety rears its ugly head:

“When others go to therapy, Finns put on a pair of rubber boots and head to the woods.”

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FOREST FOOD

While you are in the forest, you will find a plethora of edible treats and not surprisingly they are often completely free of charge. Everyman’s right in the country’s forests guarantees that you are allowed to pick almost anything your heart and mouth desires. The combination of everyman’s rights and naturally grown, nutritious food transforms activities such as hiking into delicious voyages of discovery.

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White summer nights ripen vegetables, fruits and berries making them uniquely tasty. Even though Finnish berries and fruits are smaller than average, they are packed with sweet flavours, healthy vitamins and flavonoids. Finns scour the vast forests for these delicious treasures, as well as the tasty mushrooms and fresh wild herbs.

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SAUNA AND WHISKING

Sauna is a small room used as a hot-air or steam bath for cleaning and refreshing the body. The traditional saunas feature a fireplace where stones are heated to a high temperature. Water is thrown on the hot stones to produce steam and to give a sensation of increased heat. Majority of homes in Finland have a sauna, but the best experiences are to be had in country saunas which are next to lakes. When the temperature gets too hot to handle inside the sauna, one can move outside into the cool lake for a quick swim.
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Maaria Alén is a natural wellness instructor and chairperson of Finnish folk healer’s society. She specialises in traditional sauna healing, especially whisking. The therapy uses branches and leaves of specific trees to whisk the entire body while you are enjoying a sauna. The whisking creates an overall conscious and therapeutical touch, which enables the healing from within to begin. It improves circulation, opens the energy flow as well as physically cleans and massages the body. The healing power of different tree species and the steam called löyly, gently relaxes and balances the mind, the body and the soul. Some of the other significant benefits of using a sauna are improved heart health, lower stress levels, easing of joint pains and muscle soreness, and relief from asthma.

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FOREST THERAPY EVENTS

For people who are interested in learning more about the emerging field of forest therapy, there is an international event IFTD Days held in Finland every summer. It brings together individuals engaging in forest therapy in different types of forests around the world. The aim is to share ideas, experiences, practices and research, to advance our thinking and learn from each other. The gathering represents a variety of disciplines from science and practice.

IFTDays is a movement for sustainable health in which all partners come together to promote change in the way health is experienced in their own cultures. The event is focused around forest therapy for health promotion and disease prevention. The founders Riina and Heidi believe that by bringing people together they can build communities’ collective resiliency and hope for the future, supporting the well-being of individuals and fostering a sense of true belonging in nature.

You can read more about their mission or attend their event through this link: http://foresttherapydays.com/

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Every country in the world has it’s own unique customs to connect with Nature. Let us know some special ways about your country in the comments section below. It will add to our collective learning.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link.  We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

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Writing In Nature To Find Healing

The way we find solace, release the energy of excitement, slow down our anger is through a sense of connection and a relationship that is fostered, nurtured, embraced, and sought. A relationship with the land.

Excerpt from the book
Writing on the Landscape: Essays and Practices to Write, Roam, Renew
By Jennifer J. Wilhoit, Ph.D. LifeRich Publishing 2017 • © Copyright Jennifer J. Wilhoit, Ph.D. (Published with permission from the author)

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When we want to write something, we need balance of self and other. We first look within ourselves to see what is there (the wisdom, the beauty, even the pain) and to discover what we need. We reach into the depths of our stories and knowing, and do the inner research to arrive at the page with all that we can possibly know in a moment. We look outside of ourselves to remember that we are cared for, that something bigger than us exists to help meet our needs. We can also turn outside of ourselves—to the safety of nature—to find energy and insight when we can’t find it easily within. We gather from our journeys into natural places the ability to see expansively. We also simply remember how our very breath is dependent upon the natural world; this roots us in collective knowing and creative inspiration that far surpass our individual knowledge. We then turn to our writing—with the resources we’ve gathered from inside and outside of us—equipped with the tools we need to endure.

When we let writing carry us away and when we immerse ourselves in the miracle of a single moment in the natural world (wilderness or not), we tap into something that transcends the material, the tangible, the trite. We find a depth to ourselves and to our writing that occupies the one distinct internal landscape: our inner wilderness. Allowing ourselves to become unfettered (e.g. by time, goods, responsibilities) and accountable only to that which resides in the depths of spontaneity and grace is where we find our writing souls.

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Life happens and sometimes it is sad and lonely, or fear inciting, or very exhilarating. Writing can also evoke emotions. Even the really exciting, happy, blissful emotions can hamper our writing. We have the ample, supportive mother of Earth to quietly receive whatever it is we need to let go. Some of us are not going to initially feel comfortable going out into the natural world for a calming experience. Many have lost the tender connection that affords a facile embrace of the beauty and support that the living nonhuman world has to offer. The way we find solace, release the energy of excitement, slow down our anger is through a sense of connection and a relationship that is fostered, nurtured, embraced, and sought. A relationship with the land.

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Some of my favorite places are forests, as well as individual trees. Rainforests. The Joshua trees of the Mojave Desert. Ancient bristlecone pines. The ponderosa pines whose fragrant sap is still a touchstone back to my childhood summer days, the respite I’d find in their shade, lying on the thick needle beds at the base of their trunks on glaringly hot days. The maples and oaks in my relatives’ humid, east coast yard. My grandpa’s instructions about how to identify each tree’s leaf shape. The alders that fall each year in the Pacific Northwest, shallow root bases that loosen their hold in windy winters. The red, soft, intriguing bottlebrush blossoms; the “poky ball” seeds of the liquidambar; or the slender, lavender, “milk”-releasing jacaranda flowers that my little girl self created stories about during long hours alone with these trees in my backyard. Too, the sycamore in the front yard of my childhood home whose roots cracked and displaced the cement walkway that needed to be smooth in order for my brother’s wheelchair to safely pass; it was my sentinel outside my bedroom window until we had to have it cut down—an act which caused my strong mother to cry the only time that I can remember during my entire growing up years. The hardwood forests of New England, shockingly short in stature by my west coast standards, shockingly brilliant during my first east coast autumn.

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I am walking in a forest healing from the ravages of a wildfire. On this day it mirrors a particularly burned out place in the landscape of my soul. Writing onto the page is an act of sheer compulsion and all begotten willpower unless I am rooted in the part of myself that remembers beauty in death, destruction and loss in transformation, fear in the calm of day. My body moves up the path, once a road, deeper toward the rock sharp mountains in the west. I see snow and a glacier up on the topmost peak, but down here the thick air is stagnant and breathes hot gasps onto my cheeks which now burn with shame. Slowly is my sole mantra, toward the burn site which holds within it the promise and hope amidst gray silty powder. As I move deeper into the site, my uncovered legs begin to darken with the ash. I can reverse-tattoo myself by putting a spit-wet fingertip onto my ashy skin; yet there is something deeply sacred, too, in just allowing my legs to become baptized in the residue of wildfire. I hear a spring but can only see a small seep running along the edge of the baby new grass that has to be this year’s birth. The fire was last year.

As I move closer to the center of the small once-grove that not so long ago offered shade in the middle of this near-Death-Valley wild place, I feel my heart rate increasing, my heartbeat’s powerful tenacity. It takes courage to see what lies in the middle of the burned-out places of our inner wilderness. There are tiny drops of moisture forming in my eyebrows, along my upper lip, on the back of my bare-naked neck; it feels as much like nerves as my body’s cooling response to the increasing noon heat. Each step is a labor and journey. Each few inches I mark as shoe prints on this dusty trail are leaves in a memory book of my history. When I finally reach the center, where I can see the charcoal black remains of what once lived, I feel a sudden ease wash over me. I realize that everything that lives, dies. I see that even after death, there is rebirth. And whatever I was worried about before I set out on this small walk is but a distant memory.
I sit down atop the gray ash and pull out my journal. I write.

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Jennifer J. Wilhoit, PhD is a published author, spiritual ecologist, editor, writing mentor, hospice/bereavement volunteer, life and nature guide, consultant, and peacemaker; she founded TEALarbor stories through which she compassionately supports people’s deep storying processes. Her books, articles, and blogs focus on the human/nature relationship – what she calls “the inner/outer landscape.” Jennifer also offers presentations, workshops, and retreats. When she is not writing or working, she spends time hiking and making beauty in natural landscapes, reading, traveling (internationally, as often as possible), and dabbling in creative arts. Jennifer’s soul thrives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest landscape where she lives. www.tealarborstories.com

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You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link.  We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

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Forest Therapy in Japan and its Possibility for the World

In this month’s guest post we explore the Japanese concept of Shinrin-ryoho 森林療法 which translates as Forest Therapy. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, we recommend you go through our article on Introduction to Forest Bathing first.

This note is contributed by Prof. Dr. Iwao Uehara. Iwao UEHARA means “A big rock on the upper field”. Dr. Iwao is a professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and president of The Society of Forest Amenity and Human Health Promotion in Japan. He is also the founder of Forest Therapy (Shinrin-ryoho) in Japan since 1999. Prof. Iwao’s goal is to promote health of forests as well as human beings. 

What is Forest Therapy and its Healing Effects?

Forest Therapy (Shinrin-ryoho) is promoting the health of both forests and human beings! Forests and the trees within them have many healing properties. They promote our health, prevent illness, provide relaxation opportunities, and a rehabilitation environment, can be a treatment place for disabilities, peaceful counseling space, and so forth. When we arrive in the forest, we sometimes pay more attention to oneself and one’s life. Walking and exercise in the forest also change our attitudes and perspectives. Trees also have many fascinating aspects for medical, art, and care utilization.

However, some forests are also ill, depressed, and having stress like us human beings. So, forest therapy is attempting to heal forest and human beings together. Working in the forest to improve it’s health, can be a very therapeutic experience.

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Examples of Forest Therapy and Forest Amenity Programs

There have been many examples of forest therapy and forest amenity programs in Japan.

First of all, Forest Walking. Walking is the simplest rehabilitation method and whole body exercise. Walking can prevent lifestyle related disease. In addition, individuals walking in the forest enjoy the landscape, fresh air, and natural environment.

Next, relaxation. It is quiet and peaceful in the forest. Relaxation in the forest inspires natural peace in our body and mind. It adjusts our nervous system balance too.

Third, rehabilitation. For clients after an operation, accident, and preparing to reintegrate with society, forest walking & working is one possible rehabilitation program.

Fourth, treatment and occupational activities in the forest. Carrying logs & branches, clipping trees & clearing weeds, and planting trees are typical examples of occupational therapy.

Fifth, counseling. Counseling in the forest makes clients relax and sensitive. Forest amenities like landscape aesthetics, wind, fragrance, birds singing sometimes give useful hints to solve our problems and provide an ideal setting for traditional counseling approaches.

I hope you will design your own healing or health promoting programs using forests and trees as a setting and as inspiration.

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Case Studies of Forest Amenities

There have been already many invaluable case studies utilising forest amenities in Japan.

By experiencing forest activities for a long term and repeatedly, some clients with mental, psychological, and physical disabilities showed positive treatment effects! Their communication has also changed positively. Some experimental studies suggest that forest walking can reduce stress hormone, enhance immune function, and balance nervous system. Recently, some case studies of patients with Dementia found that they improved their communication ability greatly.

Occupational activities such as carrying logs or planting trees with teamwork are also used as one of the forest therapy exercises. Especially, for people with mental disabilities or memory disabilities, these activities are proving to be effective and restorative.

In addition, trees and forest have been sometimes worshipped as natural gods in Japanese culture. Such forests always provides counseling space for the people who have psychological problems.

Trees also have great possibilities for healing. For example, some trees provide medicine, herb tea, and fragrance which have certain healing effects. Forest therapy includes drinking and eating natural amenities, too. Cherry blossom tea is used for celebration in Japan. Berry tea is effective for decreasing high blood pressure.

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PHYTONCIDES: A fascinating find is that evergreen trees secrete certain scents and oils to protect themselves from a host of microbes and pathogens. These chemicals are called Phytoncides and they act as a defense system for the trees.

As we walk in the forests, we breathe in these Phytoncides, which produces some interesting results. Some of these smells relax our brain while others uplift our mood. Inhaling aromatic plant chemicals also increases the antioxidant defense system in the human body.

There is also a known association between higher amounts of phytoncide in the air and improved immune function. Specifically, higher levels of airborne phytoncides cause increased production of anticancer proteins in the blood as well as higher levels of the frontline immune defenders called NKC or Natural Killer Cells. When exposed to viruses (e.g., influenza, common cold) and other infective agents, the NK cells step up to protect the body.

In many ways we are now getting scientific proof for something we have known intuitively for ages. Over time this common wisdom was drowned out in the cacophony of consumerism.

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Possibilities of Forest and Tree Amenities in the world

Many people recently prefer to enjoy and exercise in the nature. There are beautiful green parks, mountains, and forests all over the world. Also, there are many fairy tales and local folk culture concerned with trees or forests. Therefore, world forests have a big potential for forest therapy programs everywhere. Let’s reconsider your familiar forests and develop the possibilities together!

In case you have any questions for Prof. Iwao Uehara, please add them in the comments section. Your questions and answers by Prof. Iwao will add to our collective knowledge.

For more information on his work please visit.
研究室HP www.geocities.jp/ueharaiwao/
みんなの森ブログ http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/ueharaiwao
日本森林保健学会 http://forest-and-human-health.jp/

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FOREST THERAPY vs FOREST BATHING

Forest therapy is always conducted by a certified professional. It involves having knowledge of psychological counseling as well as the ability to handle patients with different types of mental health problems. It is most effective when carried out on a one-to-one basis or in very small groups of people with similar issues.

*There are a few courses around the world which give certification in forest therapy. The course fee can go up to 1000’s of dollars and needs a background in Psychology. Please enroll for one if you are serious about counseling people with mental health issues. Make sure your course covers all the different psychological aspects of forest therapy.

Forest bathing, on the other hand, can be done by anyone. It is simply a more mindful way of being in nature. You do not need any certification for forest bathing. Unlike a yoga course or any other body-based training, the real benefit in forest bathing comes from being in the forest and not from the instructor. The role of a forest bathing guide is to act as a forest friend and help people find their own connection with nature.

If you only wish to lead people for mindful nature walks and forest bathing walks, our healing forest learning program should give you a host of ideas and activities to do so. Also, there are multiple books available on the topic to grow your knowledge base. The best way to improve your skills is by leading people on different nature walks. However, there are a few people who have devised their own unique methodology for nature connection. If you are inspired by their work, first join a walk they lead and then you can choose whether to attend their training program (Typically the price range for such training courses are about a few hundred dollars).

You can write to us for course recommendations based on your location and interest.

End note: This page is part of our learning program. The aim of this article was to give you a scope of forest therapy and clarify some important queries around this emerging field. You can proceed to the next learning session here.

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Bonus: Here’s a link to download the forest bathing film, forest exercise images and also 2 blank templates that you can use to create your own forest activity. (using sites like Canva). http://bit.ly/hfl-forestbathing

Subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link.  We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Relationship lessons from Nature

Our world is made up of relationships.

In life, we are constantly moving through a sea of changing relationships – not only with other lives, but also with our surrounding environment and most importantly, with our own changing selves. Sometimes, when life takes a wrong turn and one ends up in an unhappy place, it can be a good practice to re-examine and re-look at our relationships.

Nature is a great place to untangle our thoughts and find fresh perspectives. It’s because in nature, all the mysteries of life unfold before us. All we heave to do is learn to observe and become aware. In this month’s guest post, Katriina Kilpi from Belgium shares some beautiful insights from her own trysts with nature.

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ABOUT
Katriina Kilpi leads a NatureMinded consultancy that works to research and promote nature´s wellbeing effects on humans; a Forest Mind guide, and a student at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in program about Outdoor Environments for Health and Wellbeing. This summer she is co-organizing the first ‘International Forest Therapy Days’ event to help connect and promote the important work of forest therapy practitioners and scientists around the world. She is an expat Finn who has found her magical forest in the scarcely forested Belgium.
https://natureminded.be
 | http://www.forestmind.be | http://www.foresttherapydays.com

LeafWhat can nature teach us about relationships?

There’s this place in my favourite forest, where big old beeches grow. It´s a special spot, because at the bottom of those beeches, there grows a thick layer of moss.

This is the place where I go to when I feel like I can’t handle it alone. When I need to be held like a baby. I go and lean against one of those beeches, with my feet pressed into the soft moss, and I swear, the tree closes in on me, like arms reaching around to hold me.  I feel listened to, without any words being exchanged, and I feel consoled. There’s no judging. Only acceptance and compassion. As a thank you for listening, I value this forest, and do my best to protect it now and in the future. It’s probably exactly what the tree would want from me. A perfect exchange for our friendship.

Successful relationships are formed for mutual benefit.

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My son has also established a relationship with his nearby nature. One day he pointed out to me that of the two bushes next to his tree house, one was a nice one while the other was a naughty one. Maybe the thorns in the naughty bush has something to do with his judgement. So, according to this little man, the bushes not only have their own personalities, but he has also established a relationship with the bushes (one that is less close, obviously).

We quickly judge the personality of someone based on their behaviour towards us. A greater understanding would develop if we realise that personalities and qualities are shaped by the outer environment as well as the inner genetic make-up. In the design of nature, each and every life form has a unique role to play.

So for a deeper relationship to develop, one must start with a better sense of observation.

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For the creatures or people, we do know, we often overlook their value and start taking them for granted. It doesn’t dawn to us that we are taking these people (or creatures) for granted before someone else recognises their uniqueness or, what’s worse, before we lose them. I once moved to Hawaii and found the myna birds, with their oversized heads and their yellow masks, rather comical looking. To me they looked funny and mischievous, always up to no good. I liked those birds. After some years, I had got so used to them that when my mother came to visit and wanted to photograph those little birds, I found it a waste of film. Sustaining a relationship requires a continuous effort, otherwise it loses its vitality.

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And finally in nature and human nature, there are surprisingly many similarities. Though romantics often idealize nature, there is pain and suffering, continuous competition, sickness and loss in nature too. A relationship is incomplete without the acceptance of the imperfections.

Nature has a lot to teach us. Though we all fight for our survival: for sustenance, for shelter, for the possibility to maintain our species – the cycle of life would not be possible without interconnections, interdependence and impermanence.

Nature helps us to mirror our relationships within the human community and allows us to practice our relationship skills early on. Nature is a compassionate and patient teacher, as it doesn’t push us, but allows us to find it out ourselves. The relationship we have with nature, the backbone to our wellbeing, can teach us most about ourselves.

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END NOTE:
Our world is made up of relationships. A set of intricate links and bonds, tie us to everything in this Universe. These posts on our blog are created, not just to share interesting perspectives and new findings but also to link up with you and build a community of like-minded forest friends. Know more>>.

Do share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. You can also subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Handling Stress, Anxiety and Storms in Life

Your heart is thumping, palms are sweaty and your brain is a burning car driving downhill with no brakes for your thoughts. This is an experience of a category 5 stress response.

While such severe stress situations may be rare, in our day to day life we experience minor storms of stress at regular intervals. Stress is the omnipresent evil of our modern age. Whether it is working individuals or students, a large number of people have to face stress on a regular basis. We increasingly hear stories of the dreaded phenomenon – ‘Burnout’.

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WHO has declared stress an epidemic on a global scale. It is also linked to many of the leading causes of death. It leads to anxiety and affects our blood pressure and heart health. Stress often results in poor sleep, which plays havoc with our mental and physical health.

But forests can play an important role in overcoming stress.

Richard Mitchell, a scientist from UK, did a study and found fewer cases of disease amongst people who lived near parks or open green spaces. His studies also showed that people with no windows or unattractive views took longer to recover when compared to those who could see trees and grass from their hospital windows. Similarly classrooms with windows revealed better performance by students and lesser incidents of violent behaviour.

What he and other researchers theorise is that nature works primarily by lowering stress.

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FOREST CALM

One of the fundamental reasons mental fatigue and stress happens is when we are not able to put the brakes on distracting thoughts. So how can nature help us? The answer lies in our senses.

Our hearing sense affects us at a subconscious level. Even though we may not be aware of it, our brain is processing the sounds in our environment – whether it is the noise pollution of the city or the song of the forest.

Our visual sense is the strongest sense. We are influenced by the quality of light, the colour of light and also the source it comes from. It affects our mood as well as energy levels. The colours of nature soothe our mind and the play of light in the forest helps to break our pattern of thoughts.

Researchers using MRI to look at the brain activity found that people exposed to nature had reduced blood flow to their Amygdala – a part of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety processing.

Evidently, watching photographs and videos of such nature scenes can also have a soothing effect to some extent (at-least for 85% of the people). Let’s test it out.

Japan is a country known for its development and high-pressure work culture. What is less known is that for decades they have been researching on the impact of nature on our body and mind.

Japanese researchers have found that forests can be a relaxation haven. A walk in the woods brings about measurable changes in our body function. Blood pressure levels begin to lower down to normal levels and the heart rate begins to slow down. The stress related hormone in our blood – Cortisol, is significantly reduced.

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There are over 50 healing forests in Japan today. Quiet places in nature where people can go to reflect, relax, and rejuvenate without feeling unsafe.

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We have collected some wonderful forest games and meditations to help you find your calm on our page for Forest Walks. Here’s an example:

Problem Pebbles – Pick a handful of pebbles on your walk. Imagine each pebble is a problem you are facing or a troublesome situation you are dealing with. Keep dropping the pebbles as you walk.

*END NOTE: You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link. We are a small group of friends trying to help people reconnect with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

We would love to hear your insights, meditations and tips for dealing with stress. Please add to our collective knowledge by sharing your experience or learning in the comments section below.

Wishing you strength and fortitude in the face of all storms.

Song of Trees | How to make friends

We have many lessons to learn from the trees. As our understanding and awareness of nature develops, we uncover new findings and wisdom that gives us a fresh perspective on life. In this session, we will learn about making friends and creating better relationships with the help of nature. But first, please watch this 2 min. film on a less known truth about trees…and people.

Song of Trees | Relationships in nature

David Haskell’s work integrates scientific, literary, and contemplative studies of the natural world. His latest book, “The Songs of Trees” examines the many ways that trees and humans are connected. His first book, The Forest Unseen, was winner of the National Academies’ Best Book Award for 2013, finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award.

The Oxford American featured him in 2011 as one of the southern U.S.’s most creative teachers. His teaching has been profiled in USA Today, The Tennesseean, and other newspapers.

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Trees and Friends

“Inside the tree leaf are different species of bacteria, millions of individual bacterial cells, fungi, nematodes and if these inhabitants of the leaf are taken away the leaf can no longer function.

This is also true for roots below ground. The root is made from conversation – between bacteria, fungi and the plant cell themselves. There is communication at the most intimate level, at the level of DNA from one cell to another. They are exchanging information, they are exchanging material. So the tree is a nexus, a hub for a set of relationships.

In fact, just to call something a tree, a noun – a singular being is wrong. This individuality is an illusion. All trees exist only in relationship. So do people.

— David George Haskell (www.dghaskell.com)

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Meditation on Interbeing

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

“Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be”, we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh (https://plumvillage.org/)

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RELATIONSHIP WALK | Making New Friends

In this section we cover a set of nature based creative exercises which serve as excellent tools to build strong relationships. These set of nature activities are most effective when done in pairs or very small groups. The aim of this relationship walk is to work on the  fundamental values of creating friendships: trust, acceptance, appreciation, gratitude, creativity, and truly knowing the other person.

As with all healing forest walks, allow space for 10-15 minute of silent walks in between each of these exercises. Being silent yet comfortable in each other’s presence is a hallmark of deep friendships and meaningful relationships.

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Who Am I?: 
“If you could be one thing in nature, what would you be? And why?”  We start the walk by asking our partner this simple question. Most casual introductions are about people’s professions or achievements and one tries to project their best side. Whereas, creating a nature introduction allows friends to know the things we relate to and also qualities that are important to us in our persona.  

Alternate version: Nature and I
As you take a walk in nature, each person finds an interesting thing that calls out to them like an unusual rock, or a tree and shares why they relate to that object in nature or what is common between them and the nature object.

Turning Points: 
Take 10 minutes to share important memories from your life with your partner. These are memories of important turning points in your life. Events or incidents that have given a new direction to your life. Each partner takes 5 minutes to share 1 or 2 turning points from their life. End the exercise by  sharing an important nature memory from your life. A memorable moment in nature that has stayed with you.

Tree Time: 
In this exercise, each person finds an interesting tree that catches their attention or one they can relate to and spends 10 minutes sitting under that tree or in it’s branches. Reflect on what your tree can teach you about relationships. After your tryst with the tree, share your insights with your partner and listen to theirs.

Forest Baby: 
Find things fallen on the forest floor and create a forest baby. The forest baby can take any form and shape – human, animal or magical. The only rule is that you have to create it in silence. Being silent allows you to observe each other’s working style and share a deeper sense of communication which goes beyond the use of words. It’s basically an exercise in understanding that a large part of relationships are about creating things with each other

Appreciation and Gratitude: 
End the walk with a few words of appreciation and gratitude for nature as well as your partner. Appreciation and gratitude are a form of social glue that binds us as a community. It is also a way of observing and seeing things. A much needed quality that we all need to develop within ourselves to build relationships.

TREE FRIENDS EXERCISE

Here is a fascinating set of questions to get to know a person and make friends in a short period of time. The playful light hearted structure is loosely based on how you would get to know a tree. In these questions, we explore important parts of a personality just as we would observe the different parts thats make up a tree. Each of the different tree parts are used as a metaphor to get to know each other better.

Being in nature allows people to feel relaxed and they find it easier to share their thoughts and feelings. Find any old or interesting tree to sit under with your partner and share these questions and their answers with each other.

Birds & Friends:
What are the places you’d like to travel to?

Leaves:
What gives you energy / What takes away energy?

Branches / Canopy:
Who are the people you are closest to / most connected to?

Tree Trunk:
What are your strengths / weaknesses?

Roots:
What do you value in life / What keeps you grounded?

Fruits:
Dreams / things you love doing / You wish to accomplish? or an interesting twist to this question – What struggles would you like have?

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What are the things you wish to leave behind ? / What you would like to be remembered for?

This is an informal guideline. Choosing this structure of questions makes it easy to remember and engaging to play out. Conversations may flow in any direction just like the wind. We hope you have fun with the exercise and get to learn new insights and facets about other people as well as yourself.

There is only one rule to follow. Lend your full attention to hearing the other person and learn to listen like a tree. With acceptance and without judgement or advice.

A FRIEND REQUEST

Unless we grow our collective emotional intelligence we cannot hope to create a better future for all beings.

A society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

~ Greek Proverb

The healing of our society is intricately linked to the healing of our land. It’s because the environment we live in is not separate from us. What we learn from the wisdom of the land, helps us create a deeper understanding of our own interlinked lives.

As individuals, we are like solitary trees, but when we come together we become a forest of friends. In case you would like to connect with like-minded individuals and create something meaningful together you can join our community of forest friends. One of the main goals of this network is to support each other in our learning.

Through the network, we will also conduct 2 healing forest walks in each of our cities every year. One in spring, the other in autumn. The walks are open to all and can be free of charge or based on a gift culture (accept whatever is given with grace).

To join the forest friends simply fill in this form.

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MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE FOREST

This page is the concluding part of our nature healing program. We hope you have enjoyed the adventure. 

Always remember, this is a personal journey between you and the forest. Every outcome will flow out of that. Start visiting a forest near you and more ideas will come to you. Ultimately, you can create a nature-walk program that is unique and personal to you.

Human memory is very fickle and unless we repeat or practice what we have learnt, we tend to forget it. So please practice your walks before they fade away from your mind (Even if it is with just one other person).

Our suggestion to you would be to practice each of the walk formats on their own. Sense Walk, Art Walk, Writing Walk, Mindfulness walk, Photo Walk, Relationship walks. Typically a 90 min /2-hour session involves a short introduction to the concept. Followed by 15-minute silent walks interspersed with games/meditations. It’s nice to end the walk with feedback and sharing of insights from the participants.

This is important for you as well as the people you will take with you on your walks.

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END NOTE

Nature is a great place to untangle our thoughts, find fresh perspectives and make new friends. It’s because in nature, all the mysteries of life unfold before us. All we have to do is learn to observe and become aware.

We would love to hear your feedback/experience/suggestions for the learning program. Please feel free to send us an email athealingforest(dot)org(at)gmail(dot)com 

Also, it would add to our collective knowledge if you could leave a comment below on this simple question – What has the forest taught you?

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10 Nature Connection Activities

Parks, forests, coasts, urban gardens, backyards, or any space where nature is predominant are prime places for nature-connection experiences. The activities shared here may be done alone, in pairs or with groups.

As with any outing in nature, please be aware of any potential hazards, such as poisonous plants, slippery rocks, and bugs that bite.

1︱Grounding with Yoga

Find a quiet place in nature, take off your shoes and stand on the earth. Feel the energetic charge from your legs, ankles and feet compared to the feeling of the ground. Stand for a few minutes until you feel stable. Then, do the following three yoga poses: Mountain Pose, Warrior I Pose, and Tree Pose (detailed here). Synched with the breath, these poses bring fresh oxygen and phytoncides (natural compounds that increase blood cells which fight cancer and tumors) into our lungs, tissues and organs. They also ground our bodies and can give relief from inflammation, pain and stress. (Source)

Sun

2︱Opening Senses

Find a quiet place and get comfortable either standing or sitting on the ground. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and wait to feel grounded. Become aware of your environment by focusing on one sense at a time. Tune into sound and notice the sounds near and far, the silence in-between sounds, and the whole soundscape. Tune into touch and notice the texture and qualities of the air on your exposed skin. Spread your fingers (and toes) and feel the air between them. Notice the the warmth and coolness from the sun and shade. Tune into smell and notice the different aromas present. Taste the air. Tune into gravity and feel it pulling you to the earth. Gently sway your body. Put your hands over your heart and feel your heartbeat. Return to any sensation you like. Are birds singing? Are trees rustling? Can you feel the warmth of the sunshine? When you’re ready to open your eyes, open them slowly and notice all around you.

3︱Walking

On a walking trail, park or open space, walk at a pace that feels comfortable to you for about 20 minutes. No matter how you walk, focus your attention on nature and your breathing. You may like to alternate between slow, brisk, and fast walking. Slow walking fosters a heightened state of awareness, calm and connection with the natural world. In large open spaces, such as a park, try slow walking in circles, expanding and contracting the size of your circles. Faster walking relieves stress and energizes the body. Try holding your arms out to your sides as you walk, like an airplane, or stretching them over your head. No matter how you walk, do pause along the way to notice the small wonders of nature.

❤ Read the story behind this film and get a copy of the poem at this link.

4︱Make Friends With Trees

Find a tree that attracts to you and make friends with it as you like. Spend at least 10 minutes with your tree. Some possible ways to engage with trees are:

Explore the tree: Gaze at the tree for five minutes. What does it tell you about itself? Trees belong to species and have histories, families, health issues, and unique qualities. Lean against the tree, touch the tree, hug the tree. What knowledge does it share with you? 

Climb the tree: Carefully climb (shoes off) and find a place to sit or lie safely and enjoy the view.

Tell the tree a story: Share a secret, your dreams, a prayer, or send a message to a loved one.

Meditate with the tree:  Either sitting or lying down, breathe and exchange oxygen and energies with the tree.

Stretch your body with the tree: Use the tree as a support to stretch your back, arms, legs and torso.

Tree

5︱Nature Therapist

Nature is a wonderful therapist. Using your senses, let yourself be drawn to an element of nature, such as a tree, a rock, or light. Sit comfortably with it and ask a question, silently or aloud, that you are seeking support or guidance on. With your senses open and mind neutral, listen. An answer may come to you in the form of an intuition, a physical sensation, an animal guide or something else. It is possible that no answer will come while you wait, but it may come to you later in another way. 

mind

6︱Nature Art

Create an impermanent artwork made from found elements of nature. The work of Andy Goldsworthy is an inspiration, but we need not go so far! Some ideas for your nature art: gratitude mandala, spirit altar, ikebana, labyrinth, toy house and bridge. If you’re with others, try a ‘gallery walk’ afterwards to share your creations.

7︱Animal Kingdom

Indigenous cultures considered animals to be our brothers and sisters and knew how to speak with them, as did saints, sages, yogis and mystics. Animals experience the world in ways that overlap our own, and each species has special powers and characteristics. We can learn to appreciate animals by bring their aspects into ourselves through observation and play. If you’re alone, sit someplace quietly and open yourself commune with the animals by maintaining a neutral, open, gentle state of awareness. Imagine the qualities you love most about your favorite animal and bring these visualizations into your own body. After some time, animals and birds will become used to your presence and may come out of hiding. 

For groups, stand in a circle and ask people to call forth their spirit animal (or a favorite animal). Then, give yourselves a task, such as building animal homes, or a game to play. After 15-20 minutes of play, reconvene in a circle to create a poem. Begin with a word or sound that suits the day, and then going around the circle each person contributes a word/sound until a freestyle poem emerges and runs its course.

Bird

8︱Dance

Dance in nature. Dance alone with headphones. Dance with friends. Make a drum circle. Stomp and clap. However you like. Be respectful of nature and dance with it.

9︱Water Healer

If water is present, find a comfortable place to sit beside the water to meditate or simply enjoy the sensory experience. Water sounds and vibrations calm our brains and nervous systems. Moving waters encourage going with the flow, letting go, movement, change, and creative energy. Still waters encourage self-reflection. If possible, feel the water with your hands and feet. Get a natural foot massage and refresh yourself.

moon

10︱Dream Time

Find a comfortable spot on the ground, lie down, take off your shoes, and take in the life around you. Sky-gaze, daydream, meditate, watch insects, breathe, nap, or feel free to simply enjoy being with nature. Try positioning your body like a starfish, with arms and legs outstretched. This grounding activity will calm and refresh your body and mind.

*This page is part of our Nature Calm program with ideas for nature based arts, games, activities, and meditations from around the world.


Article contributed by Julie Hall. Julie is a forest therapy guide and founder of Shinrin-Yoku Walks.