Have you ever experienced the joy of swimming in wild waters? Water, which is the cradle of life on earth and carries within each molecule the memory of time itself.
It’s a mystery how the world became awash in it. But one prevailing theory says that water originated on our planet from ice specks floating in a cosmic cloud before our sun was set ablaze, more than 4.6 billion years ago. As much as half of all the water on Earth may have come from that interstellar gas. That means the same liquid we drink and that fills the oceans may be millions of years older than the solar system itself. Source: New York Times Article
As we move into Summer, this week’s article covers two beautiful short films. One from Scotland and the other from the neighbouring Faroe Islands. Through the inspiring stories of a few wild water swimmers we touch upon the rejuvenating and healing benefits of water.
There is no better way to start the day than an early morning sea swim. It is physical, mental, spiritual, communal – all wrapped up in a simple dip in the sea. A group of women, who call themselves the ‘Morning Swimmers of Sandagerði’, brave the icy waters of the North Atlantic, along the coastline of the Faroe Islands, for their morning dip in the ocean. They go in every day of the year, sunshine or snow, unless a storm roughs up the water too much. And for them it is as much about connection and friendship as it is about exercise and invigoration. A film by Green Renaissance:
Health Benefits of Swimming
For The Brain:
Regular exercise, such as swimming, improves memory function and thinking skills. This is good not only for kids and adults, but it is beneficial for us as we age too. Regular exercise reduces inflammation and insulin resistance in the brain, which fosters new brain cell growth. Swimming also improves mood, anxiety, and stress, which increases the brain’s ability to think more efficiently.
For The Body:
Why is swimming good for our physical health ? Here’s a list of some benefits:
Keeps your heart rate up but takes some of the impact stress off your body
Builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness
Helps maintain a healthy weight, healthy heart and lungs
Tones muscles and builds strength
Provides an all-over body workout
Improving coordination, balance and posture
Providing good low-impact therapy for some injuries and conditions
For the Mind:
Water and mind have a very delicate link. The element of water has always been associated with feelings of peace and serenity. Many meditation, mindfulness, and forest bathing practices incorporate the soothing effects of water to focus and calm down overactive minds.
The act of immersing oneself in water is a way of reconnecting with something timeless within us. After all, the majority of our body is made up of water.
*According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, 60% of the human adult body is water. The brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.
Hydrotherapy is a story of adaptation, strength & re-wilding set in the raw and beautiful landscapes of Snowdonia National park. Laura the protagonist has not only overcome a life changing illness through wild swimming, but has also found a greater connection to the natural world. This has ignited her mission to make a stand for the natural environment, and protect wild waters and wild spaces across the UK.
Directed by Fin and Jack Davies Produced by Lewis Smith. Shot by Josh Williams and Jack Davies. Sound Design & Music by Paddy Henchman. Colour by Fin Davies. ‘A Friction Collective production featuring Laura Owen Sanderson’.
Find out more about Laura’s incredible research & environmental projects on Instagram at @weswimwild
10 Ways To Be Wild And Safe
Never swim in canals, urban rivers, stagnant lakes or reedy shallows
Never swim in flood water and be cautious of water quality during droughts
Keep cuts and wounds covered with waterproof plasters if you are concerned
Avoid contact with blue–green algae
Never swim alone and keep a constant watch on weak swimmers
Never jump into water you have not thoroughly checked for depth and obstructions
Always make sure you know how you will get out before you get in
Don’t get too cold – warm up with exercise and warm clothes before and after a swim
Wear footwear if you can
Watch out for boats on any navigable river. Wear a coloured swim hat so you can be seen
Rather than reinvent the wheel, some experts are calling for natural solutions to climate change. These involve restoring natural habitats – such as forests and wetlands – which would draw down CO₂ through photosynthesis and store it as living tissue in plants.
Rapidly phasing out greenhouse gas emissions is still vital, but letting nature do much of the hard work in removing the CO₂ that’s already in the atmosphere could save the time and money we’d need to develop artificial methods of capturing carbon.
Returning many of the world’s ecosystems to something resembling their former glory could also help solve another crisis simultaneously. In this fourth issue of the Imagine newsletter, we look at the mass extinction crisis that threatens the nearly nine million species on Earth and how radical action to prevent their extinction could also prevent ours.
We asked experts to imagine how natural solutions to climate change could start at home and what a future with more of the wild in our lives might look like. In the end, it’s a case of saving two birds with one tree.
But it might surprise you to learn that across vast swathes of the world, nature is already returning to places where dense habitats were once destroyed by humans. Even on your own doorstep, your local environment could be wilder than it was 100 years ago.
If you live in mainland Europe, that’s almost certainly the case.
More and more people around the world are abandoning rural landscapes and moving to live in cities. In their absence, the land they once used for agriculture is regenerating as shrubland and forest. These new habitats have ushered in wolves, brown bears, lynx and boar. José M. Rey Benayas, Professor of Ecology at the University of Alcalá, says:
Aside from not emitting carbon in the first place, restoring forests across the world on an unprecedented scale could be our best bet for avoiding catastrophic climate change, according to a new study. Mark Maslin, a Professor of Earth System Science and Simon Lewis, a Professor of Global Change, both at University College London, explain the thinking.
Negative emissions – Increasing the world’s forest land by one third – regrowing an extra billion hectares of trees over an area that’s roughly the size of the United States – could capture 205 billion tonnes of CO₂, according to the study. That’s about two thirds of man-made carbon emissions already in the atmosphere.
Low disruption – The study’s authors say reforestation on this scale could actually be achieved with fairly limited disruption to our lives. Most of the land needed would be around 1.8 billion hectares in areas with low human activity, so new forests wouldn’t have to compete with land we’d need to reserve for growing food.
But there’s a catch – Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, the higher temperatures could reduce the area that’s suitable for forest restoration by a fifth by 2050. On its own, reforestation isn’t enough. There’s still a very urgent need to reduce emissions drastically for a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. As Maslin and Lewis point out, the actual sum of CO₂ that reforestation could lock away is also much smaller in other research, perhaps closer to 57 billion tonnes.
Rewilding starts at home
Reforesting the Earth will take decades, but right now, people in the UK could help bring back one of the country’s most diminished habitats in their own backyards. Since the end of World War II, Britain has lost 97% of its wild grassland – turned into farmland or dug up to build roads and homes.
Maintaining the hyper-manicured lawns that we’re used to seeing in public parks often involves petrol mowers and fertilisers which leak more carbon to the atmosphere during their production and use than the grass itself can store.
If you have a lawn, you can think of it as your own patch of artificial grassland – a stunted remnant of a once vast ecosystem. But it needn’t be that way, says Adam Bates – an ecologist at Nottingham Trent University. There are four easy steps any gardener can follow to turn their lawn into a wildlife haven that locks away CO₂.
1. Cut higher
Most lawn mowers have blades that are set as low to the ground as possible, ensuring that the lawn is cut to be flat and featureless, which is no good for wildlife. Bugs and small creatures need nooks and crannies to hide from predators. Spiders in particular need something to anchor their webs to.
By adjusting the blade to the highest possible setting – often around 4 cm off the ground – mowing can leave taller grass with more recesses for insects to hide in.
2. Include mowing gaps
Leaving longer gaps between mowing the lawn can give wildflower species the time they need to flower and provide nectar for pollinating insects to eat. By leaving a gap in spring, early flowering species like the native cowslip can bloom.
Cowslip is a plant which has been declining for decades, but the Duke of Burgundy butterfly depends on it for somewhere to lay its eggs.
You might expect herbicides to be a bad idea, but when it comes to lawns, fertilisers are only good for ensuring a luxuriant green colour – one or two grass species will soak up the extra nutrients and outcompete everything else.
To ensure a rich variety of plants can thrive in your wildflower lawn, reducing the fertility of the soil is essential.
4. Remove the clippings
By collecting the cut grass after you mow you can stop more nutrients getting into the soil and reduce the lawn’s fertility with every cut.
If you’re 100% committed, you can leave strips at the sides or patches in the corners to go wild and form small wildflower meadows. Most wildflower seeds will be carried to your garden on the wind or by birds, but if you’re tired of waiting, you can buy and spread the seeds yourself.
Once you’ve seen pockets of wildflower meadow spring up on your lawn, you may not want to stop there…
Ponds – the carbon sink in your backyard
Pollinator species would certainly benefit from more people turning their lawns into the wild grassland habitat that’s so rare in the British landscape today. But a single square metre of grassland might only absorb about 2-5g of CO₂ over the course of a year. So how helpful is rewilding your garden for slowing climate change? Very helpful, if you add a pond, says Associate Professor of Ecology at Northumbria University, Mike Jeffries.
A pond that’s only a square metre in size could suck as much as 247g of carbon from the air every year. Though small ponds make up a tiny proportion of the UK’s land area – about 0.0006% of it – they punch well above their weight in terms of how much carbon they can bury as sediment.
By digging a pond in your garden, you’d also be inviting some truly unique wildlife. Perhaps most interesting of all according to Jeffries is the tadpole shrimp – thought to be the oldest animal in the world.
Garden ponds can also draw in more familiar creatures, like frogs and toads. Half of all the UK’s ponds were lost during the 20th century, leaving many native amphibians searching for somewhere to live. As climate change threatens to dry up much of these habitats, garden ponds could provide an oasis for struggling species says Becky Thomas, a Senior Teaching Fellow in Ecology at Royal Holloway University.
Frogs and toads need clean ponds in which to breed [but] the fashion of keeping our gardens meticulously neat and tidy is leaving our wildlife with nowhere to hide. Creating a pond can be a fun project – especially with children. Once put in, it will only take a matter of days before something decides to make it their home. It will usually be invertebrates and plants to begin with, but it won’t take long for it to be found by a nearby frog or toad population.
A shared home for humans and wildlife
No matter where you look, you’re likely to find a potentially useful habitat for nature that’s under threat. Professors of Conservation Ecology Brendan Wintle (University of Melbourne) and Sarah Bekessy (RMIT University) say that even very small patches can be invaluable for a particular species.
It may not look like a pristine expanse of Amazon rainforest or an African savannah, but the patch of bush at the end of the street could be one of the only places on the planet that harbour a particular species of endangered animal or plant.
In Australia, our cities are home to, on average, three times as many threatened species per unit area as rural environments. This means urbanisation is one of the most destructive processes for biodiversity.
Moving out of gardens and into the streets, how could our towns and cities be reimagined with more space for nature? Heather Alberro, a PhD Candidate in Political Ecology at Nottingham Trent University, believes that “urban greening” could make the places we live resilient to climate change and ensure a refuge for biodiversity:
Cool those heat waves: a single tree can have the cooling effect of more than ten air conditioning units, all while absorbing carbon. Higher temperatures turn cities into concrete heat traps, but using air conditioning to stay cool takes a lot of electricity, adding more CO₂ to the atmosphere. By contrast, trees shade surfaces that might otherwise absorb heat and cool the air by gathering water on their leaves which evaporates in the sun.
Filter air pollution: plants capture airborne particulates in the wax or cuticles of their leaves. By filling streets with trees, the air can be made safer to breathe.
Increase biodiversity: rooftop gardens and forested terraces can create habitats in new places. Networks of connected habitats – such as wildflower meadows that snake along roadsides – could allow new urban ecosystems to form, populated by species that had previously been squeezed out of the concrete sprawl.
If all that sounds good to you then you’re in luck, Alberro says. Urban greening is being taken very seriously by architects, designers and politicians. You may find your neighbourhood growing wilder in the years to come.
The mass greening and rewilding of our cities is no novel or abstract ideal. It is already happening in many urban spaces around the world. The mayor of Paris has ambitious plans to “green” 100 hectares of the city by 2020. London mayor Sadiq Khan hopes to make London the world’s first “National Park City” through mass tree planting and park restoration, greening more than half of the capital by 2050.
If you live outside a major city then perhaps it’s your daily commute that will change first. Thanks to efforts by campaigners and local councils in the UK, roadside verges are being turned into wildflower meadows, with an eight-mile “river of flowers” now hugging a motorway in Rotherham.
According to Olivia Norfolk – a Lecturer in Conservation Ecology at Anglia Ruskin University – bees and butterflies don’t seem to mind the traffic and their numbers have “increased dramatically” where regular mowing has stopped and wildflower meadows have returned on grass verges. She said:
The UK road network spans over 246,000 miles – reducing mowing on the grass verges that surround them to just once a year could save money and create thriving habitats for pollinating insects that return on their own each spring.
Seeing so much colour on land that was once devoid of life can really lift the spirits. Alberro believes this may be the greatest benefit from rewilding – more human happiness. The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” – the idea that regular immersion in nature is as good as therapy. In the future, people may not have to go too far to get their fix.
Imagine is a newsletter from The Conversation that presents a vision of a world acting on climate change. Drawing on the collective wisdom of academics in fields from anthropology and zoology to technology and psychology, it investigates the many ways life on Earth could be made fairer and more fulfilling by taking radical action on climate change.
Flowers have mastered the art of communication over a hundred million years. They have crafted and perfected this skill because their very survival depends on it. What they have realised is that the secret to great communication is a mix of the visible and the invisible. In this article you will find 7 intriguing tips from flowers on how to better your communication skills. *And don’t miss the film and surprise gift at the very end.
Need For Better Communication
Every effective communication is an exchange. Of ideas, emotions, and attention. Our ability to express ourselves plays a very important role in connecting us to others and connecting others to us.
The relationships of our life are bound by communication – both visible and invisible. If we observe the patterns that help us grow in life, we find that communication is one of the integral qualities that shapes our journey. Mothers, teachers, influencers, change-makers and wise masters – all know how critical the art of communication is.
When we analyse the problems in any relationship, whether at home, at work or with our closest friends, we find that communication is failing. By mastering the art of communication and improving our skillset, we can succeed in creating healthier relationships and more joyful interactions in life.
Yet, such a vital skill is not given the importance it is due, and a large number of people struggle with it. By exploring how flowers talk – attracting bees, butterflies, moths and birds – and understanding the methods they have evolved over time, we will find useful metaphors to make our own communication more beautiful. A few simple tips will show us how to become better communicators so that we can create stronger connections in our lives.
Among the most beautiful innovations of the natural world are those remarkable bursts of colour we call flowers. Despite their tremendous beauty, flowers have a major problem: Flowering plants cannot survive on their own, and instead depend on pollinators for their procreation.
To do so, they have developed an ingenious means of advertisement, which primarily utilizes their vivid colours and enchanting fragrances. In fact, a flower’s colour is specifically designed to garner attention. Insects cannot see as well as we do, and the brighter a flower, the easier it will be for a pollinator to recognize and visit it. As a result, flowers boast the most highly saturated colours found in nature.
Better Communication Tip 1: Design for Impact
Given the flood of communication all around us and the ever shortening attention span of people, it is essential to design our communication for impact. Amidst all the clutter and cacophony around us, it is not an easy task to create messages that stick in the mind.
Here’s an ABC tip from J. D. Schramm, founder of the Mastery in Communication Initiative, at Stanford Graduate School of Business: Make your communication active, brief, and clear for maximum impact. Think: What? So what? Now what? The ‘what’ is the information you need to share. The ‘so what’ tells you why this information is relevant. And the ‘now what’ articulates what action is needed. It’s great to have persuasive and meaningful content, but it also needs to be pleasing to the eye. This helps your reader take in the information as intended.
Better Communication Tip 2: Craft it to serve the audience
Flowers reward pollinating insects handsomely for their services. Flowers are like a kind of café or a rest stop for insects where they can eat, drink, and take a break. Not only that, flowers are also an ideal location for insects to find mates and, in colder parts of the world, the inside of a blossom can even be comfortably warm.
To become an effective communicator, first, we must understand our audience. By understanding their needs, perceptions and current level of understanding, one can create communication that is healthy for them. But what exactly is “healthy” communication?
Master Thich Naht Hanh says: It’s best to think of communication like food. Some of it is nourishing, and some is toxic and poisonous. Nourishing speech is understanding and positive, while toxic speech fills people with negative emotions like anger and frustration.
In order to communicate well with another person, we first need to understand ourselves. However, most of us rarely communicate with ourselves in a healthy way, which is why we may have some trouble communicating with others.
Better Communication Tip 3: Time it well
Over the centuries, plants have evolved to flower at a time that ensures maximal reproductive success. Not just the season of flowering but also the time of day during which they flower and for how long they stay open has been carefully crafted through a cycle of learning, failure, and success.
For example ‘Moon flower’ is the common name for a variety of plants that have flowers that open at night. They do this because night-flying insects mostly pollinate them. One such insect is the hawk moth. The flowers are sensitive to small changes in light so they open when these insects are out in the evening.
Experts in communication know that timing is everything. What to say, when to say it, and how much to say, are all questions that one must think about before engaging in important conversations. The difference between an average and an excellent communicator is this ability to master the timing of delivery. Knowing when not to speak is as important as knowing when to talk.
In Frank Luntz’s book Words that Work, he states that “Communication is less about what you say, and more about what people hear. It is therefore important to focus on what people are likely to hear to sidestep saying the wrong thing or having your message misconstrued. This is why certain words are deeply triggering for certain communities.”
For example, we know teenagers won’t respond very well to communication very early in the morning. And while good news can be given any time, if you are going to deliver some bad news, make sure you wait for a suitable time.
Better Communication Tip 4: Improve your listening skills
Scientists have found evidence that plants can actually hear the buzz of passing bees and produce sweeter nectar in response to entice the flying insects in. Flowers are technically the ‘ears’ because of their conical shape which feel the sound waves rather than hearing them.
Based on observations of evening primroses, the team behind the study discovered that within minutes of sensing the sound waves of nearby bee wings through flower petals, the concentration of the sugar in the plant’s nectar was increased by an average of 20 percent. The flowers even seemed able to tune out irrelevant background noises, such as the wind. ( Learn more at this link)
Being a good listener helps solve problems, resolve conflicts, and improve relationships. In the workplace, effective listening contributes to fewer errors, less wasted time, and improved accuracy. Knowing how to improve your listening skills can help you build not only friendships but also careers.
To be a good listener, one needs to be mindful of our own thoughts. Practicing mindfulness helps us become aware of the chatter in our heads and we can learn to redirect our attention to the other person. Then we can hear not only what they are saying, but also sense what they are feeling.
We don’t always fully understand people that are close to us. This is often because we don’t listen to each other. Mindful listening means carefully taking in what others say without judging them. When the person you’re communicating with sees how much you care about understanding them, that alone will lay the foundation for good communication. When someone’s telling you about their thoughts, you might be tempted to interrupt them, especially if you want to correct their perceptions. However, this might lead to a discussion where you are not truly focusing on their feelings, which is what you should be doing.
Better Communication Tip 5: Create curiosity, engagement, and payoff
The most appealing thing flowers have to offer is deeply nutritious food, namely their sweet nectar. This sugar-rich, high-energy food is stored deep inside the flower, forcing pollinators to immerse themselves in the bloom, thereby covering their bodies with the flower’s sticky pollen, the grains of which are also edible and a good source of protein. While it is easy to get to the flower, the seeker has to put some effort to reap the benefits.
Building curiosity and pay-off into your communication are the hallmarks of excellent communicators. They are able to pull the audience towards them rather than push their words on unsuspecting candidates. In classrooms with a captive audience, when teachers forget this golden rule, they lose out on engaging with their class.
Just like flowers, one of the fundamental reasons we communicate is to spread our ideas. For this endeavour to be successful, listeners should be an active part of the conversation. When listeners feel that the information adds value to them, they begin to own the ideas. That is how the message will travel far and wide.
Better Communication Tip 6: The Invisible
Although flowers can be identical in their colour or shape, there are no two floral scents that are exactly the same. The different scents allow insects to discriminate among plant species and even among individual flowers of a single species. (Source link)
“The best machines that we have can really detect these floral scents maybe a few meters away from the flower, but we know from observations that pollinators can detect floral scents from up to a kilometre away.” ~ Jeremy Chan, University of Washington.
The scent represents the invisible aspect of every communication – the emotions. While words can only go so far, it is the emotions which travel far and wide. The biggest difference between average and stellar communication is the depth of emotion it conveys.
The invisible component of every communication also includes eye contact, posture, gestures, facial expression, body language, and personal appearance. More than half of what we communicate is non-verbal through our body language and mannerisms, as well as the way we use the space and the items around us. All these aspects combine to create an emotional impact.
Just like the sense of smell has a direct connection to the brain, emotions have a way of permeating into our hearts. For every piece of communication that touches us, it is the emotions which are absorbed, retained, and passed on.
Better Communication Tip 7: The Community
During flower development, newly opened and young flowers, which are not ready to function as pollen donors, produce fewer odours and are less attractive to pollinators than are older flowers. Once a flower has been sufficiently pollinated, changes to the floral bouquets and reduction in the scents lead to a lower attractiveness of these flowers, and this helps to direct pollinators to un-pollinated flowers instead, thereby maximising the reproductive success of the plant.
The best communication is inclusive communication. In a group, no person should feel unheard or left out. Learning to grow your communication circle is the most important part of the communication process. Knowing how to empower others to share their voice creates richer and more meaningful conversations. Like the flowers we should all strive to communicate with compassion. By creating space for others to speak and listening mindfully when they do, we can form highly engaged groups.
Remember the end goal of good communication is to build stronger bonds with those around you. And by sowing the seeds of compassionate communication we are allowing the growth of compassionate communities. Communities that will spread joy, peace, and beauty into the world at large…. just like the flowers! 🐞🦋🌺
Summary: How to improve your communication skills
END NOTE: The next time you start a conversation, think of the flowers. Let them remind you of all the visible and invisible ways your words can weave their magic. Keep growing and keep flowering!
*If you are one of the few people who have managed to read this far, please leave a comment to share your own insights or thoughts. Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.
REQUEST: Please share this post so that it reaches those who might find it helpful. *And here are some flower gifts for you before you go.
One of the things that makes humans unique is our ability to walk upright. It’s a big part of who we are. Moving around might seem simple, but it requires a refined use of our brain power. In this post we explore the connection between walking and our brains, and how we can transform our nature walks to create healthier minds.
These days, we seem to be walking less and less. With easy access to cars and public transport and our work shifting to desks and screens, there are less reasons to go outside. And very often the design of our congested cities does not give us easy access to good walking routes. This sedentary lifestyle takes a silent toll on our health over time.
Let us show you some exceptionally beautiful nature trails around the world and explore the complex science behind how humans walk, revealing a process that boosts our mood, creativity, and sociability. We hope these notes will inspire you to walk and wander more. *Don’t miss the short film at the end.
CREDITS: The health tips for this article have been taken from a wonderful book called ‘In Praise of Walking‘ (2019). It examines the science behind one of the basic skills that defines us as human beings. The author, Shane O’Mara is a Neuroscientist and Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.
One of the most extraordinary nature walks on our planet is through the otherworldly Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Its strange mountain spires topped with grass and trees have been an inspiration for Chinese landscape paintings through centuries. The spires — over 3,000 of them — are made of quartz and sandstone that has eroded over time, leaving crooked towers soaring into the sky. When the fog lingers along the tropical forest below, the rock towers look they’re wafting above it. The floating mountains in Avatar were inspired by these awe-inspiring formations.
The park is in Hunan province, far enough from China’s major metropolitan areas that it was unknown for a long time.To avoid the crowds, spend time hiking in the lower elevations and skip the cable car, elevator, and other areas where tourists concentrate. Your entrance fee also gives you access for four days, so you can explore some of the less-traveled areas of the park, such as the Yangjiajie Scenic Area where a steep two-hour hike leads to an amazing view.
Nature Walk Tip: Walk with your senses
Your brain has two modes: an active mode and a default mode. When your brain is in active mode, it’s focusing on a task, doing stuff in detail – counting something, for example. In default mode, your mind is free to wander, exploring and processing memories. That’s not as frivolous as it sounds; it’s vital for keeping your brain in order and your thinking sharp. Evidence suggests that creativity occurs when these two modes of thinking occur simultaneously. And walking is a great way to encourage the brain to do exactly that. Walking – or more specifically, spatial navigation – stimulates the part of the brain around the hippocampus, which is also the part of the brain that’s active in memory
Contrary to the traditional form of walking as an exercise, the Japanese form of mindful nature walks also known as forest bathing invites you to take a slow walk in nature. By focusing on your senses and soaking in the gifts nature, we can access a range of health benefits for our mind, body, and spirit. Numerous studies confirm forest bathing’s ability to ease high blood pressure, digestive challenges, anxiety, mild depression and insomnia. spirit. According to one study, future cases of depression could be lowered by around 12 percent if everyone spent just one hour a week doing physical activity. For more info: What is Forest Bathing?
The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, ranging from Maine to Georgia. From the spiky, tree-clad mountains of the south to the wind-whipped mountain ranges of in the north, beauty is not the exception but the norm. A spectacular range of scenic nature spots, spread across the trail reveal themselves to keep the walker enchanted.
The Trail is not only as a project in land conservation, but as a way for all human beings to find solace, optimism, and rejuvenation during a time of “general upheaval,”. ~ Benton MacKaye
One can visit various parts of the trail for day hikes, and some go even farther, even to the point of attempting a thru-hike, in which they hike the entire length of the trail in one season. The most ambitious hikers do a “yo-yo” which involves hiking the whole trail from beginning to end and then back again. Obviously, this takes lots of time and stamina! Fore more info visit: https://appalachiantrail.org/ | Beautiful sections of the nature walk.
Nature Walk Tip: Getting Lost
Neuroscientist John O’Keefe has made some pioneering discoveries regarding how the brain. He discovered that our brains contain place cells – they tell us where we are and they work most effectively when we walk. Further research has revealed even more fascinating types of cells in the brain that help us get around. Head-direction cells are essentially an inner compass, indicating our orientation. There are also cells that respond to nearby objects. All in all, the brain more or less has its own GPS network.
Once in a while try walking in an area that you have no idea about. Let your internal sense of direction guide you. Explore things that fill you with awe, wonder, and fascination. Let the signs of nature, the direction of shadows, the sounds on the wind, and the path of the sun guide you. Making walking a habit can preserve your memory. Researchers following up on 300 older adults after 13 years found that those who had walked six to nine miles a week lowered their risk of memory problems by 50 percent. Research Source
With their colossal limestone walls and gloriously green valleys, Italy’s Dolomites are home to some of the world’s most majestic scenery — and mountain huts called rifugios make it all the more accessible.
A monumental mountain range in northeastern Italy, the Dolomites have been declared a World Heritage Site since 2009. There are several Alta Via routes, but the AV1, with fewer exposed sections, is ideal for less experienced hikers. The rifugios or traveler’s huts are normally open from June to September.
On the walk you can wander through lush Alpine grazing lands and valley floors carpeted with pine and fir trees. Largely because of the beauty of the pale dolomitic limestone, panoramic vistas are a constant. Experience an exquisite glow that happens at sunrise and sunset, when the dolomitic limestone is bathed in gorgeous peachy-pink hues. For details and a travel story visit this link.
Nature Walk Tip: Staying Healthy
Given our boxed-in, busy daily lives, it’s especially important to have a moment of calm as part of your daily routine. But, unfortunately, our cities don’t make it easy for us. Over half the global population lives in cities and urban areas – and that will probably rise to 80 percent by 2050.
Researchers sent a group of walkers into a forested area, and another walkers group into a city, for an hour. Afterward, the forest walkers had improved heart and lung function; the city walkers didn’t.
Walking in nature is known to boost our immune function. Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder. Source: Harvard article on health benefits of walking.
In a country known for exceptional trekking, one of the most iconic trails is the walk to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail. There is the Salkentay route where you can rest in comfort each evening of the hike. But if you’re seeking an alternative route to the illustrious ruins, then perhaps the Choquequirao trek is more apt. Known as The Cradle of Gold, Choquequirao is a former Inca stronghold isolated in the cloud forests above the Apurimac River. It’s just as impressive as Machu Picchu but it’s only accessible by foot, eliminating the likelihood of encountering crowds.
These walks are a journey back in time. A walk among the cloud filled forests makes the memories of our present day hassles fade away into the distance. And when you arrive at the ruins set amidst the magical mountains, we receive the gift of briefly living the lives of ancient civilisations through our imagination.
Nature Walk Tip: Finding Answers
You’ve probably heard people say you should “sleep on” a difficult question – but why not also try “walking on” it? Next time you have a challenging problem to solve at work, give it a go.
Biomimicry is a scientific practice that learns from and mimics the strategies used by species alive today. It offers an empathetic, interconnected understanding of how life works and ultimately where we fit in. There are many examples of exceptional ideas that have come from observing nature. From the flight of planes, the bullet train, or the humble velcro. On a more philosophical note, walking in nature can help us find answers, because we are a part of nature too. The patterns and problems of our inner world are often mysteriously reflected in the art of nature outside.
Welcome to a walker’s paradise, where a network of trails winds past rugged coastlines, through farmland, river valleys and towering forest, to dramatic mountain ranges.
Scattered across the country, each within easy access of cities and towns, the tracks are well-kept and popular with both locals and visitors. Each route is different and offers a one-with-nature experience you can’t get anywhere else.
Walking and hiking throughout New Zealand is the best way to see beautiful landscapes and explore vast wilderness areas. Each Great Walk has been selected for unique combinations of cultural significance, exceptional scenery, and accessibility. Over the Great Walks season between October and April, huts along the tracks are equipped with flushing toilets, cooking gas, and other comforts that aren’t typically seen in DOC huts. As these walks are popular, will need to book these huts in advance. For more info visit: https://www.newzealand.com/in/walking-and-hiking/
Nature Walk Tip: Making Friends
One study found that elderly people who walked for around 150 minutes each week were more socially active; they also had higher levels of well-being compared to elderly people who walked less. Walking is also a crucial step in young children’s social development – once they can walk, they both play and vocalize a lot more. Adults who walked for 40 minutes three times a week slowed age-related declines in brain function and improved their performance on cognitive tasks.
However, the most significant friendship we create is the one with nature itself. Those who know how to silence the mind to match the silence of nature, find a rare and invaluable gift in life. A space of unconditional acceptance and the freedom to know our true selves.
Nature Walk Film
Watching this heart-warming short film by Gnarly Bay. Journey with them as they walk through Chile and Patagonia to find an important life message. Do watch in full-screen and with headphones if possible.
NATURE WALK SUMMARY
There are many ways one can benefit from standing up, leaving the house, and taking a stroll in Nature. By walking more we can boost our physical as well as mental health. It also helps us become more creative and social. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to journey to the far corners of the world to experience its healing effects. Discovering the wild and wonderful in our own neighbourhood is the seed that flowers into our well-being. And our connectedness creates a lifetime of learning, wisdom, and growth.
Feel free to add your favourite nature trail recommendations in the comments below. What gifts and lessons have you received from your walks?
Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through inspiring stories, films, and articles . Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal
REQUEST: Do share this post with those who might find it useful | *And check out our Nature Calm course for more ideas.
At the end of a tough year, sharing a gentle forest song to bring in some calm. We hope your new year is filled with peace and love.
There are many gifts that trees and forests give us. Some of them are obvious, but some remain hidden. In our race for development and growth, a few of these gifts may have been forgotten or overlooked. But spending a few mindful moments with the trees brings them back to our attention. And attention leads to awareness.
FOREST SONG | Nature Video
* Please watch in full screen with headphones for best results.
The invisible gift of breath that connects us to the forest, teaches us a simple truth on the art of living. Amidst the ups and downs, twists and turns, the ever present breath reminds us that life is about giving and receiving. Learning to give, is learning to love. And learning to receive is finding peace.
This forest song has been shot in Eagle Nest Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the most enchanting regions of the eastern Himalayas. It is a haven for birds and hosts an extraordinary variety, numbers and accessibility of species. *The bird featured in the film above is an emerald pigeon.
A free download of this forest song poster is given at the very end of this post. Feel free to share the film or the poster with those who might need a breath of peace. Read on for a simple forest meditation and the text only version of the forest song.
FOREST MEDITATION | Tree Practice
Here is a beautiful tree mediation by Lee Steppacher. It’s called the ‘Tree Practice’
“Tree” is a word, a concept. This a practice to really know a tree, with all of our senses, and our relationship to it.
Keep attention in the body, below thoughts.
Walk with the intention of finding a tree that you are drawn to. Let your body guide you. If someone else takes ‘your’ tree, find another – there are many.
Spend some time a ways away from the tree and take in the whole tree with your eyes.
Notice its silhouette, the aspects of the tree. Consider parts of the tree you cannot see, e.g. the roots.
Reflect on how this tree came to be here, what it has experienced. Consider how the tree interacts with the world around it – the wind, beings living in, on, under the tree, relations to water in soil etc.
Move closer to the tree and get to know tree more intimately, with all your senses: touch the bark, smell it, notice its temperatures, the sounds of leaves —- whatever feels right.
Keep attention in body, no need to think. Gently move from outside experience to inside experience.
Be light with exploration. How else might you connect?
Lean on tree, feel its support. Sit at its base, try tree to your back, or to your front.
Maintain openness, and listen.
Scientists have found that trees can communicate in a special way– don’t over think this (especially if you are a scientist). No need to ask how or why, but just consider what you might learn from the tree.
FOREST SONG | Words
I am your breath as you are mine
Our lives linked forever in time
On your first breath I was there for you
As I am with you right here, right now
In your sadness you may forget me
In their madness they may cut me
but till I remain I send you my gift
A simple truth for a complex world
Learning to give, is learning to love
And learning to receive is finding peace
What lessons have the forest gifted you? Let us know in the comments below. For more gifts from nature, try our Nature Calm course.
Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through inspiring stories, films, and articles . Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.
REQUEST: In the season of giving, please share this post with those who might need a little peace and love. | *Download the forest song poster here.
Mindfulness group activities in nature offer a simple and effective way of creating enriching experiences in life. The exercises are also a great source of nurturing strong, caring groups that support each other in the time of need – just like a forest supports its individual trees.
Many people have turned to mindfulness for calm and happiness in their lives, but a large number have tried and given up too soon. While it is true that mindfulness is an individual practice, it is easier to learn, practice, and grow when you take the journey with a supportive, like-minded group of people.
It’s because mindfulness not only allows us to create a deeper understanding of the Self, it is also about expanding the concept of Self to include others. Group mindfulness allows you to see your struggles with the mind, reflected in your peers. You learn from those who are more advanced, and you support those who are just starting.
Mindfulness Activities for Groups
In this article we cover some mindfulness activities and exercises that are uniquely suited for groups. We’ll show you how to design the activities so that you can overcome common challenges faced while conducting mindfulness in groups. These engaging set of exercises can be adapted for people across age groups – from adults to kids. So you can practice them with friends or family.
*In the midst of the Pandemic, we have found that sending these activities to groups and creating a mindfulness Zoom session to share experiences and insights from their nature walks is a healing experience. Don’t miss the short film at the very end!
All the activities mentioned integrate elements of nature, which makes it easy for beginners to access the concept of mindfulness. The groups will not only achieve the benefits of mindfulness, but also the many health benefits of being outdoors.
Mindful Listening: Language of the Birds
What is the difference between regular bird-watching and mindful birding? While our eyes make up the primary sense for the former, the most important sense for mindful birding is our ears. Rather than counting the number of different birds we can see, our focus is on learning how to create calm with the help of the birds.
We recommend keeping all cameras and phones away. Once you find a space that has sufficient bird activity, ask the group members to find a spot for themselves and sit in silence.
Mindfulness Activity Prompts
Listen to the closest bird. Listen to the farthest bird. Listen to the birds in different directions. Listen to the silence in between the birdcalls. Listen for conversations. Follow the sound of a particular species and imagine what the birds are trying to say?
The group can share their stories, insights and learning at the end of the session.
Spending time with the birds in a mindful way leads to some beautiful insights. Here one such story from a flock of swifts by Helen Macdonald, Author H is for Hawk.
“Swifts have, of late, become my fable of community, teaching us about how to make right decisions in the face of oncoming bad weather. They aren’t always cresting the atmospheric boundary layer at dizzying heights; most of the time they are living below it in thick and complicated air. That’s where they feed and mate and bathe and drink and are. But to find out about the important things that will affect their lives, they must go higher to survey the wider scene, and there communicate with others about the larger forces impinging on their realm.”
Just like the birds, sometimes we have to let our minds soar above our day to day worries and see our lives from a higher perspective. Mindfulness allows us to do that, helping us discover wiser choices for our future.
Mindful Awareness: Balance of Stones
Mindfulness creates a balance of attention and awareness. The real goal of mindfulness is not just paying attention to the mind, but creating an awareness of its true nature.
Balance Exercises have found to be very helpful in relieving stress and reducing inner tension. Additionally, they improve focus, concentration and memory. Finally, the unquestionable benefit of the mindfulness activity is the ability to control emotions in critical and stressful moments. The simple act of balancing stones is a very powerful mindfulness technique.
Mindfulness Activity Prompts
The activity starts by collecting suitable stones and in the first round participants work on their own to see how high can they make their stone towers.
In the next round the same activity is done in pairs, but in silence, without any exchange of words. Once all the pairs have created their stone towers, we dismantle all the stone towers for the final round.
The final round, also done in pairs involves creating an inverted pyramid of stones – with the smaller stones at the base, and larger stones on the top.
Instead of just focusing on stacking the stones, pay attention to the center of gravity of each stone. With patience one can find out the exact alignment between two stones, which leads to the equilibrium of balance.
At the end of this exercise, the group can sit in a circle and spend a little time to contemplate things that bring balance to their lives.
Mindful Observation: Mushroom Walks
When you enter the woods to search for mushrooms you have to be alert, silent, and calm. By being mindful of your steps as you walk in the forest gently, you can turn this rewarding activity into an exercise in mindfulness.
While observing the breath is a very common mindfulness exercise, people who are going through a difficult phase in life find it very challenging because of troubling thoughts. Therefore, we should start with other senses first, especially when introducing mindfulness to beginners.
Our visual sense is our strongest sense. Turning to nature to discover its many treasures fills us with awe, wonder, and deep calm.
NOTE: Be sure to buy a good field guide for mushrooms from your area or go with an expert. Some basic instructions for Mushroom Walks, as per the Modern Forager are given below.
1. Tread Lightly. Don’t trample all the little mushrooms and potential mushrooms in your hunting ground. It is kind of cool to leave no obvious picker’s trail around your mushrooms.
2. Make a positive identification using more than one source wherever possible. Do not eat mushrooms with any features that contradict the description. Contact a mushroom expert or club if you are not sure. “When in doubt, just leave the mushroom.”
3. Mature mushrooms release spores into the air that are essentially mushroom seeds. You can respect the spores by leaving some of the mushrooms untouched. Also use a porous and an open-air container for your mushrooms as you walk through the woods. Don’t use plastic bags — which can ruin your harvest anyways; look for mesh bags, baskets, buckets with holes drilled in them,
4. Don’t over-pick. It is courteous and considerate to leave mushrooms behind for another picker.
5. Micro-trash is a big problem! Try to leave none and collect some if you see any.
While mushrooms are typically associated with death and decay, they are in fact an integral part of renewal in the universal cycle of life. We recommend closing the mindfulness walk with a short mushroom circle meditation. Sitting in a circle of silence, the participants meditate upon the impermanence that permeates all things in nature – including our thoughts.
“Mushroom Mycelium represents rebirth, rejuvenation, regeneration. Fungi generates soil, that gives life. The task that we face today is to understand the language of nature.”
Paul Stamets, renowned mycologist
Mindful Immersion: Art of Leaves
There is a common myth that mindfulness has to be a very serious practice. However common sense tells us that to turn any activity into a habit, you have first learn how to have fun with it. If you don’t enjoy the process, it is difficult to sustain.
The mindless entertainment we engage in through television or social media may keep our attention focused, but it does not provide rest to our mind. On the contrary it over-stimulates it. One can see its impact in depleted attention spans, reduced concentration, and poor memory.
Here is a collection of 3 creative mindfulness activities that make use of the leaves for mindful immersion. These activities help you create some unique artworks, especially in Autumn.
Mindfulness Activity Prompts
Leaf Tracing: Pick any leaf. You choose a simple one or a complex shape. Trace the outline of the leaf with your eyes as slow as you can. Move from one edge of the base, all the way around to the complete the loop. This exercise is an excellent way to slow down your thoughts.
Leaf Collage: Group members work in pairs. Using different leaves they have to create a mythical or magical forest creature. Use the imagination to escape into a hidden world. This simple exercise raises the energy levels of the group. So the group leader must ensure that the silence of the group does not get lost.
Leaf Mandala: Each person in the group is assigned to collects leaves of a particular colour or shape. The group then works as one unit to create a geometric design on the forest floor using all the different leaves they have collected. It could be concentric circles, spirals, or a four-sided maze.
Mindful Appreciation: In Search Of Wonder
One of the most powerful Mindfulness exercise involves focusing on a positive thought or emotion. It helps to shift our attention from the negative cycles of our mind that pull us down, to a more positive frame of mind.
For this activity we can either use the treasure-hunt model where the group goes out into nature and collects object based on a pre-given list, or we can ask the group members to just take a photograph of the objects.
For larger groups it is better to use photographs as it creates a lesser impact on the surrounding. The simple rule all participants need to follow is that you can only take one photograph per item on the list. By restricting the number of photographs, we get the group members to be more mindful of each shot they take. With this single rule we can turn our device of distraction into a mode of meditation.
Here’s our list of recommendations. Feel free to create your own.
Mindfulness Activity Prompts
One thing that makes you smile. One thing that brings you calm. One that fills you with hope. One thing that makes you curious. One thing that fills you with awe. One thing that you are thankful for in nature.
What happens when we experience wonder? By Katie Steedly People get along. When people are struck with wonder, they generally are not yelling, arguing, fighting, or angry. Wonder brings people together. We all agree that flowers are wonderful. We all agree that ducklings are wonderful. We all agree that coral reefs are wonderful. Butterflies? Wonderful. Chocolate? Wonderful. Sunsets? Wonderful. Wonder provides a moment where we can hold hands, (perhaps) tear up, and find common ground. The noise of life fades. A silence akin to speechlessness falls when we experience wonder. A gentle hush that is beyond words eases tension. Reflection paints wonderful moments with reverence. Wonder is calm in the chaos of the world.
The ability of Nature to inspire awe and wonder are one of the big factors that contribute to its healing effects on our mind. After a nature session, brain scans showed a sizable reduction of blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex region. It is a region linked to sadness, withdrawal and general grumpiness.
Mindful Service: Gardens of Kindness
Community service as a mindfulness activity is an essential way of channelizing group energies for creating positive transformations. One such exercise involves creating or working in community gardens.
The real measure of our progress in mindfulness reflects in our behaviour and actions. The awareness of mindful groups is not limited to the present moment, but extends to foresee the impact of their actions on the future.
Given below are some examples and stories of community gardens. We hope they will inspire you to to create your own mindfulness community garden program.
FOOD GARDEN: South Central Los Angeles, USA is a food desert – an area filled with liquor stores, fast food chains and vacant lots. Tired of driving 45 minutes to buy food that is not chemically treated, Ron Finley decided to turn some of those unused plots, starting with the patch in front of his house, into a food forest. With obesity rates 5X higher in South Central than in Beverly Hills, a neighbourhood only 8 to 10 miles away, Finley realized that food is the problem, but is also the solution. “The drive-throughs are killing more people than drive-bys”, he says. Finley and a group of volunteer gardeners from all over Los Angeles are changing that, one lot at a time. “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”
MEDITATION GARDEN: In the city of Pune, India lies a small meditation garden that used to be a public wasteland with a sewage line running through it. Through years of hard work and systematic treatment of the land, the area was transformed into a space of tranquility. People from all walks of life make use of the park now, and it serves as an oasis of calm in the bustling city. Learn to create your own meditation garden through this article.
Mindfulness of Breath
Every breath we take is a gift from nature. By being mindful of this simple truth we can learn a beautiful life-lesson. Watch this forest song to learn the mindfulness lesson hidden in every breath. *Full-screen recommended
We hope you enjoyed these mindfulness exercises and activities for groups. We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.
Subscribe to our free newsletter for fresh ideas in your inbox once every month. For more activities and exercises do check out our Nature Calm course.
Mindfulness Activities For Groups: Summary
In nature everything exists as a relationship. Through mindfulness we learn to explore those relationships. Seeing a part of our Self in everything, and a part of everything in our Self, is the essence of mindfulness that our groups can help us discover.
Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forest heal.
REQUEST: Please share this post so that it reaches those who might find it helpful.
What does forest bathing have to do with a remedy for loneliness and low self-esteem? Let us go on a forest bathing trip in South Korea to find some clues. Through this article we hope to inspire you to bring some of these ideas into your own nature walks and forest bathing routines.
Forest Bathing is the art of immersing yourself in nature to rejuvenate your mind, body, energy and to activate nature’s healing benefits. For those unfamiliar with the concept here’s our article from Japan that explains: What is Forest Bathing?
Living in a city creates many hidden challenges for our health. South Korea has developed innovative systems to counter these harmful effects. Many of these Forest Therapy concepts remain relatively less known due to a variety of cultural and language barriers. We will introduce you to some of the enriching ideas and share how you can benefit from them.
Life in Korean Cities
About 85% of South Koreans live in urban areas. The country has seen rapid urbanisation and advancement in technology. It has one of the world’s highest Internet speeds and is at the cutting edge of the latest broadband revolution.
Florence Williams, author of Nature Fix states: Perhaps no one has embraced the healing effect of nature with more enthusiasm than the South Koreans. Many suffer from work stress, digital addiction, and intense academic pressures. More than 70 percent say their jobs, which require notoriously long hours, make them depressed, according to a survey by electronics giant Samsung. Yet this economically powerful nation has a long history of worshipping nature spirits. The ancient proverb “Shin to bul ee—Body and soil are one” is still popular.
A big social trend seen in South Korea is the rapid decline in number of marriages as well as birth rates. According to Statistics Korea in 2017 nearly one third of all households were single person households and almost 90 percent of them are exposed to a feeling of loneliness.
Culturally, South Korean pop culture has become enormously popular all over the world, but what is less known is the high aspiration levels created by the Media frenzy. Completely surrounded by subliminal messaging and advertising, many people get caught in a self defeating trap. The quest for living the dream life can take a toll on anyone’s self-esteem. *Today, South Korea is widely considered as the “plastic surgery capital” of the world, boasting the highest number of cosmetic procedures per capita worldwide.
Watch a glimpse of the life in Seoul, the capital of South Korea and notice a few of the social nuances mentioned above, in this beautiful video by Brandon Li.
Forest Bathing in Korea
Running along the length of Korea are the timeless Baekdu-Daegan mountains. Covered in lush forests filled with aromatic Hinoki trees, they provide a comforting escape from the rush of the city lives. For millennia these mountains have stood as sentinels, calmly watching the flow of time and the journey of humans.
They influence the weather, the ecology, and the water systems, which support agriculture and feed the entire nation. The wise elders in ancient times named them energy spine mountains. They believed that Baekdu-daegan continuously fed essential life-energy throughout the land of Korea. Its unimpeded clear flow was considered necessary for the birth and growth of heroic and virtuous citizens, and thus for the health, strength and prosperity of the Korean Nation.
These enchanting mountains hold a vast network of hiking trails that are also great for forest bathing and forest therapy. The intriguing, interesting, beautiful part of these trails is the way they weave through and connect Korea’s nature, culture, rural life, and food.
Korea’s Healing Forests
Today these mountains and forests are the inspiration for the ambitious National Forest Plan. Its goal is “to realize a green welfare state, where the entire nation enjoys well-being.”
Over years of research the Koreans were able to scientifically establish the multiple healing benefits of nature. What’s commendable is how they were able to put this knowledge into creating systems and spaces for forest bathing and forest therapy. To reach a vast spectrum of people, the forest welfare program was divided into 7 distinct stages based on the human life cycle.
In this section we give you a glimpse of the different sections and highlight the benefits of forest bathing for our lives.
Forest Bathing Benefits Across Ages
Birth One of the biggest benefits of forest bathing is the relief it can provide from anxiety, panic, and worry. Having the lowest fertility ratein the world, the South Koreans hold the expecting mothers-to-be in high regard. By creating special pre-natal classes and forest meditation sessions in nature, they not only help the parents ease their anxieties and worries but also establish nature as a space where families can bond with each other.
Childhood Across many of the forests of Korea you will find ‘Children’s forest playground’. Open spaces in nature where children can interact and play safely in the ambience of the forest. Taking this a step further is the establishing of Forest Kindergarten with trained faculty who can guide children in the beautiful art of learning with nature.
Time in the forest also led the children to report feeling happier, less anxious and more optimistic about their futures, according to a study by Prof. Dr. Park Bum-Jin. Many Koreans have been so intensively urban for so long that they can feel out of place in the woods. “Children and the younger generation don’t really have experience in nature; so many of them think of the forest as dirty or scary. If we don’t change their mind-set now, there will be no chance.” he says.
Adolescence Nature offers equilibrium between technology and human interaction. It creates avenues for healthier outflow of teen anxiety, energy and aggression. An interesting experiment was the “Happy Train” which delivers school bullies to a national forest for two days so they can learn to be nicer. Why does it work, you ask? It’s because no one teaches us humility and respect better than nature.
By incorporating regular programs under the theme ‘Education in the Forest’ many schools are helping their students understand the natural world and its magical creatures. Given the craze for video games in South Korea, there are also some digital detox programs for preteens. The aim is to spark awe, wonder, and fascination with the beauty of the natural world. In the confines of nature, the mind can truly open up and unlock the doors of creativity.
Early Adulthood All across the country there are a network of forest hiking trails within easy reach from the urban centers. Bukhansan National Park near Seoul, the capital, attracts millions of visitors every year.
These hikes offer a break from the noise, pollution, and crowds of the city but also allow the hikers to raise their moods as well as energy levels through a range of activities. Testing one’s strength and endurance on a hiking trail is a great way to build resilience.
Nature makes us realize that unlike the promises of a plastic surgeon, there are no cosmetic quick fixes for the challenges of life.
Green Gym is another activity which is increasing in popularity these days. Green Gym was developed by The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and Dr. William Bird from UK. Green Gym is a wonderful concept about improving the local green environment through light physical activities such as tree planting, pruning, and vines removal. It brings people together to connect with nature as well as with each other.
The benefit-cost analysis of Green Gym shows that 1 pound of investment creates 4.02 pounds of social value. Green Gym activities emphasise not only the improvement of green spaces in the community but also on strengthening social communication and connections among the local residents.
Midlife Given how effective forest bathing is against the ill effects of stress and burnout, it is no wonder that many people are turning to nature for their breaks and holidays.
With two-thirds of Korea made up of forests, it is easy to escape from city life and revert back to the laws of nature, seeking out a new life by tasting the peaceful serenity of the great outdoors.
Korea has 37 state-run national recreational forests scattered across the nation. Many of them are designated by the government to create recreational facilities where citizens can fully appreciate all that the woods have to offer.
In a typical recreational forest, like the Jangseong Healing Forest, hundreds of visitors come through every month, including three to four groups per day geared to some kind of healing, from cancer patients to kids with allergies to prenatal groups and everything in between. Depending on the program, participants may do activities like nature bathing, guided forest meditation, woodcrafts and tea ceremonies. But the heart of it all is walking in the Hinoki forest.
The aroma released by these trees to ward of microbes and pathogens has an added benefit for humans. Breathing in these compounds known as Phytoncides increases the count of Natural Killer – NK cells in our blood which is our body’s defence against cancers and tumor cells.
Seniors – Late Adulthood Creating access to nature for its senior citizens is one of the most important goals of any society. Spending time in nature works wonders for their mental health as well as physical immunity. With more time on their hands, simple activities or walks in nature allow the elders to avoid loneliness and depressive thoughts.
South Korea is creating a network of healing forests across the country. In addition, the Forest Agency is building an ambitious $100 million forest healing complex, complete with addiction treatment center, ‘barefoot garden’, herb garden, suspension bridge, and 50 kilometers of trails.
After Death In the traditional Korean philosophy of a holistic world-view and cycles of life and death, a unique ‘National Tree Burial Forest’ has been created. It is an eco-friendly way to send off the loved ones.
The ashes and remains of the body provide life to a seed that will be nurtured to grow into a tree. Over time, these trees of pine, oak, wild cherry and many other local species will become part of a healing forest. Providing a space for future generations to immerse in forest baths and contemplate their own journeys in the circle of life.
What’s commendable is the vision that S.Korea has about integrating nature into their lifestyles. Chungbuk University offers a “forest healing” degree program, and job prospects for graduates are good. It’s a cradle-to-grave operation: Programs include everything from Forest Welfare Experts, Forest Interpreters, Kindergarten Instructors, Forest Trail instructors, Forest Healing instructors and much more. The intention is to implement multiple forest therapy programs so that they can maximise the healing effects of nature, across their entire society.
References: *Prof. Dr. Bum-Jin Park, Director – Lab of Forest Environment and Human Health, Chungnam National University, South Korea. ** Ted article by Florence Williams
Forest Legend from South Korea
Many Korean legends have Dokkaebi in the stories. Dokkaebi, also known as “Korean goblins”, are nature deities or spirits possessing extraordinary powers and abilities that are used to interact with humans, at times playing tricks on them and at times helping them.
One of the legends is about an old man who lived all alone. One day a Dokkaebi visited his house. Surprised, the kind old man gave the Dokkaebi an alcoholic beverage and they had a drink together. The Dokkaebi visited the old man often and they began to have long drinking sessions. One day, the man took a walk by himself in the woods near the river and discovered that his reflection looked like the Dokkaebi. With fear, he realized that he was gradually becoming that creature. The man made a plan to prevent himself from becoming a Dokkaebi and invited the creature to his house. He asked, “What are you most afraid of?” and the Dokkaebi answered, “I’m afraid of blood. What are you afraid of?” The man pretended to be frightened and said, “I’m afraid of money.” The next day, the old man killed a cow and poured its blood all over his house. The Dokkaebi, with shock and great anger, ran away and said, “I’ll be back with your greatest fear!” The next day, the Dokkaebi brought bags of money and threw it at the old man. After that, the Dokkaebi never came back and the old man became the richest person in the town.
Learning: The company we keep will slowly change what we become. In an age of rapid urbanization, the city lives are influencing and modifying our very human nature. The thing we should be afraid of losing is our mental, physical, and social health. Thankfully, the forests offer us a healing sanctuary and a space to remember who we are: A part of nature.
Forest Bathing Insights
Take two songbirds whose home ranges are a few trees apart as an example. These birds are likely to encounter one another relatively frequently. By contrast, if a highway separates them, then they may never encounter one another.
A large part of our behaviour is shaped by our environment. It is influenced by the spaces where our social interactions take place. Over time, repeated behaviour transforms into habits, which build up our personality. This is the way our inner nature works.
City environments and the fast pace of lives are changing the way we live and interact with each other. Living and working in our enclosures we manage to create our own private islands of isolation. Our chances and reasons for interaction with other people become dependent on screens. And these screens lead us to commercial advertisers who prey on our insecurities and poke our inadequacies so that we can aspire to achieve their ever-changing version of a perfect life.
In many ways, the hectic, high-pressure lifestyles in South Korea remind us of the direction in which societies across most parts of the world are moving. If we were to reflect on the lessons learnt, we realize the true value of incorporating nature into our day to day routine.
The forests help us break free from the anxieties of our overstimulated minds. They recharge our energy to face the challenges of the gruelling city lives. They grant us the wisdom of accepting our imperfections and finding fulfilment in the small gifts of life that nature has to offer.
Returning to nature is a great way to boost not only our mental and physical health but also our social health and self-esteem.
Stay wild. Stay connected.
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How to create your own meditation garden and learn a variety of engaging garden meditations. Make an island of calm that you can return to, whenever you need.
Our city lives are slowly swallowing up our nature spaces and nature time. Even our interactions with other people are largely shifting to electronic screens. There is an increasing gap between our inner need for a true connection and our actual reality. Especially in these times of isolation and uncertainty we can observe growing signs of loneliness, anxiety, and depression in our society.
So what’s a simple and effective way to restore our connection with life and imbibe the healing benefits of nature. With our homes becoming our sanctuary, we can all bring a slice of calm, beauty, and joy into our lives through meditation gardens.
A true meditation garden is not about the space you have on ground, rather it is about creating the relation between your mind and your garden.
WHAT IS A MEDITATION GARDEN?
A meditation garden is an island of tranquility which allows you to connect with nature and with yourself. Living in a sea of turbulence, it offers you a space to plant seeds of peace, hope, wonder, and joy within you. With a few simple nature elements you can transform any garden into a meditation garden or create a new one from an inviting earth.
The heart of a meditation garden, beyond its visual appeal and the calming aesthetics is the thought, practice, and care which goes into connecting with your garden.
In this post we cover:
Beautiful ideas to create your own meditation garden.
Meditation garden elements that can enhance your experience.
Philosophy behind their use.
Inspiration and examples of meditation gardens.
Some simple but powerful garden meditations.
Origin of meditation gardens.
Benefits of garden meditations.
MEDITATION IN THE GARDEN
Event though different cultures and countries adopt different approaches, the basic idea remains the same – to create a sense of peace and serenity. Working with your garden to bring out these emotions is a deep meditation in itself. There are many nature elements that can become a part of your meditation in the garden. The real art comes in creating balance and harmony between the different elements. Elements which convey the essence of nature and serve as a gateway to calm and clarity. The design elements should be simple, natural, and low maintenance.
Here is our list of recommendations, but feel free to add your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.
ROCKS Rocks are storytellers of time. Sitting quietly in their corner, with stories tucked away in their folds and shapes. Those who have the patience to sit with them can journey in time and space. Their selection, size, shape and placement in relation to each other is very important. The rocks can give you an appearance of islands, valleys, and mountains – transporting you to different worlds.
WATER Adding water adds movement, stillness, and reflection to your garden. The sight and sound of flowing water is intrinsically soothing and meditative. An ecologically conscious choice to save water is to use a tiny fountain that you can turn on, as and when required. A simpler and friendlier option to incorporate the water element is to have a vessel with clear water in it. Even a small vessel can hold the entire sky in it.
LAND The lifeblood of your garden is the soil and earth it rests on. Interactions with the earth have a deep healing effect. Antidepressant microbes in soil result in the production of higher levels of serotonin in our body and lift our moods. Walking barefoot and working with the soil is a great meditation in itself. Bonus Tip: Having a composting unit, that turns your leaf litter into compost is a great addition to any garden. In nature nothing goes waste, and the process of transformation from waste to life-giving compost, is nourishing for the garden and filled with beautiful life-lessons for you. When life gives you crap – compost it.
LIFE The plants that you choose to be a part of your garden create the character of your space. Combining plants that grow to different heights and form layers creates a beautiful image of a tiny forest. It leads to an optimal use of space and is beneficial for the plants themselves. Other important factors to consider are color, texture, fragrance, and form. Native plants are the best choice for your garden. They are low in maintenance and will attract a lot of native birds, butterflies, and bees.
PATHS Creating contours and curves in your garden has a relaxing effect on your mind. It is a sharp contrast to the straight lines of our houses, cars, and offices. You can consider adding meandering paths and labyrinths for slow mindful walks.
YOU The secret ingredient of any meditation garden is you. Creating a small bench or a place to sit and contemplate in peace, forms an essential cornerstone of the garden. You can also place certain objects or statues that bring you peace of mind. Another addition could be baritone wind chimes or meditation bells for gentle sound.
All these elements are a starting point for your creativity. Space and balance are very important, as is motion and tranquility. Add in lots of flow and elements that can help you focus in the right state of mind. Start small and let the garden evolve, first in your mind and then on the ground.
MEDITATION GARDEN IDEAS
Given below is a slideshow of some ideas and design inspirations for meditation gardens from different corners of the world. It is just a reference, to observe the use of different elements. Click on the arrows to scroll through. Notice the emotion in each.
Having a meditation garden and not knowing how to meditate with it is like having a car and not knowing how to drive. While someone else can drive the car for us, but only we can meditate for ourselves. Given below are some simple garden meditations. You can find many more throughout our website. (find your calm here)
The first stumbling block for beginners is trying to set a goal or desired outcome for your meditation. Instead, the meditation becomes far more effective if we learn to simply enjoy the process. One can think of garden meditations as spending time with a close friend. Without any effort. Without any pretense.
A free download link of these 5 garden meditations is given at the end of this post.
Each one of us will have our own unique way of meditating in the garden. But the precious insights we find, will connect us to something that’s universal.
“There is random love in the universe. Some of it is unconditional. Some of it is for you.”
MEDITATION GARDENS ORIGIN
Historians estimate that the first gardens came to life about 10,000 B.C. – along overgrown river banks and the wet foothills of monsoon regions in India and Asia. By cordoning off places for personal use, these gardens were primarily “forest gardens”. They were used as a source for food and a protection barrier. Much later, with the emergence of the first civilizations, wealthy influential leaders in societies began to create gardens purely for aesthetic purposes.
Spiritual gardens emerged in Japan in the 8th century CE. The arrangement consisted mainly of of rocks. In the Zen tradition, the gardens served to remind practitioners that life can be elemental, simple. The first Zen gardens were called “zazen-seki”, “meditation rocks” because of their simplicity. The essence was to radiate silence, calm, and tranquility to anyone contemplating them.
In the current day, meditation gardens are present all over the world. The famous public ones being found all the way from Kyoto (Japan) to Glasgow (Scotland) and San Francisco (USA). But public meditation gardens are more of tourist attractions. To get the most authentic experience of a meditation garden you have to create one. The process of creating your own meditation garden, is the real meditation.
GARDEN MEDITATION BENEFITS
Within our hyperactive lives, spending even a few contemplative moments can lead to a wide range of benefits. Gardens across history and geography – over different periods of time and different cultures tell us that humans have always found aid and assistance through their gardens.
Meditation gardens are an effective way to clear your head, get grounded, and gain strength in this hyperactive, chaotic modern world. They can even help physically by lowering blood pressure, strengthening the immune system, improving general brain function, and lessening pain & inflammation.
Scientists have found that spending two hours a week in nature is linked to better health and well-being. The National Health Service in United Kingdom has prescribed time in nature and community gardening projects as part of “green prescriptions”. In Shetland for example, islanders with depression and anxiety may be given “nature prescriptions”, with doctors there recommending walks and activities that allow people to connect with the outdoors. (Source)
“Gardens are our teachers. There is a gardener in all of us, especially when tragedy is at our doorstep.”
In Nature things change with time. So will your garden, as will you. We hope these changes become a part of your learning journey and sow seeds of positive transformation across your life.
Do you have a meditation garden tip for us? Add it in the comments for all the other readers. To know more about the Healing Forest project, you can visit our homepage. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and get new ideas and articles in your inbox once a month: Subscribe link.
Download 5 garden meditation posters. We hope you liked this post. Please do share it in your circles with those who may find it of help.
Let the rivers of the world show you how to be resilient in life. Dive in, as we share inspiring examples and stories of resilience from the rivers.
Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Being resilient does not mean that people don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Rather it is an inner trait which helps them adapt to the changing situation and keep moving forward.
Floating down the river of time, each one of us will meet our own set of obstacles, hurdles and difficulties. How we overcome them or deal with them is based on our resilience. Here’s a list of some interesting ideas for navigating through the challenges that life may brings us.
The ancient, abandoned Mayan city of Tikal is a famous site in Central America. Its huge structures – some of which are over 70 meters high – show that the Mayans must have been supremely powerful and wealthy. But despite this wealth and dominance, Mayan civilization collapsed and its cities were left to crumble. Its downfall was self-inflicted.
As the city of Tikal grew more wealthy, its population started to grow quickly. Faced with more mouths to feed, the Mayan leaders reacted by clearing the surrounding forests to create farmland for crops. While this might have brought more food in the short term, in the long run it brought huge environmental pressures. The damage was twofold. Firstly, the erosion left the fields less fertile as the nutrients in the soil were washed away. Secondly, soil was washed into nearby rivers, clogging up irrigation systems. This led to a drought that withered crops.
The rivers are the lifeblood of civilisations, but in the race for power, fame, glory, we often forget to take care of important things. Instead of finding ways to grow more food sustainably, the Mayan leaders spent time and resources on building ever more expensive monuments to themselves and on waging war with rivals. The wars and the wasting of energy helped to quicken the decline begun by the damage to the environment. Together these factors brought a once powerful society to its knees.
INSIGHT: When faced with a crisis, we have to focus on the essential. By safeguarding the things which nourish us, feed us and help us grow, we can get through hard times. What are the things that constitute the rivers in your life? What are the things you must protect and preserve at all costs?
Resilience is how you recharge not how you endure. We normally believe that resilience depends on strength. This is only half true. It is the lack of recovery period which depletes our resilience. Not being able to rest weakens the mind, and erodes our health. Overwork, overstimulation, poor sleep affects us deeply. Losing our resilience leads to burnout and worse. So what’s the key to resilience?
Trying hard. Recharging. Trying again. A river will stop flowing if it is not recharged. It’s the same for humans.
Learning to be resilient requires wisdom and courage, foresight and willpower. The river insights in this article are a way to travel into your mind. We cover many stories and examples that will take you on a journey within. An enquiry, which leads you to discover your own path to resilience. Finding answers to the questions at the end of each section will create a map of resilience for your life. *The short resilience film at the end of this post, is a gift from the rivers. An uplifting message from a beautiful mountain stream.
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”
~ Bruce Lee
2. Resilience Example: A Story from Nature
The Yarlung Tsangpo river is known as the roof of the world and is the highest river in the world. The river is often called as the “Everest of Rivers” because of its extreme conditions and lofty elevation. The average elevation being about 4000 meters, Yarlung Tsangpo starts from the Angsi Glacier in Tibet and runs across Tibet, India and then meets The Bay of Bengal. It has to navigate its way through multiple mountain ranges. While leaving the Tibetan Plateau, the river forms the world’s largest and deepest canyon, Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon which is much longer than the Grand Canyon. The Yarlung Tsangpo is certainly one among the most unusual and inspiring rivers of the world.
INSIGHT: The river is stronger than the mountain. The way of the river, ever searching, ever flowing, always finds its path around the obstacle. In the flow of the river one can observe its true strength. Drawn by its pull to the sea, aided by gravity, every river seeks out its path and sometimes even creates it. These canyons are beautiful pieces of geographical art which serve as a reminder, that in nature, water cuts rock. What constitutes your strength in life? What are the values that you can rely on, to keep you flowing?
The same thinking can also be applied for building resilience to overcome negative habits. To change a habit, substitute the behaviour with a positive habit which creates a similar reward. That’s why the golden rule for quitting any habit is this: don’t try to resist the craving; redirect it.
3. Resilience Example: A Story of Change
The spirit of the river is the spirit of an explorer. When you stand next to a river, its path doesn’t seem to move. But this series of satellite images of Peru’s Ucayali River — featured in Google Timelapse project — reveals something pretty remarkable.
Over the course of fewer than 20 years, its path crawls back and forth, carving out deeper and deeper curves before cutting them off and starting over. All rivers naturally change their path over time, but this one forms meanders (the technical name for these curves) at an especially fast rate, due to the speed of the water, the amount of sediment in it, and the surrounding landscape.
INSIGHT: The key insight here is that, to build our resilience we need to work on our ability to explore. Exploration enables you to grow as a person. It challenges us to overcome our fears and anxieties. It’s how we learn more about the world. The second part is internal. It comes down to creating an understanding of the world through abstract thought. It’s the desire to learn new information and discover new ideas. People who seek out unfamiliar information and experiences, also tend to be intuitive, empathetic, and richer in their emotions. What are your sources of inspiration and motivation? Who can you turn to for advice and new insights?
Resilience is our capacity to change. It’s a positive state that is resourceful, adaptable and energised. Unlike bouncing back and coping, states that can be quite draining over the long term, or grit, that can be rigid and isolating, resilience is a place of high creativity and flexibility.
~Anise Bullimore, Resilience Coach
4. Resilience Example: A Story of Floods
The River Nile is about 6,670 km (4,160 miles) in length and is the longest river in the world. The Nile receives its name from the Greek Neilos, which means a valley or river valley. In Egypt, the River Nile creates a fertile green valley across a barren harsh desert. It was this gift of the river that allowed one of the oldest civilizations in the world to flourish. The ancient Egyptians lived and farmed along the Nile, using the soil to produce food for themselves and their animals.
Regular as sun and moon, in the middle of burning summer, without a drop of rain in sight, when all other rivers on earth were drying up, for no apparent reason at all, the Nile rose out of its bed every year, and for three months embraced all of Egypt in a flood. The people’s happiness or misery depended upon the annual flood. (Uncover the source of this mystery here.)
Generally floods are seen as a form of natural disaster creating loss and damage. But in the life cycle of a river they play an important role. Flood waters carry nutrient-rich sediments which restore the fertility of the land. Floodplains are beneficial for wildlife by creating a variety of habitats for fish and other animals. In addition, floodplains are important because of storage and conveyance, protection of water quality, and recharge of groundwater.
MEDITATION: In life, there are some floods that one cannot avoid. However being well prepared for it and knowing how to manage the flood can help us strengthen our resilience. What are the floods that you can be prepared for? What gifts are you meant to receive from them? What is their role in your personal growth
5. Resilience Example: A Story of Rebirth
Colorado Delta, was once one of the most biologically diverse desert aquatic ecosystems on the planet. Paddling the delta in 1922, naturalist Aldo Leopold was entranced by the flourishing world beyond the tip of his canoe. “Verdant walls of mesquite and willow . . . a hundred green lagoons,” he wrote. “The river was everywhere and nowhere.”
But things have changed since then. By the time the Colorado reaches Mexico, nearly 90 percent of its water has been siphoned off for farms and cities. For the most part, the delta has been reduced to a desiccated wasteland, dominated by invasive tamarisk trees and discarded trash.
In the spring of 2014 an experimental pulse of water was released into the Colorado Delta. It was an experiment to see what would happen and whether it was possible to regenerate habitat. What people witnessed was something extraordinary.
Within a couple days of being wetted by the pulse flow, billions of tiny copepods had hatched. Some were now feeding on algae along the river’s fringe. Dragonflies eat copepods, and they flew into hunt. Carp coming down the river were feeding on the dragonflies and fish larvae were also eating the copepods. The water’s life-giving effects spilled beyond the river’s banks. Kids who’d never seen it in its natural channel splashed and played. Spontaneous festivals came to life. Birds returned, and trees and marshes greened up.
MEDITATION: Nature has an inbuilt resilience. Things which appear to be dead are merely dormant and spring back to life once the conditions are right. It gives us hope that in the river of time, no matter how difficult the circumstances, we just have to wait for the water of life to come back and restore our fragile but precious sense of aliveness. How can you build your patience and reserves of energy? How can you connect with nature to understand its laws better?
The river is not just a body of water flowing into the sea. It is a complex ecosystem. A set of relationship between the water and the many beings whose lives are linked with its flow. A variety of plants, animals, insects, microorganisms, and the river form a web of life which supports and nourishes each other’s life cycle. The influence of the river’s water extends far beyond its observed edges.
INSIGHT: It is difficult to say where the river begins and where its boundary ends. Similarly, our resilience is codependent on the resilience of other people in our lives. It is also dependent on the resilience of the environment we live in. Who can you turn to, for support in tough times? What are the places that you can go to recharge yourself? And more importantly, who can you support when they are going through a tough time?
Resilience is a quality that can be learnt and strengthened. By finding spaces that rejuvenate us, and sharing it with others in their time of need, we are building our own resilience and also creating a resilient support network.
Rivers are stronger than mountains
In these challenging times, it has become essential for all of us to guard our mental health. In case you enjoyed this post, do try our Nature Calm course and find new ways to grow your resilience.
The twists and turns of life affect us in many ways. Therefore, learning to take control of our own wellbeing is an important skill. Let’s discover how to find peace, purpose and resilience with the help of nature. We share the best ideas and practices from around the world. Subscribe to our blog and receive a free newsletter with new ideas and articles in your inbox, once every month.
Which is your favourite river? And what has it taught you? Do add your thoughts in the comments below so that we can grow our collective knowledge. Please share this post with friends, so that it reaches where it’s needed.
Nature insight is the meditative art of finding wisdom from our natural world. By observing and understanding the ways of nature and its myriad life forms we can draw beautiful insights that help us grow in life. Through nature we learn invaluable lessons that one can apply at work, in relationships, and in life.
Insight learning is defined as the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something. It is a fascinating process of the human mind to transform what is observed in the outer world into a simple idea that expands our inner world exponentially. Here’s a selection of some thoughtful nature insights, and pointers on how to create new ones for yourself. Don’t miss the illuminating poem at the very end.
Grow your life with nature
The most fundamental drive for all life forms is growth. To expand, replicate and evolve. In more poetic terms we call it ‘love‘. The love to live, survive and thrive. The love to grow in life.
The beauty of these insights rests in the idea that each one of us finds not only what we are looking for, but also what we are ready for. Nature adapts its lessons to suit our unique individual needs.
So, what will you find? What will you learn? Step into the world of infinite mystery.
Nature Insight from the Forest
“We are proud of what makes us different. It is the key to the strength of the forest. Our value is based on what makes us different. You know what? Like you, we care about our own. We slow down our growth, absorb less water and capture fewer nutrients to care for the young ones. So they can have more resources and food. So they can grow strong and healthy. But we don’t limit ourselves to our own family. Our neighbours are the fungi, lichens and other organisms of the forest. We are connected by the sky, the earth and the breath.
Together, we are a huge network where we share and we co-operate. Where we all depend on each other. If one of us suffers from an attack or illness, we warn others so that they can be prepared. The bigger trees share their wisdom with the younger ones, so that they are not afraid of the future and embrace decisively the changes of the seasons and the uncertainties of nature. If one of us falls, we join forces to nurture it, so that it can continue to be part of the forest. There is no such thing as loneliness among us.”
INSIGHT: Humans have focused for so long on finding out what makes individuals different that we have forgotten what unites everyone. If people would stop to listen to the forests, what would they say? Perhaps they would tell us about community resilience, about cooperation, about finding strength in differences and about how to live in the present. Perhaps they would also remind us of all the things we have in common with them, that we share the same home and are strongly interconnected. But surely the most important thing of all is that they make us question life and how we are choosing to live.
During the growing season, the young sunflowers rotate their bright yellow heads during the day to track the sun’s movement across the sky. They reset overnight, swinging their face back to the east. This means the plants likely follow an internal rhythm. Researchers found that during the day, genes click on causing the east-facing half of the stem to grow. The lengthening stem causes the flower head to slowly bend to the west during the day. At night, genes causing the west side of the stem to grow activate, causing the head to flip back to the east.
When the plant fully matures, it faces permanently east, which benefits the aging bloom as well. The researchers found that east-facing flowers heat up more quickly in the morning, attracting five times as many pollinators as west-facing blooms. This find supports previous studies, which suggest that bees and other pollinators prefer warmer flowers in the morning.
INSIGHT: Nature works in rhythms. As individuals we all have internal body clocks with their own particular rhythms. The more we learn about our bodies, the more it seems that standardised time is badly suited to our individual needs. Our internal rhythm changes with age as well as the seasons. The truth is, we all differ when it comes to our best working hours, the amount of sleep we need, and the right times for meals. It makes sense, therefore, to pay very close attention to our own personal rhythms and build a suitable schedule around them.
In old age, people begin to consider what was important in their lives and ask whether they achieved something. But what moves people during the course of their lives and why do they act as they do?
Until 1949, it was assumed that human and animal behaviour was controlled by inner drives and exterior motivations. Then professor of psychology Harry Harlow made a discovery that disproved this theory: He gave eight Rhesus monkeys a mechanical puzzle. Since the primates would receive neither food nor praise if they solved the puzzle, he was convinced they would not concern themselves with it. However, the monkeys gave it a go, recognised how it worked, and, without any exterior incentives, solved it with great enjoyment. Such behaviour is also typical for us humans.
INSIGHT: When a person finds a job fulfilling, no further reward is necessary. Merely the joy of being able to program an application or to publish recipes on the internet for other people to benefit from is, frequently, motivation enough.
Striving to change something in oneself and in society is a much healthier and satisfying impetus. For more and more people, such meaningful goals have become their main driving force. People who pursue meaning in their lives want to give something back to society – which, in turn, also gives them personal strength
In different ecosystems there exist keystone species which hold the habitat together. If they are removed the entire habitat will fall apart. For example, sea otters, impact other predators as well as other animal and plant species farther down the food chain. When sea otters disappear from an area, the population of creatures it once hunted can explode, pushing out other organisms and reducing species diversity.
INSIGHT: Similarly to the keystone species, in our lives we have keystone habits. Simple rituals that affect all the other areas of our life as well as our wellbeing. One such keystone habit is keeping our connection with nature alive. Humans have evolved in the midst of nature. Staying connected with it yields a host of benefits for our mind and body.
Nature Insight from the Clouds
In appearance we think we are subject to birth and death, but when we look deeply into something like a cloud, we know that it is impossible for a cloud to die. A cloud can never die. To die means from something you become nothing. From someone you become no one. But a cloud cannot become nothing. A cloud can become the rain, the snow, the mist but never nothing. So the true nature of the cloud is no birth and no death and our nature is also the same. And when we have enough concentration and insight we touch our true nature of no birth and no death. It frees us from all kinds of fear. Fear of being and fear of non-being.
NATURE FACT: The earth’s atmosphere is a very cloudy place. NASA’s Earth Observatory estimates that at any given time, around 67% of Earth’s surface is covered by cloud. Across cultures clouds can have very different meanings, in the UK they tend to have a relatively negative symbolism, for instance, a cloud on the horizon means something bad is going to happen. However in Iran, clouds are considered as very lucky, so it would be a blessing to say ‘your sky is always filled with clouds.’
Insight learning is a type of learning that happens spontaneously, like a flash of lightening amidst dark thunderclouds. Your brain is capable of making unexpected connections and understanding larger truths about life when it is given the right conditions. Such a state of mind can happen very easily when you are in nature.
However, in the rigour of our day-to-day life, we can get so caught up in the external world that our inner growth takes a backseat. Material growth which is not supported by inner growth can never give us lasting peace and satisfaction. Also, to overcome unusual challenges and complex problems we have to search for answers within. That is why, Insight learning can be a very helpful tool.
The basic elements of creating new insights are: awe, wonder & curiosity. Feelings which give rest to our rational, thinking mind. Nature is a store house of such untold treasures and that’s why it yields so many precious insights. Let’s learn to grow our mind, heart and spirit with nature.
Nature Insight from humans
The lives of forests and humans are intricately linked. This delicate relationship has become even more critical in the modern world. While one set of people are rapidly destroying our remaining forests, there are many conscious individuals, who have committed their lives to conserving old forests and creating new ones.
This film was created to support one such group: Forest First Samithi. Every year we partner with a small organisation doing exceptional work, to highlight their initiative, share their insights and inspire other humans. Please visit their website to learn more. http://forestfirstsamithi.org/
In case you found the post interesting, try our Nature Calm course to go on a learning journey with nature. Explore some amazing ideas and find insights that will aid you through your life.
The insights and ideas in our blog keep evolving with time. Just like all things in nature. To get fresh ideas in your inbox, please subscribe to our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
If you are reading this, chances are that you may already have a deep connection with nature and it has taught you some invaluable lessons. Do add your nature insights in the comments section to grow our collective knowledge. Feel free to share this post with others, just as nature shares its wisdom with you.
If you could change one thing to transform your life what would it be? What if it was your own mind? Learning to train your mind starts with learning to regulate your emotions. It’s because they affect your thoughts, your choices and also the people you attract into your lives.
Our emotions design our experience of life.
Managing our emotions and moods is one of the most difficult but essential skills in life. Those who can achieve it know the secret of leading richer lives with greater success, harmony and more fulfilling relationships.
*During the pandemic, a lot of people are going through a sea of emotions. In these testing times, maintaining our mental balance is as important as protecting our physical health. Through this article we share some helpful tips. If you find them useful, please share them forward. And feel free to add your thoughts and ideas in the comments to grow our collective knowledge.
Just like the virus, our moods are also contagious. Let’s learn spread some calm and hope.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL REGULATION?
Emotional regulation is the ability to handle both the highs and lows of emotions. Generally speaking, the extremes of any emotion can have an adverse effect on us. Therefore, we need to become aware of our emotional environment. And because our emotions are constantly changing, we can learn to transform them, change their intensity and also choose how we react to them.
Going through the circus of life we often encounter situations and people that completely throw our mood off. Anger, sadness, anxiety and other bad moods are like uninvited guests. By taking up our head space, they take away our freedom and pull us down. Understanding how emotions work can show us how to train the mind and transform those bad moods even if you can’t avoid them.
The emotional center of our brain – the limbic system, is an open loop system. An open-loop system depends on external sources to manage itself. In simpler terms, we rely a lot on our environment and connections with other people to determine our moods. We have evolved in this way because it increases our chances of survival. It helps humans form relationships, protect and care for their loved ones and also find environments that were safe to live in and thrive in.
Even though the open loop is so much a part of our lives, we usually don’t notice the process. So how can we use this to our advantage? The link between our inner nature and outer nature gives us a wonderful tool to shape our emotions.
The format that we cover in this post is based on the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku or Forest Bathing. It is a well researched and highly effective practice and has a host of other benefits besides helping you regulate your emotions. * Forest Bathing Introduction | Forest Therapy in Japan
HOW TO CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS?
There are many ways to train the mind to control your emotions, but with nature it’s easier. It’s because, our mind has evolved in nature. In this post we will cover 5 stages of learning to control your emotions. The stages help you progress steadily and create a longer lasting effect.
Emotional skills are part of our genetic code, and each one of us has a certain mood that we are more prone to. However, experience also plays a big role in how our personality develops. The more we act a certain way—be it happy, depressed, or cranky—the more the behaviour becomes ingrained in our brain circuitry, and the more we will continue to feel and act that way.
1. The Forest – Knowing what’s possible
Go for a nature walk. Focus on your strongest sense and find something in nature that brings you deep calm. Stay with that emotion as long as you can. Later when you are at home, sit in a quiet space and try to recreate the same emotion by visualising your moment in nature. Practicing this exercise helps us recreate emotions we can fall back on when the need arises.
The basic practice of learning to regulate our emotions begins with observing, accepting and transforming. Many behaviour change programs include Mindfulness as part of the process. By adding nature to mindfulness we can make it far more engaging and effective.
Emotions are absorbed in the body in about six seconds. Each burst of emotion chemicals, from the time it’s produced in the hypothalamus to the time it’s completely broken down and absorbed, lasts about six seconds. If we’re feeling something for longer than six seconds, we are – at some level – choosing to recreate and refuel those feelings. Recognizing what emotion we are feeling, evaluating its purpose, and deciding whether to recreate it, is what emotional intelligence is all about. (source)
2. The Storms – Knowing yourself
Knowing what triggers you will help you in being better prepared. Make a list of people, situations and environments that affect you negatively. Also knowing how you affect others will show you areas that need improvement. Talk to family, friends and colleagues. Take feedback.
Our moods are like the weather – they can create a climate of trust, creativity and growth, or they can spread dark clouds of stress, fear and anxiety. Practice becoming aware of the links between what’s happening around you and what’s happening inside you.
A good mood leads to a good day.
According to scientists, there are 8 primary emotions: joy, sadness, fear, surprise, anger, disgust, acceptance, anticipation. Other important emotions, like ‘love’ are a complex combination of some of these primary emotions. These permutation and combinations give our mind its emotional richness. In nature we work with the emotions of awe and wonder to create joy, serenity, love and even compassion.
3. The Path – Creating an action plan
The effects of nature work in a dose curve. The more time you spend in nature, the better it is for you. Depending on your need and situation, you can design an action plan for lifting your mood when you are down.
Identify special places in nature you have access to. Find landscapes, elements, and activities in nature that you enjoy. It could be sitting next to a stream, lying on the grass, reading under a tree or walking barefoot. Know what works for you and build a plan for training your mind. The deeper your nature experience is, the stronger its effect.
When you are in nature, focus on all your senses. Soak in the sights, sounds and smells. Taste the freshness and feel the textures. Our senses work at a subconscious level. They also help in bringing your awareness to the present moment. Negative thoughts are easier to quell when we bring our attention to a pleasing sensation.
When you are in nature shift from thinking to sensing, and from sensing to simply being.
*For some beautiful ideas, try our Nature Calm course, with a collection of over 100 creative and mindful activities to find your calm.
4. The Cycles – Keeping momentum
Nature works in rhythm… birdsong in the morning, phases of the moon, and cycle of seasons. Interestingly, so does our mind. Create a habit of adding nature into your life. Whether it is the daily ritual spent with your plants and pets, a weekly nature walk, an annual vacation in the forest. Build a rhythm into your life. It keeps you in a good mood and maintains your momentum.
Even if you can’t access nature, simple acts of watching clouds fly by, listening to bird song, feeling the breeze on your skin and many other small ideas can keep you connected to nature.
Creating a momentum helps you break deep rooted emotional patterns which may be difficult to get rid of.
5. The Friends – Creating a community
Our moods affect our relationships deeply. Therefore, community is the most important aspect of your mind training. Remember, our moods are linked to the moods of people in our lives.
Go for a silent nature walk with those you wish to build a deeper connect with. Let nature do all the talking. Close bonds can form between people who allow each other their own space and yet share a beautiful experience together.
Everyone knows the importance of emotional intelligence in life. Most successful people, teams and families have a high level of emotional intelligence. What people don’t realise is that the foundation of this intelligence comes from the ability to regulate emotions. Emotions in ourselves as well as others.
Our emotions are deeply linked to hormone levels, cardiovascular functions, sleep rhythms, and even immune functions in the body. And strong emotions can even alter these in the body of another. It’s a phenomenon called mood contagion.
Research in intensive care units has shown, for example, that the comforting presence of another person not only lowers the patient’s blood pressure but also slows the secretion of fatty acids that block arteries. Another study found that three or more incidents of intense stress within a year (for example, serious financial trouble, being fired, or a divorce) triples the death rate in socially isolated middle-aged men, but it has no impact on the death rate of men with many close relationships. (Source)
So you see, our emotional health is linked to our mental health, physical health as well as social health.
Changing your mood changes your experience of life.
Creating a deep connection with nature is like growing roots that will keep us stable and anchored in stormy situations. And during calmer times, they will nourish the very essence of our being, helping us enrich other people’s lives with our presence.
May the forest calm always be with you.
We live in a complex world, facing challenges big and small each day. The twists and turns of life affect us in many ways. Therefore, learning to take control of our own wellbeing is an important skill. Discover how to find peace, purpose and good health with the help of nature. We share the best ideas and practices from around the world. Please subscribe to our blog for a monthly newsletter with new ideas.
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Our Earth is full of wonders that fill us with awe, inspiration and humility. From far above in space where all illusions of boundary blur, one can truly admire the beauty of this planet that we call home. In this post we cover 10 fascinating features of our planet seen from high up in space. These images are made possible by Google Earth’s new studio programme which allows you to experience any corner of the world from the comfort of your home.
We may be in lockdown, but that should not stop us from exploring. Happy Earth Day 2020!
WORLD’S OLDEST DESERT
NAMIB DESERT The Namib, at 55 million years old, is the world’s most ancient desert, as well as being one of the driest. Rainfall varies from 85mm in the west to just 2mm in the east – but the area is often covered by a thick fog, which allows plants and animals to survive thanks to the dew it creates. Another source of water are the rivers. Although the beds seem to be almost always parched, there is permanent water flow underground which creates linear “oases” on the surface.
“Namib” is the Nama word for “vast” – and this desert, stretching for 1,600km along Namibia’s coast, is certainly the embodiment of vastness.
WORLD’S LARGEST RAINFOREST
AMAZON FOREST The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world and provides 20% of Earth’s oxygen. It is also known as the ‘Lungs of the planet’.
The Amazon is estimated to have 16,000 tree species and 390 billion individual trees. The rainforest is thought to have over 2.5 million species of insects. More than half the species in the Amazon rainforest are thought to live in the canopy. It shelters 10% of the world’s known biodiversity. One in five of all species of bird and fish live in the Amazon.
Around 400-500 indigenous American-indian tribes live in the Amazon rainforest. Around 50 of them have their own language and culture and have never had contact with the outer world. They are nomadic hunters and gatherers and constantly need to move around.
WORLD’S HIGHEST MOUNTAIN
MT. EVEREST Nepalese call The Mount Everest as Sagarmatha which means ‘forehead in the sky’ and Tibetan call it Chomolungma which means ‘mother of the World’.
The height of Mount Everest is 29,029 feet or 8,848 Metres. According to one survey conducted, the height of Mt Everest increases every year by 4mm. This happens due to the collision of the Indian-Australian and the Eurasian plates.
The top of Mt. Everest is engulfed by the jet stream for a major part of the year, making climbing near impossible due to high winds and extreme sub zero temperatures. It is only when the winds die down in May and again for a short period in September, that we have a so called ‘Summit Window’, when conditions are safe enough for climbers to try and reach the summit.
WORLD’S LONGEST RIVER
RIVER NILE Found in northeast Africa, the Nile is the longest river in the world – stretching a massive 6,695km!
The Nile has been an important source of life for people throughout history. Around 5,000 years ago, the Ancient Egyptians relied on the Nile for fresh water, food and transportation. This fascinating river remains an invaluable source of life for Egyptians to this day. More than 95% of the country’s population depend on its water and live within a few miles of the river banks.
And it’s not just important for humans – the river and its banks are home to lots of wonderful wildlife, too – including different kinds of fish and birds, as well as turtles, snakes, hippos and one of our planet’s largest reptiles… the Nile crocodile!
WORLD’S LARGEST ISLAND
GREENLAND Greenland is one of the biggest places in the world, and yet very little of it is known to the outside world. Greenland is actually the world’s biggest island – by area – that is not a continent. The total area of Greenland is 2.16 million square kilometres (836,330 square miles), including other offshore islands.
Almost 80 percent of the land mass is covered by an ice cap. The ice-free area may be a minority, but it’s still around the size of Sweden. With a population of 56,480 (2017 estimate), it is one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
According to scientists, Greenland was actually quite green more than 2.5 million years ago. A new study reveals that ancient dirt was cryogenically frozen for millions of years underneath about 2 miles of ice.
WORLD’S LARGEST INLAND WATERBODY
CASPIAN SEA The Caspian Sea or Mazandaran Sea is a landlocked sea between Asia and Europe (European Russia). It is the world’s largest inland body of water, with a surface area of 371,000 km² (143,000 sq. mi.), and therefore has characteristics common to both seas and lakes. It is often listed as the world’s largest lake, though it is not a freshwater one.
The Volga River (about 80% of the inflow) and the Ural River discharge into the Caspian Sea, but it is endorheic, i.e. there is no natural outflow (other than by evaporation). Thus the Caspian ecosystem is a closed basin, with its own sea level history that is independent of the eustatic level of the world’s oceans. The Caspian became landlocked about 5.5 million years ago. The level of the Caspian has fallen and risen, often rapidly, many times over the centuries.
WORLD’S LARGEST DELTA
SUNDERBAN DELTA Sundarbans delta has got the world’s largest coastal mangrove forest (an area of about 10,000 km2, with enormous beauty shared between India (4,000 km2) and Bangladesh (6,000 km2 ). Sundarban Jungle has been named after the large mangrove trees Sundari (Heritiera littoralis) found here.
The interconnected network of waterways in Sundarbans makes almost every corner of the forest accessible by ferries and boats. Sundarban has unique tidal phenomenon twice a day – there are high tides when water level seems to rise around 6-10 feet and low tides when one can see the huge mud land area lying flat. Sundarbans is also home to the royal bengal tiger and has been designated as a national park to protect this majestic but endangered species.
WORLD’S HIGHEST ACTIVE VOLCANO
MAUNA LOA Mauna Loa is the world’s largest and one of its most active volcanoes – a giant shield volcano on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Mauna Loa has probably been erupting for at least 700,000 years, and may have emerged above sea level about 400,000 years ago. The oldest-known dated rocks are not older than 200,000 years. The volcano’s magma comes from the Hawaii hotspot, which has been responsible for the creation of the Hawaiian island chain over tens of millions of years.
WORLD’S LARGEST CANYON
GRAND CANYON Grand Canyon is a chasm 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, with an average depth of about one mile. It took 3-6 million years to form and the erosion continues to alter its contour even today. It was formed by the Colorado River, which flows west through the canyon and averages about 300 feet width, 100 feet in depth and flows at an average speed of four miles per hour.
The surround environment hosts approximately 70 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, 25 types of reptiles and five species of amphibians
PALE BLUE DOT
END NOTE We hope you enjoyed this short exploration of our Earth and it has inspired you to check out Google Earth and the many amazing voyages it features. Exploring the world helps us know it better. And knowing the world can help us know our own role in nurturing it and protecting it.
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