“Forest Bathing is not only about connecting to the nature that is beyond us, it is also about recognising that we are fully enmeshed in and as nature” ~ Ben Page.

This month we have a guest post by Ben Page, author of the recently published book ‘Healing Trees – A Pocket Guide to Forest Bathing‘. In this post Ben offers mindful insights to connect with the nature within. Also included are 3 meditative invitations based on the elements of nature. These ideas serve as useful pointers to navigate the complexity of our inner world through simple walks wearing the shoes of our imagination.

Ben’s Journey into Forest Bathing

There are many stories I can tell about the beginning of this journey. Somehow, they are all interrelated. But today I’d like to tell you about the time when I was invited to train as a forest therapy guide.

I had just finished a 24 hour solo fast in the Inyo mountains as part of a program I was doing with the School of Lost Borders. It was a beautiful experience, laying beneath an ocean of stars that yielded to a brilliant sunrise and a slow wander among ancient bristlecone pines. Thinking back on it now, it almost feels like a dream.

When the group returned across the threshold, we descended the mountain to break the fast and it was there that a man tapped me on the should and said, “I want to show you something.” He invited me to close my eyes, took me by the shoulders, and lead me about 20 steps before inviting me to open my eyes again.

When I did, my nose was about a centimeter from a large tree that stood not far from where I had been sitting. I had been aware it was there, of course, but in that moment, I saw the tree in a new way. I remember the details of the bark being somehow arresting, like when you spot a rainbow and you just have to stop and watch and everything else in life seems to melt away. It was so simple and yet it was anything but simple. It was a paradox. How could I have missed something so sublime, only 20 steps away?

Next thing I know, this man who tapped me on the shoulder, Amos Clifford, asked me to take this training he’s offering. It sounds strange and I’ve never heard of what he called ‘Forest Therapy’ but there was something about the moment of opening my eyes and seeing that tree that lingered in me, called to me, spoke to me in a language that was familiar but I couldn’t remember. Perhaps the tree woke me up?

Forest of Calm – Pic by Dan A Cardoza

Our Inner Nature

Lately I’ve been quite captivated by the nature that is my body. As I deepen into witnessing it, I become aware that this body is not my own but is truly an ecosystem that houses many elements and beings. Furthermore, it is a porous ecosystem. Matter comes in, matter transforms and matter comes out; this is quite literally happening all the time. What is happening below the surface of my skin is a dynamic ecology that exists whether I am aware of it or not. It does not require me to know that it is there, nor does it care what I think of it. It’s fascinating to dig down into this strange relationship with myself, understanding that I am not simply me, this ‘Ben Page’ character, but I am also fully identified as Earth itself.

When I speak to people about this, we invariably arrive at this question of defining what we refer to as ‘inner nature.’ Most people hear these words and think that their inner nature has something to do with their character, with their psychological experience of being. They think that their inner nature has something to do with who they are. But in my experience, the inner nature has absolutely nothing to do with who I am, and everything to do with what I am. I wrote the following passage for the course I am currently teaching:

‘The inner nature that lives within us is difficult (if not impossible) to describe. It is something that can only be felt, something that can only be understood in the moment that it is animated within our hearts. It is a part of us that does not need to prove anything, nor does it need to compete for love. It is a part of us that is always at home in the world, that always belongs and cannot be separated. It is a part of us that is not properly “ours” but exists as a vast interconnecting energy that moves through all things. Perhaps we do not have individual, unique, personal “inner natures,” but instead experience the inner nature as an expression of our belongingness in and to the world. It is specifically because our inner nature cannot be possessed or contained individually that it can exist completely outside the ego.

One way of understanding our inner nature is that it is our sense of aliveness. It is something as humble and ordinary as breathing or gazing at the stars or holding a child in your arms. It is not abstractly meaningful in such a way that it could impress someone who was interested only in becoming heroic. Our aliveness is new in every moment and it defines our interconnectedness with the world. It blurs the lines between what we think of as “ourselves” and what we think of as “the world.” It is the art of simply being.

We embody this aliveness whenever we experience reality beyond the story of the ego, beyond the desire to make such a feeling “about us”. Such aliveness represents our most unapologetic, spontaneous, and ordinary selves and it is what we might call our ecological identity. Unlike our egoic identity, it is not built of ideas, but of the instantaneous, emergent experience of being alive. It is this part of ourselves that participates in the moment, the part of us that is enmeshed in relationships beyond our stories about them. It is the part of us that loves with such force that we forget who we are. Whenever we experience such aliveness immediately and directly, it is through our inner nature, not through our egos.

Among the beings of nature, the clouds, the waterfalls, the stones, animals and fungi, there is no need to become special. Everything knows that it has its place, with no compulsion to be anything more than what it is. In nature, there is no striving. Everything relaxes into simply being ordinary. In nature, all beings belong by the grace of their interconnectedness and not because they have done something heroic to earn it. In this aesthetic experience, we are called to remember that we can be like this as well.’

I wonder about this a lot. What does it mean to be nature, to be ecological? I find that my ego, the character of Ben-Page, really wants being ecological to be a story about it. But the more I sit in nature, just simply being, the more I am convinced that being nature isn’t a story about me. The inner nature is not mine; it is everything. So being ecological is not a process of self-discovery, it’s a process of letting go of the need to define myself only in human terms. Instead of seeing my nature as being about my individuality, I am learning to see my ecological identity as something intersubjective, a sense of selfhood that is informed by an infinite web of relationships. And it’s scary at first, because one worries that having this kind of experience might destroy the ego or that one could fall down the rabbit hole and never come back. There’s a sense of fear that makes us want to cling to ourselves more tightly than before. Yet, if we employ a gentle approach, we can always come back. The point is not to destroy the story of who we are, there is no destination that we strive to reach which would confer the inner nature upon us.

This destination is reached before a single step is ever taken. All we must do is remember how to relax into being a part of the places we find ourselves in. It’s happening all the time, this unfolding ecological experience; we are just too preoccupied with what it means or how it relates to our ego stories to see it spontaneously emerge. The inner nature is an aesthetic experience; what it looks like here, what it sounds like, what it tastes like, what it feels like, what it smells like and what it evokes in us. That’s the thing about living art. It’s not about grasping it; it is about experiencing it in full immediacy and then letting go just as quickly because there’s always something new in every single moment. Perhaps that is the expression of aliveness that is only possible through the inner nature?

Sunset Sky – Pic by Nick Sheerbart

Nature Embodiment Invitations

These invitations are crafted to invite you into a world without separation. Allow them to move through your body without effort; relaxation is the key.

Exploring ourselves as sky

As you stand, notice what it feels like to breathe. Notice the sensations in each moment as you inhale and exhale. Perhaps hold your hands against your rib cage or your stomach; what does this relationship between body, breath and air feel like? I wonder where this air has been before it has met you here in this moment? I wonder what beings this air has been a part of before it was a part of you? I wonder where you begin and the world ends? As you sit, notice what it feels like to breathe.

Loving ourselves as water

As you sit, notice what it feels like to have a heart. Perhaps placing your hands upon your chest, simply noticing that an ocean is always running through you. With each beat of your heart, the waves recede and advance upon every shore. Where has this water been before it was in your body? What other forms has it taken along its journey? Perhaps clouds, or glaciers or tidepools at the edge of the sea? As you sit, notice what it is like to have a beating heart.

Moving ourselves as earth

As you wander, notice what it feels like to be in your body. Notice that you are made up of interconnected bones and muscles and tendons. With every step, notice what it feels like to be in motion, how every movement ripples through the body. As you move, perhaps also notice that every moment you make is connected to the movement of the world around you; nothing moves in isolation and you are a always a participant in the dance of the world. As you wander, notice what it feels like to be in your body.

Ben Page Bio:

Ben Page is a Forest Therapy Guide, global advocate for the practice and the author of Healing Trees: A Pocket Guide to Forest Bathing. He is the founder of Shinrin Yoku LA and Integral Forest Bathing and has been guiding Forest Therapy walks since 2015. During his tenure as a trainer and mentor of guides, Ben has trained hundreds of guides around the world. From 2017-2020, he also served as the Director of Training for the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, specializing in curriculum and pedagogical design. Since his practice began, Ben has been featured in such publications as Women’s Health, USA TODAY, Good Morning America, The Washington Post, and WebMD. Ben is also a co-founder of The Open School, Southern California’s only free democratic school. He holds a B.A. in religious studies from Carleton College and an M.A. in human development and social change from Pacific Oaks College.

A note about the book:
This book is intended as an easy approach to forest bathing, a concept that is now making its way into health and wellness practices. Part spiritual guide and part practitioner’s handbook, this accessible, practical, positivity-rich book is designed to be taken on every walk to encourage mindfulness, contentedness, and presence in the moment.

For information on Ben’s work, including books, courses and audio meditations, check out his website. Get a free gift when you sign up for the mailing list! https://www.integralforestbathing.com

All relationships in life go through cycles and seasons. Whether we are creating new relationships or nurturing the ones we have. Whether we are mending them or ending them, we need a reliable way to navigate through the ups and downs.

Empathy is the glue for all relationships. By definition empathy is the ability to understand the emotion in others and to be able to imagine how they are feeling. But if we look deeper, we understand this quality of empathy is one of the critical factors that gives shape to the nature our relationships.

Empathy promotes helpful behavior in times of need and encourages us to expand our concept of self. Empathizing with others is also a way of managing our own emotions and training our mind to prepare itself for challenges.

So how do you learn and teach empathy through nature? In this article we will show you an engaging way, by taking a mindful walk through nature. All you need is a notebook to pen down your observations or a camera to capture your findings. We will also take nature’s help to answer some important questions – Why is empathy important for us? What role did it play in our evolution? How do we expand our empathy to influence our lives as individuals, as a community and finally as a species?

EMPATHY WALK

The 3 key values of a mindful nature walk are  going slow, being silent, and using our senses to connect with nature. Through these simple rules we can tap into the wisdom of nature outside by observing its intricate workings. This leads to deep insights which create a new understanding in our mind and helps us grow our inner nature.

The empathy walk is divided into 10-minute sections and each section starts with a simple ask. You are supposed to look for something specific in nature while you are walking. Once you find it, you can take a photograph or write about it. At the end of the 10-minute walk, participants gather in a circle and share their findings and any specific memory or insight that was triggered by their observation.

*For larger groups, the sharing circle can be divided into smaller groups of 3 or 4 participants each. Each person gets a minute or 2 to share. After the short sharing session, the next task is disclosed and the group continues its walk. At the end of the walk, after the final task there is a closing circle, where all the participants can share their insights and experiences if they wish. This is a nice way to turn individual learning into a collective learning.

EMPATHY LISTENING:

When people are sharing we must learn to listen like a tree – silently and without any judgements. Often when people are sharing a difficult experience, what they are seeking is for someone to be present to their experience. The intention is to feel less alone in it, and thus lessen the intensity of it. When you listen to someone and assure them of your non-judgmental presence, you are communicating to them that they are not alone, that we are in this together, that this experience is shared and they do not have to suffer alone.

REFERENCES:
The Eight Master Lessons of Nature by Gary Ferguson | The Age of Empathy by Frans De Waal

TEACHING EMPATHY WITH NATURE

Given below are the list of asks that we recommend. Also included are some nature insights that can add value and new learning to your walks. Feel free to  add / edit / modify these asks to suit your environment as well as group interests.

This empathy walk is suitable for all age groups. It can be especially helpful for teaching the concept to kids and to younger audience. However, it is equally effective for folks who wish to deepen their enquiry of the Self.

1. Find an example of struggle in nature.

From the moment we’re born, we need nurturing, human connection and empathy in order to survive. It’s simply a biological imperative. As mammals, it’s critical that we receive maternal care. This initial bond is so important that it continues to reverberate through our lives as we get older.

In many species, the eldest creatures in a community are responsible for showing younger members crucial skills for survival. A wonderful example of this can be seen in the African Elephants. The elephants in the savannah are led by the eldest females of the herd. They protect the young with their large tusks and tap their impressive memories to locate hidden watering holes. In larger groups of elephants, when one dies, its herd gathers together, gently touching trunks in what appears to be a grieving ritual.

Poachers hunting mature elephants leave many herds without any elder leadership. Scientists have observed that these packs with no grandparents are often less cohesive, more aggressive, and generally less able to thrive.

By observing different examples of struggle in nature, we can reflect on how in the journey of our own life, we have encountered different struggles. It is also a moment to observe that no life in nature is free from challenges and struggles. And in some ways we can say that struggle is the mother of empathy.

Pic By: Nam Anh
2. Find an example of something that creates gratitude in you.

While empathy is generally associated with feeling the other’s hurt or loss, it can be an equally powerful bond in expressions of fulfilment and gratitude. After a dry spell, when the first rain arrives the entire forest celebrates. Creating small moments of gratitude provides encouragement and support to move through difficult times.

The Work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I only have gratitude, I may become saccharine and not develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.

~ Francis Weller

Imagine a mighty oak tree – how does it survive? It relies on soil and sunlight and also on other organisms. Deep underground, its roots are entangled with mycorrhizal fungi. The tree provides the fungi nutrients and in return, it receives essential elements like nitrogen and phosphorus. But the connections don’t end there. Through the rhizomatic network of fungi underground, a whole forest of trees can actually communicate with each other. Trees struggling to grow can send chemical signals asking for help and, through the fungi, thriving oaks can deliver needed nourishment.

Humans are not separate from this web of life. Trees emit antimicrobial compounds called phytoncides. Walk through the forest and you’ll inhale these beneficial compounds which can boost your immune system. This rich system of mutual support recalls the concept of ubuntu. This notion, from the Nguni people of southern Africa, describes how humans can only flourish through sharing and empathy. No one is truly a “rugged individual,” we only survive when we all care for each other.

3. Find an example of something that needs healing.

Hike through the unspoiled wilderness in the springtime and you’ll come upon an amazing sight. In the fertile valleys between the peaks are meadows brimming with wildflowers. Importantly, there’s not just one species. The colorful display can include many different species. In our wilderness, we find geraniums, buttercups, paintbrushes, bluebells, and dozens of other blossoms. Why such a wide array? Well, each has its own strength. If there’s a drought, those with deep roots will endure. If there’s a blight, those with immunity will pull through. The surviving species will in turn keep the ecosystem going until the others have a chance to recover when conditions change. Essentially, variety is nature’s safety net.

As humans we have the ability to extend our empathy to encompass a large variety of beings. By learning to expand our level of awareness and circle of observation we become aware of different people and creatures in our lives that may be in need.

Empathy also plays a role in cooperation. One needs to pay close attention to the activities and goals of others to cooperate effectively. A lioness needs to notice quickly when other lionesses go into hunting mode, so that she can join them and contribute to the pride’s success. A male chimpanzee needs to pay attention to his buddy’s rivalries and skirmishes with others so that he can help out whenever needed, thus ensuring the political success of their partnership. Effective cooperation requires being exquisitely in tune with the emotional states and goals of others.

4. Find an example of support and kindness in nature.

Empathy helps to create more effective teams. As a whole, the team is only as strong as our weakest team member. When one of our team members faces a setback, it is important that the team works to reach out, support and care for them until they are ready to fly again. By supporting the weaker members, the teams set a culture of belonging and strong sense of community. The herd instinct plays a vital role in the bonding experienced by both humans and animals.

Empathy in action: If you look up at the birds flying in the sky, you might notice that many flocks fly in a V-shape formation. There is an interesting reason for this formation.

Flying takes a lot of energy. The strong flapping of wings creates an updraft in the air around the bird’s wingtips. Birds which fly slightly behind the first bird take advantage of this updraft and have to spend lesser energy to fly. When the leading bird gets tired, it drops back in formation and another bird moves to the front. For long migratory flights the youngest and weakest birds are put at the back of the V formation to make the flights easier for them. In fact, one study found that geese can increase their range by 70% on long migratory flights using this technique.

Pic by Nicole Geri
5. Find an example of something that is healing for you.

Empaths are highly tuned in and sensitive to the emotions of others, they often have a natural ability to absorb emotional energies around them and transform them into more healthy, positive forms through their expression of love, compassion, forgiveness and understanding. Feeling other people’s pain and anguish compels us to alleviate it – not just for the other person, but also for ourselves, so that we no longer feel its torment.

This process of transformation is frequently exhausting and depleting for the empath. When we spend too much emotional, mental and physical energy while caring for someone else, it results in an empathy burn-out. During this experience, we tend to suddenly withdraw our attention and become dispirited towards the ones we care about the most. Under the weight of our own exhaustion, we feel numb or unaffected, emptied of all energy, vitality and feelings.

In order for us to preserve our capacity for empathy for others, we need to establish healthy boundaries for ourselves, so that we can continue to respond to the feelings of others without being engulfed by them.

AVOIDING EMPATHY FATIGUE

Some simple things to keep in mind are:

  1. Set aside time to recharge yourself. During this time, you allow yourself to walk away from your caregiving task, and instead engage in activities of self-care that you find replenishing. An excellent idea is to go for a Healing Forest walk or try Forest Bathing.
  2. Understand that you do not have all the answers. If you put on yourself the burden of having a solution to every problem that arises, you will burn out quickly. Be confident that you will help where you can, but when you don’t know how, that’s okay. Someone else can step in with those answers.
  3. Tell yourself that whatever you are doing is good enough. You do not need to be great. An acceptance of your capacity and its limits is more healthy than setting up unrealistic expectations from yourself which lead to a sense of failure and guilt.
  4. You might feel that setting boundaries for showing empathy may seem selfish. However, it is important to bear in mind that in wanting people to heal, ultimately we want to foster their ability to do so on their own. Setting boundaries while being lovingly available to the other helps not just in recovery but also in building their sense of self-reliance.

Reference 1, 2

Download link for the empathy walk poster.

WHY EMPATHY IS IMPORTANT

Empathy is one of the fundamental life skills that needs to be mastered in these complex times. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, empathy helps us expand and grow our relationships. Empathy is also the lifeblood that helps us nurture and sustain those relationships.

The most important take-away from the nature walk is the fact that our empathy is not restricted to just other human beings. It has to expand itself to include other species and our environment as well. As technology advances, it is bringing different cultures closer in contact with each other. And the actions of humans are influencing our global environment at a remarkable pace. Last year, an intergovernmental panel of scientists said one million animal and plant species were now threatened with extinction. And global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles plunged by 68%, on average, between 1970 and 2016 (Source BBC).

Therefore, it has become critical to grow our levels of empathy as a community, as well as a species. Unless we focus on learning and teaching empathy through nature, we cannot hope to create a fruitful relationship with our future.

Healing Forest is a volunteer driven 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 it reaches those who might find it helpful. 

Pic by Elena Vell / FB

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.

Well Preserved

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
  • Improving flexibility
  • 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

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

There’s more about wild swimming safety here | Cover photo by Jake Johnson

END NOTE:

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 it reaches those who might find it helpful.  And here is a meditative water poem for you before you go.

How to rewild your garden into a miniature rainforest

Liz Miller/Shutterstock

An article by Jack Marley, The Conversation

Many scientists believe that halting global warming at 1.5°C will require us to invent Negative Emission Technologies – machines that can suck climate warming gases like carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the air. But such technology already exists and has done for over two billion years. From the trees outside your window to the microscopic algae in the ocean, nature is working hard to absorb the atmospheric carbon that is heating our world.

Limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C will require removing CO₂ from the atmosphere.
MCC

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.


A wilder world is a cooler world

Nearly a million species are at risk of extinction without “transformative changes” to the way societies and economies are organised in the 21st century. That’s according to a report published in May 2019 by an international team studying Earth’s biodiversity.

Climate change drives species to extinction and exacerbates threats such as habitat loss, by destroying the habitats themselves or changing the conditions that make them hospitable to different species.

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:

Despite 40% of the world’s land being cultivated or grazed permanently by domestic herbivores… forests returned at a rate of 2.2 million hectares per year between 2010-2015 alone. Spain, for example, has tripled its forest area since 1900 – increasing from 8% to 25% of its territory. The country gained 96,000 hectares of forest every year from 2000-2015.

In the UK, forests have recovered more slowly, from 5% of the land area after World War I to 13% today. It’s been estimated that every hectare of forest that’s restored in the UK could absorb the annual emissions of 30 London buses or 90 cars every year. Restoring forest cover in the UK to just 18% of the land area could absorb a quarter of the carbon that will need to be cut in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

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.
Where the billion hectares of forest could be planted – excluding desert, farmland and urban areas.
Crowther Lab, Author provided
How all of that new forest would look with the forest that’s already there.
Crowther Lab, Author provided

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.

Left – Wild grassland in Transylvania. Right – Potwell Dykes, Nottinghamshire – how much of the UK’s lost grassland would have once looked.
Adam Bates

What’s left is a sorry sight. The clipped lawns and neat grass verges of Britain mostly contain only one or two species of turf grass, compared to the more than 40 plant species that can thrive in a single square metre of grassland. As their native habitat has declined, British pollinating insects have vanished from a third of their range since 1980.

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.

Adam Bates

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.

A traditionally managed lawn. There are few plant species and little structure for bugs to exploit.
Adam Bates

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.

Fox-and-cubs (Hieracium aurantiacum) help feed leafcutter bees.
Jörg Hempel/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

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.

Leaving a mowing gap in summer can give species like cat’s-ear and fox-and-cub time to flower – both important food sources for leafcutter bees.

3. Don’t use fertilisers or herbicides

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.

Ponds are carbon sinks which can fit well in intensively managed landscapes.
Mike Jeffries, Author provided

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.

Tadpole shrimps (Triops cancriformis) evolved 220m years ago and can be found in freshwater ponds in Britain.
Repina Valeriya/Shutterstock

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:

Shade cools the ground.
Roland Ennos, Author provided
  • 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.
The Parkroyal on Pickering Hotel in Singapore is shrouded in forested terraces and sky gardens that encourage local insects and birds.
Ariyaphol Jiwalak/Shutterstock

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.

A roadside verge teeming with wildflowers in Rotherham, UK.
Pictorial Meadows

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.

Further reading

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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.

ARTICLE REFERENCES: Thich Naht Hahn (Art of Communication) | J.D.Schramm (Communicate with Mastery) | Stephen Buchmann (The Reason for Flowers)

Better Communication | What Flowers Know

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.

CHINA

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 Walks China

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?

USA

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 Walks America
Pic by Tony Glenn

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

ITALY

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.

PERU

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 Walks Peru
Pic by Mailan Maik

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.

NEW ZEALAND

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 Walks New-Zealand
Pic by Marina Cath

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 Sheep

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.

Forest Song | A Gift From The Trees

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.

FOREST SONG

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

Breathe

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

Breathe

In your sadness
you may forget me

In their madness
they may cut me

but till I remain
I send you my gift

Breathe

A simple truth
for a complex world

Learning to give,
is learning to love

And learning to receive
is finding peace

Breathe


END NOTE

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 rate in 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.

Tree Burial Forest
Tree Burial Forest

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.

Small Meditation Garden
Small Meditation 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 Garden Elements

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.

Meditation Garden Rocks

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.

Meditation Garden Fountain

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.

Zen Garden Birds

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 bench


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.

Image Credits: Liam Read. Karen Oeu. Ewan Hutchinson. Jeff Finley. Fezbot. David Wirzba. Hideki Nishiyama. Note Thanun. Cover image: Cody Weaver. | Unsplash

5 GARDEN MEDITATIONS

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.

  • 5 Garden Meditations

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.”

Auburn Sandstorm


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.

Meditation Garden

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.”

Robert Fox
Meditation Garden Statue

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.

SHORTCUTS:
Stories and examples of resilience from Central America | Tibet | Peru | Egypt | U.S.-Mexico | Resilience Film

1. Resilience Example: A Story from the Past

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.

Resilience Example
pic by: Jimmy Baum

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?

Source of Story: Collapse by Jared Diamond.

HOW TO BE RESILIENT?

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

Resilience Story

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. 

Resilience example 2

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.”

Resilience Story 2
Pic by: Pete McBride, U.S. Geological survey

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?

6. Resilience Example: A River Story

Film Credits: Film- Nitin Das | Music- Chris Haugen |Additional Footage- GreenHub | Production- Colorcaravan | Research: HBR Blog | *Please view in fullscreen mode with sound.

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.


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.

THE EMOTIONS

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.

Do share this post with people who might find it helpful.

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