Forest Therapy in Japan and its Possibility for the World

 In this month’s guest post we explore the Japanese concept of Shinrin-ryoho 森林療法 which translates as Forest Therapy.

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

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What is Forest Therapy and its Healing Effects?

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

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

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Examples of Forest Therapy and Forest Amenity Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Case Studies of Forest Amenities

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

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

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

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

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

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Possibilities of Forest and Tree Amenities in the world

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

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

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

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

Forest Wisdom from North America

Across the world in space and time, indigenous communities have lived in harmony with their natural surroundings. Their daily sustenance on the resources of the landscape – be it the forests or grasslands, the mountains or the valleys, the lakes or the oceans – are intricately intertwined with their traditional practices, religious beliefs, oral as well as cultural histories. This dependence on their surrounding natural environment has led almost all indigenous cultures to form an intangible bond with Gaia, Mother Earth, which moves beyond a solely materialistic interaction towards a deeper spiritual connection.

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In this post we catch a glimpse into some examples of the wisdom of indigenous people from the continent of North America.

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CANADA

People of the Moose Cree First Nation & Tla-o-qui-aht people of Clayoquot Sound

“Listening to the wind and to the river, it brings some calmness and serenity into your being. When I need healing, I go to the land.” Sophia Rabliauskas, Poplar River First Nation on the eastern shores of Lake Winnipeg

In the boreal forest ecosystems of Canada have lived and thrived hundreds of distinct Aboriginal and Metis communities (also referred to as the First Nations peoples) over many millennia. It is estimated that at least 600 indigenous communities are located in Canada’s forests today, communities whose culture and traditional practices are intimately twined with that of the land, the water and the forest creatures. Even as they engage in activities like hunting, gathering and fishing for themselves and their community, the relationship of the indigenous peoples is based upon their profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth that guides them to practice reverence, humility and reciprocity.

“Keeping our cultural alive is all about being part of the land, being part of the wildlife, the fish and the birds.” Stephen Kakfwi, Dene Nation

One of the interesting events for the people of Cree First Nation on James Bay is the annual spring goose hunt that corresponds to the migration of these birds. This is an important time for the community whereby the excitement of the hunt also corresponds to the passing down of cultural values.

Geese are a main staple food for the people of James Bay…This is one of the peoples’ most important seasonal cultural events. It’s a time for gathering, sharing, learning, and reconnecting ourselves to the land. Knowledge of values and morals are passed on and the traditional teachings associated with the hunt are shared. These include respect, patience, honour and gratefulness to name a few… The goose hunt is not just a goose hunt. There is so much more as it is a lifestyle from our ancestors and for future generations as well.” – Lilian Trapper, Land Use Planning Coordinator for the Moose Cree First Nation on James Bay

For the Tla-o-qui-aht peoples, who are the original inhabitants of Clayoquot Sound, usage of the forest resources were always based on certain laws and teachings, and this included the protection of intact rainforest and waters. In their system of tribal governance, the Hereditary Chiefs (known collectively as Ha`wiih) would be responsible for their Ha`huulthii (traditional territory), the people of their community and all matters pertaining to the forests, rivers, food, medicines, songs, dances, and ceremonies. In recent times, due to the threats of logging and modern developmental activities, the Tla-o-qui-aht have incorporated a watershed-by-watershed management system with the intent of conserving the resources within these areas for future generations. They have categorized the areas broadly as qwa siin hap (which loosely translates to “leave as it is”) and uuya thluk nish (which means “we take care of”). The latter category of land is meant to integrate human activities into the ecosystem while also taking care of its well-being.

In fact, the Tla-o-qui-aht declared Meares Island (Wah-nah-jus – Hilth-hoo-is) as a Tribal Park in 1984 – thus becoming the first indigenous community in Canada that actively took control over management of their tribal lands. Till date they have declared three additional Tribal Parks as a means to protect their forests, waters, and resources.

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Karuk people of California

The Karuk people live in the north-western corner of the state of California. ‘Karuk‘ means ‘upriver people’ referring to their proximity to the Klamath river, one of the important river ecosystems of North America. Like many other indigenous cultures around the world, the Karuks have used fire as an essential tool for land- and forest-management in order to convert the organic matter into fertilizers, cleanse the soil of pathogens, and increase the species richness of an area. Therefore, an essential link has been forged between the element of fire, the health of the land and the well-being of the Karuk community.

By way of prescribed burning i.e. using fire at the right time for the right reasons, the Karuks could grow traditional foods like huckleberries, acorns, salmon and elk, medicinal herbs like wormwood, willow, bear grass, and encourage hazel trees to produce straight shoots needed for basket-making. In riverine ecosystems, fire reduced invasive weeds and brush along the sides of the stream and improved water quality, thus boosting salmon population.

Before it was deemed an illegal practice in 1911 by the federal government, the traditional fire-management system of the Karuks protected the communities scattered in the hills along the Klamath river from wildfires. Now decades later there is a growing consensus among forest ecologists to incorporate the fire management practices of the Karuks into the modern framework so as to aid in the prevention of California’s notorious wildfires.

“If we’re going to restore fish, we have to use fire. If we’re going to restore acorns and huckleberries, we have to use fire. It’s not just waiting for lightning to strike.” – Frank Lake, the Forest Service ecologist

Pic by: Isabella Juskova

 

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

This article was contributed by Romila Sil, a wandering soul who is on a journey to study the role of forests in the fostering of traditional and cultural ties in communities. Please add your insights in the comments section to grow our collective knowledge.

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

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Sharpening the 6th Sense

All the birds have flown away. The dogs in the village are showing signs of distress. The beach is eerily quiet.

This scene was taking place on Dec. 26, 2004 in many coastal habitats across the Indian ocean. Some time later the 3rd largest earthquake on record broke out in Indonesia. Following the earthquake, killer waves radiating from the epicentre slammed into the coastlines of 11 countries, causing massive damages from east Africa to Thailand.
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The world communicates with us through our senses.

Our perception of life is based on what we see, hear, smell, taste or touch. These senses help us navigate through life and create experiences which shape who we are, forming our concept of Self.

Other than the traditional five senses, humans have multiple other senses which are less talked about. Some of these additional senses include: ability to sense pain; sense of balance and orientation; sense of time; Ability to sense changes in temperature; and a sense of direction.

Is there something beyond these known sense perceptions? A hidden part of ourselves which can help us grow as individuals.

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THEN AND NOW

All across time, humans have relied on their senses to survive and thrive in the natural world. Trackers and indigenous tribes still use techniques that have been honed over centuries. For example, a small group of native American Indians known as ‘Shadow Wolves’ work on the US-Mexico border and use their skills to catch illegal drug traffickers.

In the modern age, our connection with the natural world has reduced drastically. Majority of our time is spent indoors and increasingly in front of screens. It is changing how we use and develop our senses. The two major outcomes are underutilisation of certain senses and a sensory overload of others.

Sensory overload occurs due to multiple reasons like city noise, overuse of electronic media, unhealthy diet and habits, etc. It impacts our mind and body and has a big effect on how we react to life or learn from it. Aggression, addiction, impulsivity, loneliness, stress are all linked intricately to our sense stimulation or lack of it.

Reconnecting with nature is a great antidote for restoring our wavering attention and rebalancing our emotions. Ample research findings now point to the various health benefits of spending time outdoors. However, at the edge of science lies one of the greatest gifts that nature has bestowed upon all living creatures in varying degrees.

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THE SIXTH SENSE

Science is interested in the diversity of life. And intuition is much more aware of the unity of life. ~ Joseph Bharat Cornell. Author of Sharing Nature.

The sixth sense is generally used as a metaphor for sensing something beyond our known physical senses. In the dictionary – ‘intuition’ is defined as a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.

However a simpler and more relevant understanding of this term is linked to heightened awareness. Awareness of the self, of others around us and of the environment we live in.

A classic example comes from the many reports of certain animals and birds behaving radically, much before a natural disaster like an earthquake or a tsunami strikes. This reaction is attributed to the greater development of their senses which allows them to perceive subtle changes in nature.

People may have different interpretations for the sixth sense, but ultimately it is the ability to feel rather than think. So it is more about sensitivity rather than some special sense. By working on our own senses we can sharpen our awareness levels to be conscious of our own feelings in the present moment and make wiser choices for our future.

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SENSE EXERCISES

Here are some exercises to sharpen your sense experiences. Try them out in a natural setting, in pairs or small groups.

Before you start the walk, stand in silence and pay attention to your senses individually for a minute each. Observe your surroundings with intention and take in the various sights colours and patterns. Move on to hearing attentively. Close your eyes and listen to all the sounds around you for a minute. Then focus on your breath and try to notice the smell of the forest. Finally, feel the earth beneath your feet and be aware of the sun and wind on your skin.

During the walk, move slowly and in silence. Find an appropriate place in nature to pause and try out one of the exercises given below. Share your insights with each other before resuming the walk and then repeat the process.

Eyes: Take time to identify at-least 5 different colours present in your surrounding. Pay attention to each colour separately and as you spend some time with a particular colour notice how it makes you feel.

Ears: Keep your eyes closed and gradually rotate yourself in a circle to capture sounds coming from different parts of the environment. Feel the mood of the forest, from the sounds you hear.

Touch: Find a unique tree and feel it with your hands to memorise it’s shape, texture and contours. Then have your partner blindfold you and lead you to different trees to see whether you can recognise your tree with just the memory of your touch.

Nose: The sense of smell is our oldest sense. For the exercise, collect leaves or flowers from different plants around you. Choose any one and memorise it’s smell by keeping it close to your nose for a few seconds. Place it back in a disordered pile with other leaves and flowers. With your eyes closed, use your nose to pick out your chosen object.

Taste: Carry a fruit with you on your walk. Find a scenic spot to sit quietly and eat the fruit slowly. The aim is to create a memory of the experience. Notice the affect of the ambience on the taste of the fruit.
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Working on our senses opens the doors to having a richer experience of life and more importantly fosters a feeling of being alive.

We hope this article has given you some interesting ideas to think about. Our intuition says that the next time you are in nature and pay attention to your senses, you will discover something new about yourself.

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END NOTE: If you have any other sense exercises to share, please add them in the comments section to grow our collective learning. The Earth needs more sensitivity from humans, so that we can hear what it is saying and take actions to shape where we are going.

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

Depression Vs Nature

This week we explore how nature affects our mental health and some interesting ways to restore our mental balance.  Research says that one in six people will experience depression at some point in their life. Depression is a prolonged state of sadness which severely affects how one feels, thinks and acts. It can strike anyone, anytime and leads to a variety of physical and emotional problems that can affect one’s ability to function at work and home. In today’s stressful world it is important to become aware of how the environment we live in affects us and actively seek out ways to take care of our mental health. Let us take a journey into our mind, through nature.

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Note: This article covers tips to take care of our mental well being through nature. It is meant as a preventive plan of action and is beneficial for most people . Nature therapy is not a substitute for medical or psychiatric treatment. People with serious psychiatric disorders should consult qualified medical practitioners and seek a balanced approach to treatment.

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ADVICE FROM A PSYCHOLOGIST

By 2020, mental health disorders, depression in particular, are projected to be overwhelming health-care concerns, and cities are far from a panacea for depression. Indeed, rates of depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are consistently reported to be much higher among urban residents. Here’s some good advice from Anita R., a clinical psychologist.

“Mental health remains one of the most problematic areas because it is least understood and yet the most stigmatised. People are still hesitant to ask for help. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that everybody needs to go for help. There are a lot of things that we can do to prevent at least some of the seriousness of suffering.  I personally believe that it’s a balance that we are not able to bring about in our lives.

Things like looking after your wellness which includes physical fitness, eating the right kind of diet, avoiding certain kinds of unhealthy habits, getting on your nature walks, just spending time outside and, definitely working on your own self, your interests, your hobbies because that kind of all-around wellness gives you a much better safety net to manage mental health issues.

When we reconnect with nature I think the most important part for me is that you start reconnecting with yourself and for me that is a huge, huge way to improve your mental health because even if nobody else in the world tells you that you are a good person or a person of some worth, just reconnecting with yourself and helping yourself to see what you truly are can make you a much happier person.”

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WALK IN THE WOODS

Here’s a list of some simple forest meditations to try out in nature.

Sense walk – Walk or sit silently in the forest. Focus on any one sense at a time for a short period of 5 to 10 minutes. Make a note of all the unique things you can observe and sense. Repeat the exercise with another of your senses. Notice how each sense reveals something new about the nature around us. The aim of this exercise is to bring us into the present moment and stop our thoughts from leaping into the past or future.

Gratitude tree – The aim of this exercise is to create a picture of a tree on the ground with things you find fallen around you. Every branch of the tree you create should be decorated with something you are grateful for. Find things to be grateful for in nature, in people around you and in your self.

Soaking in the forest – Find a place in the woods that calls out to you. Sit silently and observe the peace in nature around you. Imagine every pore in your skin is soaking in this tranquility and absorbing the calm of the forest like a sponge. Carry the calm of the forest back with you and return to it anytime you need it.

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SCIENCE

A group of researchers from Stanford University thought the nature effect might have something to do with reducing rumination. Rumination is what happens when you get really sad, and you can’t stop thinking about your glumness and what’s causing it: the breakup, the layoff, that biting remark. Rumination shows up as increased activity in a brain region called the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a narrow band in the lower part of the brain that regulates negative emotions. If rumination continues for too long unabated, depression can set it.

In general, decreases in rumination are linked to so-called “positive distractions,” like taking part in a hobby or enjoying a long chat with a friend. You’d think that walking in uninterrupted nature wouldn’t provide many diversions from a whorl of dark thoughts. Surprisingly, the opposite seemed to be true: Natural environments are more restorative, the authors write, and thus confer greater psychological benefits. (article link)

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Almost all antidepressant medications are thought to work by enhancing the availability of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone used in nerve cell communication hence it is also called “the happy chemical.”

There are many ways we can enhance the production of serotonin in our brain, naturally. Exercise is one of them, so is sunlight and spending time in nature. After a nature session, brain scans showed a sizeable reduction of blood flow to the region of our brain linked to sadness, withdrawal and general grumpiness.

Using nature to bring back awe, wonder and fascination in our lives can help short-circuit the spiralling cycle of depressive thoughts.

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END NOTE: Ultimately each one of us has to take the responsibility for our own mental health and well being. Reconnecting with nature is a simple and effective way. If you have any personal stories of healing to share, please add them in the comments section to inspire others.

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

Photos of Peace

Is it possible to capture calm? So that we may return to it when we need it. Can we freeze a moment of serenity and save it? So that it can be shared to spread some peace in turbulent times.

This month we explore some engaging games and activities in nature, based on the art of photography. Almost all smartphones carry a camera now. While we are often caught up in it’s web of apps, there are simple ways to use this tool for helping us find our calm and creativity.

Let’s see how we can turn our device of distraction into a mode of meditation.

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SCIENCE

Our visual sense is the strongest sense. We are influenced by the quality of light, the colour of light and also the source it comes from. It affects our mood as well as energy levels. The colours of nature soothe our mind and the play of light in the forest helps to break our pattern of thoughts. Certain fractals, the geometric self-repeating patterns present abundantly in nature activate the parts in our brain, which are involved with regulating emotions. It is the same region, which is active while listening to music.

Being out in nature has multiple benefits for our mental, physical and emotional health. Check out some interesting links, films and articles on our resources page. Large scale research from UK, found fewer cases of disease amongst people who lived near parks or open green spaces. Studies also showed that people with no windows or unattractive views took longer to recover when compared to those who could see trees and grass from their hospital windows. Similarly classrooms with windows revealed better performance by students and lesser incidents of violent behaviour.

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ACTIVITIES

Here’s a set of creative exercises in nature that use the camera to create some calm. You can try them on your own, but it’s more fun when you go out with a group of friends. It’s a great way to get new insights and create new bonds.

Directions: The only points to note are – move in silence and go slow. Think less and feel more.  Spend 10-15 minutes for each activity in a particular area. Group together to share your pictures and thoughts for a few minutes. Walk in silence for 10-15 min to another area before continuing the next activity.Cone-web

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Take a close-up shot of something in nature that represents a part of you. Look closely, open your senses and start observing. Connections will begin to appear. Notice the things that you connect to.

Library of Textures and Patterns
Become aware of the myriad textures and patterns that are present in nature. In the bark of tree, among rocks by the river, in the wings of a butterfly…and so much more. Try and capture some calming textures and patterns on your walk.

Visual Story
Create a story through a set of images. No words required. Build a relationship between your images and your imagination. When doing this activity in a group, you can either choose a theme for the story before you start or share your pictures in a circle and see what story emerges.

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
~Ansel Adams

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Take a few minutes to compose a picture in your head that evokes peace and stillness. As you walk in nature try to recreate a frame which comes close to the picture in your mind or click a picture that echoes the same emotions.

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Get to know a tree. Look at it from different angles. Try to find out it’s story. Once you have spent some time with the tree, capture the essence of the tree in a portrait shot. If you’d like to know more about your tree later, you can download the plantsnap app.

* If you have a group size larger than 10 people, it is advisable to break into smaller groups of 5 or 6 for sharing and discussion at the end of each activity. It will save time. Remember, conversations with nature should take priority over conversations with people in this walk.

Photos-of-peace-poster-webDownload a free poster to create an event. You can easily add details in the blank space using sites like Canva.com | Download link

FILM

We are creating a collaborative short film to explain this concept and spread it to a larger audience. If you would like to join in, simply send us a set of your pictures based on the games mentioned above. We will make a selection from all the entries and create a montage film.

Please note: Only share pictures that have been taken by you or those for which you have permission. You may post your pictures on our Facebook group. Or send it by email : healingforest(dot)org(at)gmail(dot) com
Last date for submission of pictures is 15th October 2018. Please use #photosofpeace when posting the pictures on our fb group or in the subject line of your email.

This film is being created in the giving spirit of the trees. There will be no names, no sponsors and no logos in the film. All people will be free to use the film as they please. A download link to the film will be available to all participants by 31st October 2018.

* List of people and cities participating. Join our Facebook group or add your name and city in the comments to show your support in case you plan to participate and we’ll update our list.

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“A photo is not just a memory of a moment, it is also an expression of You”

END NOTE: Let us know your experience when you get a chance to try out these wonderful games and activities.  If you have more recommendations for some fun nature based activities with the camera, please add them in the comments below to grow our collective knowledge.

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

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Children of Nature

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

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

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

Start Small

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

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

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Listen Closely

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

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

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

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

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

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Wonder Together

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

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

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

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Record It

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

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

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

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

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Invite Nature Inside

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

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

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

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

You may find some inspiration here and here.

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

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BENEFITS OF NATURE ACTIVITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fondly, Monique

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

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

 

Words that heal

CREATIVE WRITING IN NATURE

Writing is therapeutic. Writing in nature – meditative.

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

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

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

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WRITING GAMES IN NATURE

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

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

  • Senses: Pick any one of the senses. Describe your surroundings keeping that sense in focus.
  • Objects: Choose any object in nature, create a puzzle around it. Let others in the group guess what object you picked.
  • Emotions: Take an emotion that you are feeling. Include it in a 3 line poem.
  • Characters: Pick the oldest tree around or a tree that is special to you. Spend time with it and write the story of its life.

If you send your poems, puzzles, stories or reflections from the nature walk to us, we will curate them into a meditative collection called ‘Nature Notes

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

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NATURE NOTES

Fewer people are spending time in nature these days. This distance is affecting our health – as individuals, as a society and also as a planet. To counter this unhealthy trend we’d like to invite you to participate in a collaborative project.

Please send us you writing on nature and join our collective of like minded nature loving friends. You can submit your writing on our Facebook group .

The intention of this idea is to bring nature back into conversations and inspire more people to connect with forests in creative ways. Let’s do this as a collective.

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

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

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Relationship lessons from Nature

Our world is made up of relationships.

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

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

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

LeafWhat can nature teach us about relationships?

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

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

Successful relationships are formed for mutual benefit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Art of Nature


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

“An understanding that we can create art out of anything, including our life.”

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FOREST ART WALK

A silent walk in nature to appreciate and create forest art. Over the course of many months and trials, we have come up with a captivating format for an art walk in nature. It is a creative way to engage with the forest and is enjoyable for all age groups. Here’s a simple introduction to the concept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FORESTS AND YOU

Our life is but art in the canvas of nature.

Please try this art walk with your friends and family. Even more importantly, teach others and share this format in your circles. Forests all over the world are fading away. We need to recreate our relationship with nature urgently.

 While science can help us create a better life, we need art to create a better world.

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

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

Note: All walks are organised in a personal capacity by individuals who share a close connection with nature. HEALING FOREST is not directly involved with any event. We are an awareness project to spread ideas. Read more about us here.

SCIENCE OF NATURE WALKS

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

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

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

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

For links to more articles,  books, films and research please visit our resources page.

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

Handling Stress Storms in Life

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

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

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

But forests can play an important role in overcoming stress.

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

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

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FOREST CALM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TreeWe have collected some wonderful forest games and meditations to help you find your calm at this page. Here’s an example:

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

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

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

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