India’s Healing Forests

Explore some fascinating forests across India and find out the remarkable ways in which forests can heal our body, mind and spirit.
Film Duration: 50 minutes | Language: English

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REVIEWS

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India’s Healing Forests is a remarkable and enlightening exploration of the many ways that the well-being of people is deeply interwoven with forests. The film demonstrates that at all times on our life’s journey — from childhood to death — our relationships with trees and other forest creatures are vital parts of our lives. This is a reciprocal relationship: in our modern world we need forests and forests need our care.” ~ David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees and Pulitzer finalist, The Forest Unseen. Professor, University of the South.”

To see the full film visit this link.

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DIRECTOR’S NOTE

All our knowledge comes from nature and yet nature is a source of many mysteries.

Travel with us on a journey through lush rainforests, sacred groves, cloud forests, city forests, food forests and deep valleys of the Himalayas to unravel some of these mysteries.

India is a country of breathtaking natural beauty. What is less known is India’s wealth of ancient knowledge about connecting with nature to create a more meaningful life. New science as well as ancient wisdom is telling us something of great importance. The environment we live in is linked to our health. It affects us. It alters us. It is not separate from us.

The film unfolds through inspiring stories of people whose lives are intricately woven with forests. Through their insights as well as scientific findings we explore the remarkable healing powers of nature.

We hope to leave you with a feeling of calm and clarity, and some important clues to help you solve one of the greatest mysteries of your life – How to create a healthier, happier life for yourself and your loved ones.

The forests are waiting.
Come home.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Here’s a link to some of the groups and initiatives featured in the film:

Chirag School, Kumaon | Prakriya Green Wisdom School, Bangalore | Pravah, New Delhi | New Delhi Nature Society | Sadhana Forest, Auroville | Green Hub | Hindustan Kalarisangam, Kerala | Journeys with Meaning | Mawphlang Sacred Forest, Meghalaya | Foundation for Contemplation of Nature | Aranyaani Natural Food Forest | Sehat Van | Lung Care Foundation | I am Gurgaon | Anita Rajah, Clinical Psychologist | Alaap, Kumaon | Navdarshanam, Tamil Nadu | Institute of Palliative Medicine, Kerala | Aranyaka Upanishad, Uttarakhand || Healing Forest Walks

Film Credits:
Film: Nitin Das | Producer & Commissioning Editor: Rajiv Mehrotra | Executive Producers: Tulika Srivastava and Ridhima Mehra | Music: Borrtex | Voice: Mina Lepps | Assistant: Arghadeep Barua | Advice on Sound: Asheesh Pandya | Constructive feedback: Sudhir Tandon, Sunil Chauhan, Neelam Ahluwalia

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FORESTS AND YOU

In a world that is becoming increasingly complex, we are spending lesser time in nature. Signs of this rapid change are showing up not just in our own health but also the health of our society and our planet.

This film is a great tool to reconnect people with nature because it shows the multiple benefits of nature across different age groups. Perhaps you may see a little bit of your own life reflected in parts of this film. What you may also find are some simple ideas to overcome challenges that appear at different stages of our life.

We hope you will join us to hear what the forests have to tell you.

 

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Beyond the film, the idea is also to introduce the concept of healing forest walks to you. Along with the film details, we’ll send you an excellent collection of forest games and activities. For more information on healing forests, you can visit our resources page.

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In this month’s guest post Monique from USA shares an excellent collection of nature activities that help in building and shaping the inner nature of children.

Monique is a mother of three children and was an Early Childhood Educator and an Early Intervention Specialist. She has an educational background in Psychology and currently runs a blog called Green Acorns.

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Let’s take a look at some ways we can spark children’s curiosity, ignite their enthusiasm, and guide their interests into meaningful experiences…

Start Small

It can be hard to know where to begin when introducing nature activities. Try starting small right in your own yard (or schoolyard, closest park, etc.) In fact, all it takes is one square foot of space.

Create a 12-inch square frame out of string or cardboard or any other available material and lay it on the ground. Have your child get right down on his belly and observe. At first it may seem like there’s not much to notice but be patient… things will come into view. Perhaps he’ll notice insect activity or different types of plants or different colors of dirt. Try it again in a different spot. Did he notice any similarities? Anything different? Do it with him, side by side. Share what you notice and then switch places. Did either of you notice anything that the other hadn’t? Notice even more details using a magnifying glass.

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Listen Closely

This activity comes from Joseph Cornell’s ‘Sharing Nature with Children’.

You will need a sheet of paper, a clipboard or other firm surface, and a pencil. Have your child mark an ‘X’ in the center of the paper to indicate her location. Your child then sits quietly and whenever she hears a sound, marks the approximate location with a simple representative symbol or word. She can listen with her eyes closed to help focus better on just the sounds.

When she is done review the map with her. Ask some questions. Were there more sounds from nature than man-made noise? Were there any sounds she hadn’t noticed before? Did she find some pleasant? Some not pleasant? Could she identify all the sounds?

You may be surprised at how long a child can sit quietly for this activity and may find that she wants to do it again. My children enjoy this activity and like to compare their sound maps with each other. They often find that one noticed a sound that the other didn’t or noticed more nuances about a certain sound. It’s quite an engaging activity that really heightens one’s awareness.

Taking it further: This can be expanded into the practice of “sit spots” and I highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful way for anyone to develop an intimate relationship with nearby nature. Check out Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature to learn more.

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Wonder Together

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” – Rachel carson

When you are out in nature with your child, role model curiosity. Point out what you are noticing, from the smallest flower to the tallest tree. Wonder aloud. Ask your child what they hear, see, smell, feel and notice. Be intentional about it doing it regularly. Soon it

will become habit for you and your child whenever you are outside, wherever that may be.

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Record It

Create a personal record of the nature around you by keeping a nature journal. What is a nature journal? Simply put, it is “the regular recording of observation, perceptions, and feelings about the natural world”. (Clare Walker Leslie, Keeping a Nature Journal)

The act of nature journaling encourages us to become keen observers of details and seasonal rhythms and deepens our understanding of the natural world. It reinforces our nature connections and it stimulates reflection on experiences, thoughts and emotions. It helps us remember what has been observed and learned, cultivates on-going curiosity and contributes to establishing a sense of place.

Developing the habit of nature journal can be tricky. Make it inviting. Keep it simple. Encourage it but let it be optional. Let your child record in whatever way he would like (sketches, poems, photos, brief descriptions, pressed plant samples, etc.). Do it together. Review and reflect on past entries occasionally.

Check out these resources for inspiration and how-to’s:

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Invite Nature Inside

“Children become interested in natural history because they are natural collectors.” -Sir David Attenborough

This suggestion may be controversial as many people firmly believe that the “leave what you find” principle is always best practice. I agree with Sir David Attenborough and here’s why…

While collecting, your child is gathering information about the natural world through his senses. He is looking, touching, smelling, listening, maybe even tasting. He may also be utilizing his vestibular (movement and balance) and proprioception (body awareness) systems as he navigates the landscape. Combining the use of one’s various senses leads to more connections made within the brain and the result is a more thorough, meaningful learning experience. Just as importantly, allowing your child to collect the nature that excites him is an affirmation of his interest. It nurtures his natural sense of curiosity and sparks further exploration and inquiry.

If you don’t already have a designated area in your home for displaying nature finds, this is the perfect time to create one. A low table or shelf will do. Display appropriate items within your child’s reach so that he may explore them at any time. Add magnifying glasses, reference books or materials for play to the area. Change the items seasonally.

You may find some inspiration here and here.

Note: never collect from private land, parks or preserves. Only collect what is found on the ground or in abundance. Know the relevant laws in your state/ country on what is considered protected. Minimize your impact and always respect nature.

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BENEFITS OF NATURE ACTIVITIES

I had a childhood like many of my generation and before – long stretches of time spent outside engaged in unstructured play, free to roam and interact with nature, no gadgets or tools except my imagination and ingenuity. My husband and I were intentional in providing similar opportunities for our children. Making personal nature connections and having the freedom to explore and discover one’s own place in it is not just nostalgia of a bygone time. Nor is it a privilege of a select group. It should be considered a basic right of childhood and is a necessity for a healthy life.

Increasing science-based evidence tells us that time spent in nature is good for us. A quick online search will lead you to some of the studies in a promising, growing collection. Benefits being reported include:

  • reduced stress and anxiety and lower risk of depression
  • improved blood pressure and cholesterol
  • better able to direct attention / focus
  • feeling more positive emotions and outlook on life
  • an increase in compassion, generosity and other prosocial behaviors.

For children who play in nature, some additional benefits have been noted including:

  • reduced risk of obesity and diabetes
  • decreased risk of developing near-sightedness and requiring glasses
  • reduced symptoms of attention deficit disorder
  • increased likeliness of engaging in imaginative / creative play & improvedcollaborative skills
  • enhancement of motor skills (balance & stability, coordination, agility)
  • improved awareness, reasoning and observational skills
  • increased autonomy and decision-making skills.

Why all the research? Because unstructured time in nature has become rarer and the natural places which children can claim for their own to become intimate with, to create new worlds in, to observe the ways of nature and just be are harder to find. Because we have become disconnected humans and our children are following suit. With a few basic tools, however, we can set children on the path to life-long nature connections. In the words of Richard Louv, it is up to us “to restore the broken bond between children and nature” and in the process we may just restore our own.

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END NOTE

I hope these activities will set you well on your way to nurturing your child’s nature connections.

You can find additional activity ideas, monthly nature prompts and more on my blog, Green Acorns. I also host Noticing Nature on Facebook – a free, private, family-friendly group where you will find inspiration for deeper personal connections with nature throughout the year.

Fondly, Monique

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animal-Deer-smallLet us know your experience when you get a chance to try out these wonderful games and activities.  If you have more recommendations for some fun nature based activities, please add them in the comments below to grow our collective knowledge.

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

 

CREATIVE WRITING EXERCISES IN NATURE

Writing is therapeutic. Writing in nature – meditative.

Writing helps to give direction to our thoughts. From clouds of voluminous chatter in the mind, words drop on to paper like gentle rain, turning into streams of sentences. These streams follow their own path to uncover what is hidden and discover what is waiting to be discovered. It is a way to ignite creativity, curiosity and a deeper enquiry into the self.

It’s about observing the nature outside and observing the nature within.

Writing about nature leads to an increased awareness of our surroundings. This simple activity is an exercise to enhance our attention and also become aware of our own state of being. Nature is a place where one can observe our outer and inner landscape. Every person has a unique way of perceiving life and things around them. You begin to discover this uniqueness when you channelise your memories and imagination in a creative way.

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Writing in nature is also a way to reconnect to a calmer self. Putting words on paper brings us back into the present moment and by paying attention to our senses and breath we can reach a state of relaxed ease. When one is relaxed and calm, it is easier to get creative insights about the questions in our mind.

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WRITING EXERCISES IN NATURE

Our mind is a forest of memories, ideas, and observations. Let us explore the power of words to rediscover the nature around us and the nature within us.

Given below is a list of simple writing games that can be incorporated into an engaging walk for all age groups. The aim of these games is to build your awareness and curiosity. We hope this practice leads you to calm, creativity and clarity.

Senses: Pick any one of your senses. Describe your surroundings keeping only the chosen sense in focus. You can turn this exercise into a letter to a friend. In the letter you are describing your nature walk to a close friend who is not present with you, but remember you can only use one sense to portray the scene.

Objects: Choose any object in nature, create a riddle around it. Let others in the group guess what object you picked. In the riddle the less you reveal, the more interesting it becomes. Just like the language of the forest which is full of riddles and mysteries.
Here’s a riddle for you. The answer is given at the very end of the article.

You can see me, but you can’t hear me.
You can feel me, but you can’t smell me.
What am I?

Emotions: Take an emotion that you are feeling. Include it in a 3 line poem. These 3 line poems are a simplified version of Japanese Haikus. The aim of our poem is to capture an image from your nature walk and convey the emotion you are left with. It’s not a test of your poetic skills and the lines do not have to rhyme. Here’s an example:

Characters: Pick the oldest tree around or a tree that feels special to you. Spend time with it and write the story of its life. In this exercise allow your imagination to fly. You can compress time and write a biography for the tree or simply write about a day in the life of your tree.

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EXTRAS: IDEAS FOR NATURE WRITING

Magical Creatures: Our forest stories have always been full of magical beings like elves, fairies, gnomes. If you could create your own magical creature what would it be? What magic will they have and what would you call them?

Game of Memories: When we recollect positive memories in nature it strengthens them and allows us to return to them when we need it the most. Write down your earliest happy memory. Write down your most peaceful nature memory.

Nature Song: This is a fun exercise that gives rest to the logical, thinking side of your brain. Pay attention to the sounds of nature and write a song in gibberish. Which means you cannot use any known words from your language. Just compose a song from the sounds around you: Krr Krr Krr Krr Krr, tok tok, Ku-oo

One Word Connections: This game serves as a warm-up to our next exercise, but is also fun on it’s own. If you are in a group, form a small circle. The game starts by one person saying any word from nature. The next person says the first thing that comes to mind on hearing that word. You are not allowed to think and respond. If a participant takes too long to respond, then the chance automatically passes to the next person in the circle. Complete 2 to 3 rounds of the circle with this exercise and build your spontaneity.

Twisty Tale: This is a group exercise. Stand in a circle and create a story starting with ‘I went for a walk into the forest….’. The conditions are that each person adds one line to the story, but alternate people add happy and sad twists to the story. So one set of people are trying to make the story positive and happy while the other set is giving it a dark or tragic turn. Once the story runs its course, switch the roles of the people.

Gratitude Note (Closing Exercise)

We usually end our nature walk by writing a note of gratitude. The note starts with gratitude for the gifts we have received from nature and grows to encompass other aspects of our life.

Without gratitude, nothing is enough

~Julio Olalla

At the core of all emotions in life, this emotion of gratitude is the one that allows us to find contentment and make peace with ourselves. It shifts focus from what is missing within our life and moves our heart to appreciate what we have.

As with all writing, this exercise is effective only when the words flow from the heart and not the head. We hope that being in nature has enabled you to do so.

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Please share this article with friends who may find it of interest. Here’s a link to download some posters, in case you’d like to create an event for people in your city.

WORDS THAT HEAL

Fewer people are spending time in nature these days. This distance is affecting our health – as individuals, as a society and also as a planet. The intention of this idea is to bring nature back into conversations and inspire more people to connect with forests in creative ways. Let’s do this as a collective.

When you create writing in nature and share it with other, it spreads the seeds of emotions you felt and the insights you learnt. Hopefully, it will grow the magic of nature and draw more people to it.

Do share your poems, puzzles, stories or reflections from the nature walk on our Facebook group. In case you post your writing on social media, add these tags: #healingforest / #forestlearning. It will make it easier for us to find them.

*This page is part of our learning program with nature arts, activities and meditations from around the world.

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END NOTE:
Please subscribe to our free monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions for more writing games. Please add them in the comments section below to grow our collective learning.

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p.s: Our answer to the riddle is ‘Sunlight‘. But in nature, there can be more than one right answer!

Our world is made up of relationships.

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

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

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

LeafWhat can nature teach us about relationships?

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

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

Successful relationships are formed for mutual benefit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


In this article we explain the concept of nature art with some creative examples and exercises. Along with the nature art ideas we share ways to turn these walks into healing experiences.

Art can be healing, just like nature. When we create art in nature, we are connecting to something deep within ourselves. That which is the source of all ideas, inspiration and insight. It gives us new eyes to see with, new ears to hear with and a new understanding about life.

Our life is but art in the canvas of nature.

NATURE ART WALK

Over the course of many months and trials, we have come up with a captivating format for an art walk in nature. It is a creative way to engage with the forest and is enjoyable for all age groups. Here’s a simple introduction to the concept. It’s a silent walk in nature to appreciate the beauty of art in nature and allows us to express our emotions by creating some interesting forest art. 

Walk in the forest. Find interesting things. Create art.
First as a group. Then in pairs. And finally on your own.

RULES
1: Don’t damage the forest. Use what’s fallen or about to fall.
2: Take only pictures. Let everything you create, return back to nature.
3: Leave no trace. Spread your artwork in nature before you leave.

DIRECTIONS
Group art:
To begin with, explore a small circle of forest area around you. Everyone tries to look for something that represents them as a person or something unique. When ready, the group forms a circle to do a round of introductions. People introduce themselves by placing their object in the centre of the circle and explaining why they chose it. One by one, the objects are placed together in a way that they form an art piece. 

After the first round, the group walks silently for 15 minutes or so and moves to a different place.

Pair art:
Work in pairs. The pair collects 10 objects from the forest ( 5 per person) and together they create nature art in 5 minutes. Once everyone is ready, the whole group goes for a gallery walk to visit each pair’s artwork. You can try to guess what the pair has made or hear their interpretation.

Walk silently for 15 minutes. Observe the beautiful art of Nature.

Solo art:
Working on your own, you have to create a forest friend. A piece of nature art, that has a face on it – eyes, nose, mouth. Once your forest friend is complete, give him/her a name. When this exercise is complete, you will find that the forest has suddenly come alive with many forest friends.

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INSIGHT: These forest art exercises tell us that it’s our mind which gives meaning to art. People look at the same arrangement of objects, but everyone interprets it differently.

In the canvas of nature, our life is also like art. Nature brings different situations and people into our lives, but it is our mind which gives meaning to these events. It is this meaning which makes us happy or sad. The entire journey of healing is in being able to observe and transform the art in our mind.

On your way back, walk in silence and observe the art of your mind and the meanings that your mind has given to your life. For a few moments, can you drop all the meanings that your mind has created and simply observe and appreciate nature and its art?

End with a circle of sharing. People share insights and experiences from the art walk, so that individual learning can become collective learning.

Bonus:
Carry an empty bag on the walk. On the way back, the group can clean up the forest by clearing some of the trash they find. Healing the forest is a healing experience too.

EXTRAS – Art in Nature

Colour and Mood:
Choose any colour and collect objects in nature with that colour shade. Create a colour palette with all the different shades of your chosen colour. What are the memories, people and things you associate with that colour? Create a list of all things that come to mind when you see that colour.
*This exercise has been contributed by Mai Ly Tran a school teacher from Vietnam

Creative Visualisation (Nature’s Gift):
Collect an interesting object from nature. Use creative visualisation to turn this object into something else. For e.g: A long stick may become a flying broom, or a microphone stand or a paddle for a boat. Visualise at-least 5 to 10 different things with your chosen object. If you are in a group, then divide into pairs. Each person finds a nature gift for their partner. Visualise a creative use for the gift you have received. Enact it out while other group members try to guess what you are using your object as.

Concentric Circles:
This exercise is designed to build patience and focus. A highly calming nature art activity is to create spirals or circles with nature objects. Start by collecting similar objects like sticks, stones or fallen leaves. Create a small circle with a few objects from your collection. Keep growing your art by adding bigger concentric circles around the original circle. Each of the circles can be of a different colour / size / shape.

Download forest art walk film and poster files at this link.

ART AND NATURE

Please try this art walk with your friends and family. Even more importantly, teach others and share this format in your circles. Forests all over the world are fading away. We need to recreate our relationship with nature urgently. While science can help us create a better life, we need art to create a better world.

The idea is simple and engaging for all age groups. People across the world have held forest art walks in their cities. The aim is to share beautiful images of forest art so that we can inspire more people to connect with nature.

Join our facebook group – ART of NATURE to share your art and link up with like-minded folks from different forests and cities of the world.

SCIENCE OF NATURE ART WALKS

When we move in any environment, we are activating different networks in our brain. There is the logical, information processing, decision-making executive network. Then there is the network, which keeps us balanced and oriented and finally the default network.

The default network is our free mind, which wanders here and there. It kicks in when your task-based executive network begins to rest. The default network is also credited with producing empathy, creativity and important insights.

A great nature experience allows the executive network of the brain to rest and recharge itself. It also engages the default network of the mind in a positive way.

Scientists using brain imaging techniques to study the effect of nature on our brain found a specific part of the brain being activated when we are relaxed in nature. This region is directly linked to the dopamine reward system of the brain, which leads to a higher likelihood of people forming emotional bonds – not just with other people, but also with nature. This has proved to be an incredible finding.

“We can create art out of anything, including our life.”

*This page is part of our Nature Connect course with 100+ nature based arts, games, and meditations from around the world.

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

Song of Trees | How to make true friends

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

Song of Trees | Relationships in nature

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

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

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Trees and Friends

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

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

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

— David George Haskell (www.dghaskell.com)

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Meditation on Interbeing

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

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

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

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

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RELATIONSHIP WALK | Making New Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many people assume that words are the most important part of a relationship. However, creating and sharing meaningful experiences together are far more powerful. As you may have observed in people who are extremely good friends, communication can happen without the need to say things. A large part of our closest relationships are about creating beautiful moments with each other

TREE FRIENDS EXERCISE

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

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

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

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

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

Tree Trunk:
What are your strengths / weaknesses?

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

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

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

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

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

A FRIEND REQUEST

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

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

~ Greek Proverb

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

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

To join the forest friends program please visit this link.

Trees

MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE FOREST

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

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

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

Also, it would add to our collective knowledge if you could leave your answer to this simple question in the comments below – What has the forest taught you?

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

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

1︱Opening Senses

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

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2︱Gratitude Walk

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

An interesting addition to your walk is to create a feeling of gratitude. By focusing your attention on things that fill you with gratitude, you can shift your mind from any negativity or pessimistic thoughts. Here’s a simple list to help you fill your heart with gratitude.

3︱Make Friends With Trees

Find a tree that attracts to you and get to know it well. Spend at least 10 minutes with your tree. Some possible ways to engage with trees are:

Explore the tree: Gaze at the tree for five minutes. What does it tell you about itself? Trees belong to different species and have histories, families, stories, and unique qualities. Lean against the tree, touch the tree, feel its leaves, bark, flowers, fruit. What knowledge does it share with you? 

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

Tell the tree a story: Share a secret, your dreams, a prayer, or send a message to a loved one. Trees provide a non-judging space to express yourself.

Meditate with the tree:  Either sitting or lying down, breathe and become aware of the interconnected link of breath between you and the tree.

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

Tree

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

4︱Grounding with Body and Breath

Find a quiet place in nature, take off your shoes and stand on the earth. Relax your breath. Straighten your spine. Become aware of the sensations from your legs, ankles and feet moving up from the ground. Stand for a few minutes until you feel stable. Then, move your awareness slowly up from the feet to the top of your head. Notice if there’s tension, stress, or stiffness in any part of your body. Stay with the areas of your body that call your attention. Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat. Imagine the forest air soothing your body with every in-breath and your tiredness dissolving into the ground with every out-breath. This deep breathing brings fresh oxygen and phytoncides (natural compounds that increase blood cells which fight cancer and tumors) into our lungs, tissues and organs. They also ground our bodies and can give relief from inflammation, pain and stress. Benefits of deep breathing are amplified manifold in the forest.

Nature Connection activities

5︱Nature Therapist

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

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6︱Nature Art

Create an impermanent artwork made from found elements of nature. The work of Andy Goldsworthy is an inspiration, but we need not go so far! Some ideas for your nature art: gratitude mandala, animal home, ikebana, labyrinth, a magical fairy house and bridge. If you’re with others, try a ‘gallery walk’ afterwards to share your creations. (A full post on the process can be found at our post on Nature Art )

Arranged leaves by Andy Goldsworthy

7︱Nature Journaling

Create a personal record of the nature around you by keeping a nature journal. What is a nature journal? Simply put, it is “the regular recording of observation, perceptions, and feelings about the natural world”. (Clare Walker Leslie, Keeping a Nature Journal)

The act of nature journaling encourages us to become keen observers of details and seasonal rhythms and deepens our understanding of the natural world. It reinforces our nature connections and it stimulates reflection on experiences, thoughts and emotions. It helps us remember what has been observed and learned, cultivates on-going curiosity and contributes to establishing a sense of place.

Developing the habit of nature journal can be tricky. Make it inviting. Keep it simple. Encourage it but let it be optional. Let your child record in whatever way he would like (sketches, poems, photos, brief descriptions, pressed plant samples, etc.). Do it together. Review and reflect on past entries occasionally.

Check out these resources for inspiration and how-to’s:

Bird

8︱Animal Kingdom

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

For groups, stand in a circle and ask people to call forth their favorite animal. Then, give yourselves a fun task, such as building animal homes, or a enacting the role of your animal. After 10-15 minutes of play, reconvene in a circle to create a poem. Begin with a word or sound that suits the day, and then going around the circle each person contributes a word/sound until a freestyle poem emerges and runs its course.

9︱Dance

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

10︱Water Healer

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

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11︱Dream Time

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

*This page is part of our Nature Calm course with 100+ ideas for mindful nature based activities and meditations from around the world.

Also do check out our post on 9 Nature Ideas for mindfulness activities for groups >>


Article inputs by Julie Hall and Monique from USA

Travel with us into the delightful healing forests of Japan. Discover the magical moss covered forests of Yakushima island and know about the volcano museum. Breathe in the deep greens of dense forests and soak in the crystal streams, waterfalls and hot springs scattered around.

During the 1980’s Japanese researchers and scientists started discovering multiple benefits of being in forests and reconnecting with nature. With the development of medical equipment related to natural and life sciences, this field has advanced even more. They have given us scientific proof on our intuitive understanding that nature heals. Japan as a country has established many healing forests in their country over the years. Designated nature reserves where people can go to experience the healing powers of forests.

Image Source

SHINRIN YOKU

Japan is a technologically advanced world. Cities have become mazes of steel, concrete and silicon, swimming in a sea of electromagnetic waves. In this electronic age, some part of us still yearns for the freedom and comfort of nature. For many people, the answer lies in reaching out to the forests.

Shinrin-yoku is a term the Japanese use to describe this practise of immersing oneself in the forest. Literally translated it means ‘forest bathing’. Allowing nature to cleanse the mind and spirit of negative thoughts and emotions. Reawakening your senses, rejuvenating your energy and adding strength to your healing ability.

Given below is a hand picked list of some of the best healing forests of Japan.

Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima Japan
One of Japan’s natural wonders, Shiratani Unsuikyo Gorge on Yakushima Island is home to a mystical, primeval forest with yakusugi cedar trees between 1,000 – 7,200 years old. Covered in 600 types of moss, the forest glows green and radiates an otherworldly beauty that is legendary in Japanese culture. Shiratani Unsuikyo is best explored on the longer trail, Taiko-Iwa, that passes through the most luscious landscapes on the island and leads to the top of the mountain with stunning panoramic views. Yakushima Island is a registered UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site for its rare and diverse ecosystem, unlike any other on earth. Indigenous deer and monkeys roam freely. There are many places along the trail to stop and enjoy the scenery. Bring your rain gear and lunch, walk carefully and enjoy! Information contributed by: Julie Hall, www.shinrin-yoku-walks.com

Yakushima | Image Source

Kitago, Miyazaki
“A town of great natural beauty, clean streams and hot springs”, Kitago Town in Nichinan City is located in the southern part of Miyazaki Prefecture. The natural hot springs of 51 degreesC welling up from 800 meters below the ground are popular with visitors from both within and outside Miyazaki who refer to it as the “The Beauty Hot Spring”. Hanatate Park is famous for its 10,000 cherry trees and in spring, visitors flock from all over to gaze at the clouds of soft pink blossoms.


Ukiha City, Fukuoka
Located in the southeastern part of Fukuoka Prefecture with the Minou Mountains ranging to the south and the Chikugo River flowing in the north, Ukiha City has a rich natural environment.

Ukiha |Image Source

Iinan, Shimane
The Town of Iinan nestles in the highlands at an elevation of 450 meters. The sources of both the Hii and Kando Rivers are to be found in this region made famous by its long history of rice and vegetable production. With easy access to such a rich natural environment, the town of Iinan’s Forest Therapy programs offer a combination of nature, history and culture.

Linan |Image Source

Ashizu, Chizu Town, Yazu-Gun
Along the forest therapy road in Chizu, in the Ashizu valley, flows one of the best streams in western Japan. It is situated in a forest of cedar and hardwoods. The valley is magnificent in all the four seasons and has something new to offer every time you visit. The valley stretches to the Chugoku Nature Trail, encircles the Mitaki Dam and continues on to the upstream river valley.

Ashizu |Image Source

Shiso, Hyogo
Surrounded by towering mountains with an elevation of over 1000 meters, such as Hyonsen, the highest peak in Hyogo Prefecture, the City is full of lush greenery as it is part of the Hyonosen-Ushiroyama-Nagisan Semi-National Park and the Onzui-Chikusa Prefectural Natural Park.

Shiso Hyogo |Image Source

Yamanouchi, Nagano
With towering mountains, primeval forests and clean sparkling lakes, it has an undulating terrain surrounded by high 2,000 meter mountain ranges rich in volcanic rocks such as green tuff, andesite, diorite and basalt, indicating the intensity of past volcanic activity. It is known as a “volcano museum”. The therapy roads often take you to vantage points where you may find a sea of clouds under your feet. The primeval forest of Shiga Kogen also has circular loops around emerald lakes reflecting the forest green.

We hope this article inspired you to go out and spend some time in nature. As part of our project we are identifying and marking healing forests around the world. Quiet spaces in nature that one can visit without feeling unsafe. You can check out the map so far and even recommend a nature trail to be added to this map.

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to help people reconnect with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal. To know more about us and join us as a fellow volunteer visit this link.

May the forests be with you.

KUMANO – 熊野 from Mathieu Le Lay on Vimeo.

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