Forest Theatre, Mindful Play in Nature

Forest theatre is a set of creative exercises and mindfulness based games to reconnect with nature and with yourself. In this article you will learn a range of interesting activities for nature play. The ideas have been carefully selected to suit all age-groups. In fact, it is a wonderful way to bring people from different backgrounds and ages together and make new friends.

With the increasing influence of technology in our lives, fewer time is being spent outdoors. The screens keep us hooked by creating easy rewards for the brain, and are slowly influencing our behaviour and lifestyle. These brain rewards create unhealthy habits which are extremely hard to break. It’s no wonder that obesity, anxiety, loneliness and many other lifestyle issues are on the rise. We desperately need a substitute for all the junk entertainment that is being fed into our brains.

Cartoon by Angel Boligan

Is there a simple way to unblock our minds and imagination so that we can move away from our old habits and create new ways of being? Perhaps with forest theatre you can choose a few moments to break free and learn to fly.

Benefits of Nature Play

The main benefits of nature play, besides having great fun and creating memorable moments is the positive effect on our observation and imagination. It builds our attention, and curiosity and will lead to higher self confidence, self awareness and self control. These may seem like simple things but as we shall see later in the article, they can make a big difference in overcoming addictions and breaking bad habits in life.

Forest theatre is a pathway to explore our inner selves by taking inspiration from nature. It is about learning with nature, in nature. And we all know, the best learning happens when it is fun.

Forest Theatre Rules

When you do theatre in any nature based setting, the one simple rule to follow for forest theatre which sets it apart from other theatre games is that in forest theatre only non-human nature sounds are allowed. You can choose to do all the activities in silence or pick up any sound in nature that you find interesting. e.g: wind, bird, cricket, bee. Except for the director or activity leaders all participants are only allowed to converse in their chosen nature sounds or through actions, for the entire duration of each activity.

Silent claps: At the end of each activity, even the applause is silent. We do this by raising both our hand in the air and shaking our fingers and palms like tree leaves on a windy day. This is an interesting way of bringing mindfulness to the theatre practise. It respects the soundscape of the performance space and integrates nature into your play.

Listen. Observe. Accept. Create. Enjoy.

Forest Theatre

Forest Theatre Games

During the forest theatre games it is essential to create an atmosphere of trust and support. This is a space free of judgements and filled with acceptance. You are allowed to make mistakes, in fact in Forest Theatre there are no mistakes. Be spontaneous. In each activity, you can do the first thing that comes to your mind. You don’t have to edit yourself, as long as you are coming from a place of fun, love and respect.

And most importantly, remember we are playing together as a team and supporting each other. You don’t have to be clever or funny or make up jokes, just be true to yourself and do what comes naturally.

Nature Introduction
Ask the group this simple question “If you could be one thing in nature, what would you be? You can be anything you wish for – a cloud, a river, a butterfly, or whatever your mind can think of. Choose something that inspires you or something you relate to.”

The group stands in a circle and each person introduces themselves by enacting the one thing from nature that they would like to be. The others try and guess the nature object.

Creatures of the Deep
Everyone stands in a circle. The director does an impression of a creature from the deep to the person standing on his right side. They copy what they see to the next person on their right. Each person copies what they just saw, not the original, so they gradually change like Chinese whispers. The director keeps sending out loads of creatures (squid, octopus, shark, star fish and more) into the circle and they keep going around until they change and merge and underwater fun is had. Credit: HooplaImpro, London

Creative Object
Go for a silent walk in nature. Each person picks up any unusual or interesting object they find during the walk. At end of the walk all objects are placed in a small pile and everyone forms a circle around it. One by one the participants pick up any object from the pile and use creative visualisation to turn this object into something else. For e.g: A long stick can become a flying broom, or a microphone stand or a paddle for a boat. The others try and guess what the object is being turned into

Advanced: Repeat this exercise from the beginning, but add a new twist. When someone picks up an object and is enacting a novel use, another person from the group joins in and picking up another object from the pile builds upon the scene that is being created. This cycle is repeated in pairs. Any object which have been used once is not kept back in the central pile.

Super Advanced: In this round, one person starts with any object and begins the scene. Other people keeping joining in and adding to the scene by choosing other objects from the central pile. Go around the circle until all objects have been used up and all the people are part of the scene.

Volcano
Everyone is walking fast in a tight circle without crashing into each other. The director shouts out some object from nature and counts to 5 and everyone has to physically form that thing with each other before the director gets to 5. For instance “Volcano, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5! Dinosaur, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!”. It is used to get everyone moving around and having fun and also accepting and building on each other’s ideas. Credit: Marc Rowland at Montreal Improv.

A variation of this game is to divide your group into 2 teams. Each of the teams form the same object to the count of 5. This is a good way to observe how the same object can be interpreted and created in different fun ways.

You could also try whispering a different object to teams of 3-5 people. The team members have to move themselves to depict the object. Each team gets a count of 10, but they cannot talk to each other. Once a team creates their object the others can try and guess what it is.

Fairy Tale in 3 Frames
Divide people into small groups. Each group has to think of a fairy tale they would like to portray. They can only depict three still frames from any portion of the fairy tale. You can include one sound and one action in each of the frames. All the groups get only 5 minutes to prepare. The 3 still frames from the fairytale are played out in quick succession, one after the other. Rest of the participants have to guess the fairytale after watching the 3 frames. This exercise is a good practice in learning how to build story structures and scenes. Once participants are comfortable with creating scenes, they can move on to creating a short skit. Credit: Rebekah Lin, Teng Zi Ying, Arts for Good Fellows, Singapore

Music Video / Nature Play
One of the joys of forest theatre is being able to create something for nature. In the last activity for our Nature Play walk, we divide the group in small teams of 3 or 5. All the teams are given 10 minutes time to prepare a 2 min. short skit on a nature based issue. They can take up any theme that interests them – water, wildlife, pollution or more. Members of the group can choose any character they wish and can use human language for this activity. Or if you wish to stick to the rules of forest theatre then ask each group to choose one narrator, while the other members can only act out the scenes.

Here’s an idea that works out beautifully. Create a 2 minute play with these 5 characters – Human, Planet Earth, Aliens, Non-human nature element and a Narrator

A short film made after a nature play session

A Curious Way To Break Bad Habits

In this TED Talk, Psychiatrist Judson Brewer explains a simple way of using curiosity to break bad habits.

He says, “Mindfulness is about being really interested in getting close and personal with what’s actually happening in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. And this willingness to turn toward our experience rather than trying to make unpleasant cravings go away, is supported by curiosity, which is naturally rewarding.

What does curiosity feel like? It feels good. And what happens when we get curious? We start to notice that cravings are simply made up of body sensations — oh, there’s tightness, there’s tension, there’s restlessness — and that these body sensations come and go. In other words, when we get curious, we step out of our old, fear-based, reactive habit patterns, and we step into being.

One current hypothesis is that a region of the brain, called the posterior cingulate cortex, is activated not necessarily by craving itself but when we get caught up in it, when we get sucked in, and it takes us for a ride. In contrast, when we let go – step out of the process just by being curiously aware of what’s happening – this same brain region quiets down. This makes it easier for us to take a step back and not indulge in our habit leading to another nice brain reward.

Now, this might sound too simplistic to affect behaviour. But in one study, we found that mindfulness training was twice as good as gold standard therapy at helping people quit smoking. So it actually works. The next time you get a notification, instead of choosing to see the message and compulsively send a reply , — notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go and repeat.”

BONUS: More Forest Theatre Games

Meet and Greet
Another very nice introduction game: The group leader picks any class of species (e.g: mammals, birds, insects, reptiles etc.) and everyone walks around meeting and greeting each other by becoming a character from the chosen type of living beings. This exercise breaks the ice and gets people used to trying out different characters without thinking about it too much.

You can even choose a specific animal and everyone in the group has to turn into that animal and move around in the circle for a minute without touching each other. Some choices that work well are: Frogs, Mosquitoes, Humming birds. And the best one to quieten things is the slow moving Sloth.

Prey and Predator
The group forms a circular ring. Two people enter the ring. One person chooses to be any creature and begins to act like it. The other person has to guess what the creature is and turn into it’s predator. Then the drama between the prey and it’s predator plays out inside the ring. This game can be made even more interesting if one or two members standing in the ring are designated to give background music score to the entire drama. This game provides a very good opportunity to observe and discuss the balance in nature.

To Be A Tree
A very good closing exercise in Nature Play is a 3 minute silent act. Ask each person in the group to imagine to be their favourite tree. You can sway gently in the wind or sit still. Feel the sun on your face, the wind on your skin, the earth beneath your feet. Open your eyes and become aware of all the life around you. As an individual you may be a tree, but together we all become a forest.

The essence of theatre is freedom. Freedom to express oneself. Freedom to imagine. Freedom to choose whatever one wants to be. Our day-to-day life is bound by routines, habits and the daily grind. But through nature and through creativity we find a stage to release the chains of thought that bind us. We give ourselves a chance to be truly free.

END NOTE: We are creating a small community of forest friends who share a close connection with nature. The aim is to learn from each other and share our experiences from around the world. Please feel free to add your own mindful nature play ideas in the comments section below. To get a monthly newsletter with new learning please sign up at this link.

*If you enjoyed this post, do check out our learning program on nature arts, games, meditations from around the world. The course is free for all school teachers and is available on a pay-as-you-like basis. It is a great resource filled with multiple ideas that also cover the art and science behind healing through nature. Please share this article in your circles with friends who might find it helpful.

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

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

FOREST BATHING – Introduction

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

* Watch with sound. A free download link for this film is given at the end.

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

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

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

JAPANESE SHINRIN-YOKU

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

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

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

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

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

ZEN FOREST – FOREST ZEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION

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

HOW TO GO FOR A FOREST BATH?

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

STAGES OF A FOREST MIND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forest Bathing Benefits

FOREST BATHING AND YOUR MIND

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

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

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

END NOTE: Please share this post with friends who might benefit from it. Here’s a download link to our short film and poster on Forest Bathing. You are free to use it as you please on your blog / social media. In case you do, it would be nice to get a link back to our site in the credits. Many more useful lessons and downloads are available through our forest bathing learning program.

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

Nature Poem – Wild Soul

Here’s a nature poem from one of the wild places of our amazing planet. A short poem that urges you to come closer to nature and add some wildness to your soul.

In this short film we see the hidden beauty of the forests from the arctic circle of Sápmi also known as Lapland. A region from the northern parts of Finland, where very few people live. What secrets do these forests hold? And what can we learn from the people who call this land their home?

Covered in snow and cloaked by darkness, the forests of the north are sleeping for a large portion of the year. But when the short summer arrives for a few months, the golden sun cast it’s rays on this wild land and reveals what is concealed. Endless green carpet of conifers, dotted with dark lakes that glint silver when seen from the fells. Occasional reindeer, a medley of birds and a carnival of wild flowers and berries always manage to surprise you.

The people of this ancient land believe in making the most of all seasons. While winter is their playground, summer is the time for embracing the celebration of life. They know the bitter-sweet truth about nature. Some things are hidden so that their wildness can be treasured. Perhaps it is the same with the wildness of our soul.

*Turn on sound and watch in full screen. Visuals and words by Nitin Das | Music: Patrick Hawes | Special thanks: Maria Nurmela, Tuija Syrjaniemi | Location: Lapland, North Finland.

Feel free to use this video and poem as you please. A download link to this poem is given at the end of this post. It would be really nice to get a link to our website https://www.healingforest.org/learn in case you do post it on your website or social media.

WILD SOUL

life is short
don’t spend it in a box

add a little wildness
to your soul

to catch your dreams
a floating cloud

to lose your worries
a silent lake

to find your calm
a friendly forest

staring at a box
don’t stay stuck

add a little wildness
to your soul

to still your mind
a singing stream

to fill your heart
tiny flowers

to tune your soul
a wandering trail

to nature we return
bound in a box

before you go

add a little wildness
to your soul

LIVING INSIDE THE BOX

The modern world is designed around boxes. We live in a box, travel in a box, work out of a box and are reading this post from a box. However, as a species we have evolved and existed outdoors for more than 99% of our human history. This disconnect from the outside world is beginning to show in our society.

As per this article in New York Times:
City dwellers have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban center. These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

Creating a connection with the wildness outside is way of keeping the wildness within alive.

~People of Lapland

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

The good news is that we can always turn to nature to boost our mental health as well as mental wealth. Effects of being in nature begin to show in as short as 20 minutes, but the longer time you can spend the better it is for you. Here are some interesting exercises based on the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku or forest mindfulness.

Wild Fractals: Fractals are self-repeating patterns that occur very frequently in nature. Like the shape of a river delta or the branches of a tree. Unlike the complexity of human designs which have many sharp lines and angles, the fractals are very easy on the eyes. Seek out fractals in nature and when you find one, take time to trace it with your eyes. Start from one edge point and slowly follow it till the other end point. Interestingly, our nerve connections in the eye are also fractals.

Wild songs: Natural silence is one of the most endangered resources on our planet. We are surrounded by noise. But sounds have a direct link with our subconscious mind. Go out into nature and collect the sounds that you hear. Stay still and make a list of all the different natural sounds you can hear. By focusing on the softer, gentler sounds we are able to cut off the chatter in our own head.

Wild food: Finding edible food from the forest that has not be touched by any harmful chemicals or human interventions is an energising adventure. Whether it is berry picking, mushroom hunting or gathering wild herbs for tea, you will be rewarded not just by the joy of the activity but also the nutritious delight that boosts your immunity and health.

There are many such activities scattered around our website. Explore the pages to find new ideas and other wild places.

END NOTE: . We hope this poem added a little wildness to your soul. Please share this post with friends who are spending far too much time in front of a box. Here’s a download link to our nature poem – wild soul.

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 STORIES – 7 Tales from far-away lands

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

FOREST STORY FROM AFRICA | The Bushmen

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

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

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

Li River – Picture by Sam Beasley / Unsplash

FOREST STORY FROM CHINA | Artist and the river

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

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

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

FOREST STORY FROM VENEZUELA | Tree of life

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

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

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

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

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

3 Sisters, Australia – Pic by Dougie Frew / Pixabay

FOREST STORY FROM AUSTRALIA | 3 Sisters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaf ants – Pic by Healing Forest

FOREST STORY FROM MEXICO | Ant and the Bear

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

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

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

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

Northern Lights – Pic by Vincent Guth / Unsplash

FOREST STORY FROM NORWAY | The Aurora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FORESTS, STORIES & YOU

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

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

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

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

10 Nature Meditations. Understanding Self, Knowing Life.

The quest for understanding the self and search for the meaning of life is as old as memory. No one can give us the correct answer because for each one of us, the path to the answer is different. But clues are all around in nature because understanding Self is linked to understanding life. In this post, we meditate on the trail of numbers in nature to see where they lead us.

Many people are afraid of Math because no one helped them make friends with numbers. Nobody introduced them to the wonder and wisdom that is hidden in the language of the Universe.

After all the positive feedback for our Healing forest learning program and requests for more nature games, meditations and mindfulness activities we have come up with this interesting walk format. We hope these mindfulness exercises help you create new learning and a new respect for yourself. Because nature and numbers are a part of you, just as you are a part of them.

NATURE MEDITATIONS & NUMBERS

Let us take a slow and gentle walk in nature. Our aim is to observe and reflect. Walk with a few like minded friends or go alone. Carry a pen and paper to note down your insights and experiences. And be open to try something new. (A free download of all meditations in this article is given at the end.)

Math is like love; a simple idea, but it can get complicated.

9 Numbers in Nature:  We begin the walk with an exercise to start seeing numbers in nature. Participants have to find the numbers 1 to 9 in their surroundings. Everyone can quickly strike off 1 and 2 as we all have one nose and two ears. The other numbers have to be found outside of the human body. For example a flower with 5 petals, an ant with 6 legs.  All participants are given a time limit of 10 minutes to find as many of the remaining numbers as possible. The exercise is to be done individually or in pairs. The group reassembles at the end of the time to work together as a team and find any missing number that no one could find.

8 Patterns in nature:  Nature is full of patterns that have astounded mathematicians and poets alike for centuries. One such pattern is called the Fibonacci. The Fibonacci sequence starts like this: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 and so on forever. Each number is the sum of the two numbers that come before it. It’s a simple pattern, but it appears to be a kind of built-in numbering system to the cosmos. The numbers in the pattern can be found in our own DNA as well the spirals of the Galaxy.

The numbers of the Fibonacci sequence are very commonly seen in petals of flowers . Examples include the lily, which has three petals, buttercups, which have five, the chicory’s 21, the daisy’s 34. These are all numbers from the Fibonacci sequence.

Nature Meditation: The aim of our exercise is to find interesting patterns in nature and take pictures. Try and see if you can collect a similar pattern in two different objects of nature.

Colours: Every Colour that you see is a number. Light travels as a wave and each colour in the spectrum has a specific wavelength and frequency. Our visual sense is not only able to gauge and see different colours but also associates certain emotions with them subconsciously.

Nature Meditation: The aim of our next exercise is to spot all the 7 rainbow colours during your nature walk. Each individual makes a list of at-least 7 different colours they can observe during the walk. The aim is also to spend a little time with each separate colour and become aware of how the colour makes us feel. At the end of the exercise people who are drawn to the same colour can group together to see whether they share other common personality traits.

6 Geometry: Have you ever marvelled at the beauty and shape of a spiral sea-shell?  Geometry is all about shapes and their properties. Lines, curves and shapes that can be drawn on paper make up plane geometry, while 3 dimensional objects are part of solid geometry. 

The spiral curve is one of the many examples in nature that give us a hint of the underlying simplicity which gives rise to the complexities in nature. The study of geometry allows us to become aware of the larger design of Nature. Here’s a short film on the curve called ‘life’.

Nature Meditation: Creating a spiral. This can be done individually or in a group. The intention is to create a beautiful spiral with objects found in nature. Make it as big as you can. Each person starts from the same center point and creates one arm of a spiral radiating outwards. After working on it for 10 minutes, the creator stands on the outer edge of their spiral arm and starts to walk back to the center slowly and mindfully following the path of their spiral. The last person to reach the center wins. (You cannot pause and have to continue walking inward as slow as you can).*Don’t forget to erase your spiral and disperse everything back in nature, before you leave.

Send us a picture of a nature spiral from your walk on our Facebook group: Art of Nature. Next month, we will create a short film with all the spirals collected from different corners of the world and leave a download link here.

5 Senses are our window to the world. Every person perceives the world differently based on  how each of their different senses have developed. Staying in the city does take a toll on our overall sense perceptions where some senses can be overloaded like our sight and some underdeveloped like our smell. Being in nature allows us to relax our senses and sharpen them so that our experience of the world can become richer.

Nature Meditation: Walk or sit silently in the forest. Focus on any one sense at a time for a short period of 2-3 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.

4 Breath of 4: In this exercise we focus on our breath to bring our mind to the present moment and take the help of numbers to build mindfulness. We use counting to stay focused on the breath. Inhale. Exhale. After the out-breath you count one, then you breathe in and out and count two, and so on up to ten. This is a very good exercise for calming your mind.

Once you have brought your attention to the breath you can deepen your awareness to see the breath is made of 4 stages not 2. Inhale. Exhale. And 2 small gaps after each inhale and exhale. Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. Sit in a quiet spot in nature and repeat the breath count to 10 being aware of the 4 stages of each breath.

This meditation makes us realise that numbers live with us as part of our lives and we can always turn to them for focus, attention and peace of mind.

π Circles: Take a circle. Any circle in the world. Measure it’s length, all the way around the circle. Then measure it across, from one edge to the other edge. Now divide the two lengths. You will always get the same number. 3.14…

This number is called Pi and is often written using the greek symbol π. What’s strange about Pi is that the division is never complete. You can go on dividing without reaching an end. Here’s an example 22 divided by 7.  π has been calculated to over two quadrillion decimal places and still there is no pattern to the digits.  

Nature Meditation: Spot the circles. Count the maximum number of circular objects one can notice in your surrounding nature within a time frame of 5 minutes. If you can, try and measure the circumference and diameter of any circle and divide them to find your own Pi. 

Nature Meditation (Alt): The other interesting exercise with number 3 is to observe the 3 different stages of life. Birth. Maturity. Death. Find and take pictures of objects in different stages. Reflect on how everything is changing from one stage to another.

2 Opposites: Nature is made up of opposites. Day and night. Left and right. Sound and silence. Hot and cold. To observe the two opposing sides of nature is to understand our own true nature. 

Nature Meditation: For this exercise participants divide into 2 equal groups ‘Positives’ and ’Negatives’. Members of the 2 groups walk in separate directions  and each individual (depending on their group) makes a list of 5 positives or 5 negatives they observe in nature. The groups reassemble after 5 minutes and make pairs between the positives and negatives group. Each pair then tries to see how many matching opposites do they have between their 2 lists. For e.g.: If one person wrote ‘light’ and the other person wrote ‘shadow’ then it is considered a successful match.

With this exercise we observe that perception of life – positive or negative is based on our mind. And the mind can be trained to choose. *Some wise people in your group might raise a doubt and say that in nature there are no positives and negatives. Everything just is. They are right. Agree with them and tell them it’s just a game.

1 Oneness:  Have you ever wondered why we only count in multiples of 10 ? A counting base of 10 is natural probably because we have 10 fingers. In ancient societies, a base 10 system wasn’t always used. The Sumerians used a base 60 system. This is why we count time in bases of 60 (60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute). Machines are built using switches, so it is natural for them to count only off (0) and on (1).This system is called binary. 

There can be many other number systems, but one thing connects them all. Numbers are concepts which only have meaning when they relate to each other. In a sense, it is this relationship that gives each number a specific meaning in the larger number system. For e.g 5 is related to 10,15,20,25 in a certain way. Here’s another chain of relationships: 1,2,6,24, 120….Can you figure out the next 2 numbers in this chain?

Nature Meditation: Participants take some time out to observe the many relationships that exist in nature. Each person comes up with a chain of nature relations. For e.g. Sun – Plant – Flower – Bee. The aim is to see who can come up with the longest chain of relationships… and perhaps to realize that we are all part of multiple chain of relationships, which give our life true meaning.

0The number Zero is widely seen as one of the greatest innovations in human history. Zero is both a number and a concept meaning the absence of any quantity. With the help of Zero we can do complicated equations and perform calculus. It is also at the heart of the language of computers which speak in 0’s and 1’s.

In philosophical terms it represents nothingness or emptiness out of which all existence arises. We end our nature walk by taking a few minutes to walk in silence and reflect on the concept of zero. 

Meditating on zero is a meditation in humility. It is to become aware that in the vastness of the Universe – both in space and time, our small individuality amounts to nothingness. And yet, just like the importance of zero, one can realize how significant even the most insignificant thing in the world can be.

MEDITATIONS ON NATURE | FREE DOWNLOAD

Download link of 2 posters for mindfulness meditations on nature with numbers. We would appreciate a link back to our site in case you re-post them.

Please share these 10 beautiful meditations on nature by numbers with friends who might find it interesting. If you enjoyed this post, check out our learning program for more nature based walks and activities.

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.

Forests That Grow People

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

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

Our world is becoming more connected, but less caring.

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FOREST and COMPASSION

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

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

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

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

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

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EXERCISES IN EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Healing Our Earth

From a distance, everything looks beautiful. When we gaze upon
our tiny blue planet from the black void of space, we cannot make out the many conflicts that are raging all over the planet.

While the politics of greed, hatred and power plays out in different parts of the globe, the greatest threat is largely being ignored. A rapidly growing human population coupled with a lifestyle which is based on taking more from earth than giving back is threatening the safety of all our future generations.

The hope lies in creating a new vision for our world. A vision which becomes surprisingly clear when we travel into space and look back at Earth from a distance. Watch this 3 min film and see whether you agree.

CREDITS
Film and Words: Nitin Das | Music: Dario Forzato | Visuals: Made with Google Earth Studio

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WORDS

War is often a fight for peace
Anger, but a cry for love

Every mother knows

Countries are just concepts
Borders are but egos

Every river knows

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Politics is but religion
Religion is but control

Every martyr knows

Victory is but fleeting
Loss, permanent

Every orphan knows

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Conflict is but business
Business but for greed

The planet knows

The world is but divided
Our future uncertain

Till everyone knows

Earth is but home
Healing it is but healing ourselves

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END NOTE
Climate change will affect more people than all the wars combined in human history. There is only one planet which supports our life and it belongs to all of us. The world may be in conflict, but together we can heal our Earth. (Here’s a link to 10 things we can all do, to act on climate change)

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

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Forest Notes From The Happiest Country In The World

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

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

FOREST SCHOOLS

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

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

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FOREST LIFE

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

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

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

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FOREST FOOD

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

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

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SAUNA AND WHISKING

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

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FOREST THERAPY EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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Writing In Nature To Find Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Forest Therapy in Japan and its Possibility for the World

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

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

What is Forest Therapy and its Healing Effects?

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

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

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Examples of Forest Therapy and Forest Amenity Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Case Studies of Forest Amenities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Possibilities of Forest and Tree Amenities in the world

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

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

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

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FOREST THERAPY vs FOREST BATHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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