At the end of a tough year, sharing a gentle forest song to bring in some calm. We hope your new year is filled with peace and love.
There are many gifts that trees and forests give us. Some of them are obvious, but some remain hidden. In our race for development and growth, a few of these gifts may have been forgotten or overlooked. But spending a few mindful moments with the trees brings them back to our attention. And attention leads to awareness.
FOREST SONG | Nature Video
* Please watch in full screen with headphones for best results.
The invisible gift of breath that connects us to the forest, teaches us a simple truth on the art of living. Amidst the ups and downs, twists and turns, the ever present breath reminds us that life is about giving and receiving. Learning to give, is learning to love. And learning to receive is finding peace.
This forest song has been shot in Eagle Nest Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the most enchanting regions of the eastern Himalayas. It is a haven for birds and hosts an extraordinary variety, numbers and accessibility of species. *The bird featured in the film above is an emerald pigeon.
A free download of this forest song poster is given at the very end of this post. Feel free to share the film or the poster with those who might need a breath of peace. Read on for a simple forest meditation and the text only version of the forest song.
FOREST MEDITATION | Tree Practice
Here is a beautiful tree mediation by Lee Steppacher. It’s called the ‘Tree Practice’
“Tree” is a word, a concept. This a practice to really know a tree, with all of our senses, and our relationship to it.
Keep attention in the body, below thoughts.
Walk with the intention of finding a tree that you are drawn to. Let your body guide you. If someone else takes ‘your’ tree, find another – there are many.
Spend some time a ways away from the tree and take in the whole tree with your eyes.
Notice its silhouette, the aspects of the tree. Consider parts of the tree you cannot see, e.g. the roots.
Reflect on how this tree came to be here, what it has experienced. Consider how the tree interacts with the world around it – the wind, beings living in, on, under the tree, relations to water in soil etc.
Move closer to the tree and get to know tree more intimately, with all your senses: touch the bark, smell it, notice its temperatures, the sounds of leaves —- whatever feels right.
Keep attention in body, no need to think. Gently move from outside experience to inside experience.
Be light with exploration. How else might you connect?
Lean on tree, feel its support. Sit at its base, try tree to your back, or to your front.
Maintain openness, and listen.
Scientists have found that trees can communicate in a special way– don’t over think this (especially if you are a scientist). No need to ask how or why, but just consider what you might learn from the tree.
FOREST SONG | Words
I am your breath as you are mine
Our lives linked forever in time
On your first breath I was there for you
As I am with you right here, right now
In your sadness you may forget me
In their madness they may cut me
but till I remain I send you my gift
A simple truth for a complex world
Learning to give, is learning to love
And learning to receive is finding peace
What lessons have the forest gifted you? Let us know in the comments below. For more gifts from nature, try our Nature Calm course.
Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through inspiring stories, films, and articles . Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.
REQUEST: In the season of giving, please share this post with those who might need a little peace and love. | *Download the forest song poster here.
Mindfulness group activities in nature offer a simple and effective way of creating enriching experiences in life. These outdoor exercises are also a great source of nurturing strong, caring groups that support each other in the time of need – just like a forest supports its individual trees.
Many people have turned to mindfulness for calm and happiness in their lives, but a large number have tried and given up too soon. While it is true that mindfulness is an individual practice, it is easier to learn, practice, and grow when you take the journey with nature and a supportive, like-minded group of people.
It’s because mindfulness not only allows us to create a deeper understanding of the Self, it is also about expanding the concept of Self to include others. Group mindfulness allows you to see your struggles with the mind, reflected in your peers. You learn from those who are more advanced, and you support those who are just starting.
Outdoor Mindfulness Activities for Groups
In this article we cover some outdoor mindfulness activities and exercises that are uniquely suited for groups. We’ll show you how to design the activities so that you can overcome common challenges faced while conducting mindfulness in groups. These engaging set of exercises can be adapted for people across age groups – from adults to kids. So you can practice them with friends or family.
*Emailing these activities to folks who may be in different cities and creating a mindfulness Zoom session to share experiences and insights from their nature walks can also create a beautiful healing experience.
All the activities mentioned integrate elements of nature, which makes it easy for beginners to access the concept of mindfulness. The groups will not only achieve the benefits of mindfulness, but also the many health benefits of being outdoors.
Mindful Listening: Language of the Birds
What is the difference between regular bird-watching and mindful birding? While our eyes make up the primary sense for the former, the most important sense for mindful birding is our ears. Rather than counting the number of different birds we can see, our focus is on learning how to create calm with the help of the birds.
We recommend keeping all cameras and phones away. Once you find a space that has sufficient bird activity, ask the group members to find a spot for themselves and sit in silence.
Mindfulness Group Exercise:
Listen to the closest bird. Listen to the farthest bird. Listen to the birds in different directions. Listen to the silence in between the birdcalls. Listen for conversations. Follow the sound of a particular species and imagine what the birds are trying to say?
The group can share their stories, insights and learning at the end of the session.
Spending time with the birds in a mindful way leads to some beautiful insights. Here one such story from a flock of swifts by Helen Macdonald, Author H is for Hawk.
“Swifts have, of late, become my fable of community, teaching us about how to make right decisions in the face of oncoming bad weather. They aren’t always cresting the atmospheric boundary layer at dizzying heights; most of the time they are living below it in thick and complicated air. That’s where they feed and mate and bathe and drink and are. But to find out about the important things that will affect their lives, they must go higher to survey the wider scene, and there communicate with others about the larger forces impinging on their realm.”
Just like the birds, sometimes we have to let our minds soar above our day to day worries and see our lives from a higher perspective. Mindfulness allows us to do that, helping us discover wiser choices for our future.
Mindful Awareness: Balance of Stones
Mindfulness creates a balance of attention and awareness. The real goal of mindfulness is not just paying attention to the mind, but creating an awareness of its true nature.
Balance Exercises have found to be very helpful in relieving stress and reducing inner tension. Additionally, they improve focus, concentration and memory. Finally, the unquestionable benefit of the mindfulness activity is the ability to control emotions in critical and stressful moments. The simple act of balancing stones is a very powerful mindfulness technique.
Mindfulness Group Exercise:
The activity starts by collecting suitable stones and in the first round participants work on their own to see how high can they make their stone towers.
In the next round the same activity is done in pairs, but in silence, without any exchange of words. Once all the pairs have created their stone towers, we dismantle all the stone towers for the final round.
The final round, also done in pairs involves creating an inverted pyramid of stones – with the smaller stones at the base, and larger stones on the top.
Instead of just focusing on stacking the stones, pay attention to the center of gravity of each stone. With patience one can find out the exact alignment between two stones, which leads to the equilibrium of balance.
At the end of this exercise, the group can sit in a circle and spend a little time to contemplate things that bring balance to their lives.
Mindful Immersion: Art of Leaves
There is a common myth that mindfulness has to be a very serious practice. However common sense tells us that to turn any activity into a habit, you have first learn how to have fun with it. If you don’t enjoy the process, it is difficult to sustain.
The mindless entertainment we engage in through television or social media may keep our attention focused, but it does not provide rest to our mind. On the contrary it over-stimulates it. One can see its impact in depleted attention spans, reduced concentration, and poor memory.
Here is a collection of 3 creative mindfulness activities that make use of the leaves for mindful immersion. These activities help you create some unique artworks, especially in Autumn.
Mindfulness Group Exercises:
Leaf Tracing: Pick any leaf. You choose a simple one or a complex shape. Trace the outline of the leaf with your eyes as slow as you can. Move from one edge of the base, all the way around to the complete the loop. This exercise is an excellent way to slow down your thoughts.
Leaf Collage: Group members work in pairs. Using different leaves they have to create a mythical or magical forest creature. Use the imagination to escape into a hidden world. This simple exercise raises the energy levels of the group. So the group leader must ensure that the silence of the group does not get lost.
Leaf Mandala: Each person in the group is assigned to collects leaves of a particular colour or shape. The group then works as one unit to create a geometric design on the forest floor using all the different leaves they have collected. It could be concentric circles, spirals, or a four-sided maze.
Mindful Observation: Mushroom Walks
When you enter the woods to search for mushrooms you have to be alert, silent, and calm. By being mindful of your steps as you walk in the forest gently, you can turn this rewarding activity into an exercise in mindfulness.
While observing the breath is a very common mindfulness exercise, people who are going through a difficult phase in life find it very challenging because of troubling thoughts. Therefore, we should start with other senses first, especially when introducing mindfulness to beginners.
Our visual sense is our strongest sense. Turning to nature to discover its many treasures fills us with awe, wonder, and deep calm.
NOTE: Be sure to buy a good field guide for mushrooms from your area or go with an expert. Some basic instructions for Mushroom Walks, as per the Modern Forager are given below.
1. Tread Lightly. Don’t trample all the little mushrooms and potential mushrooms in your hunting ground. It is kind of cool to leave no obvious picker’s trail around your mushrooms.
2. Make a positive identification using more than one source wherever possible. Do not eat mushrooms with any features that contradict the description. Contact a mushroom expert or club if you are not sure. “When in doubt, just leave the mushroom.”
3. Mature mushrooms release spores into the air that are essentially mushroom seeds. You can respect the spores by leaving some of the mushrooms untouched. Also use a porous and an open-air container for your mushrooms as you walk through the woods. Don’t use plastic bags — which can ruin your harvest anyways; look for mesh bags, baskets, buckets with holes drilled in them,
4. Don’t over-pick. It is courteous and considerate to leave mushrooms behind for another picker.
5. Micro-trash is a big problem! Try to leave none and collect some if you see any.
While mushrooms are typically associated with death and decay, they are in fact an integral part of renewal in the universal cycle of life. We recommend closing the mindfulness walk with a short mushroom circle meditation. Sitting in a circle of silence, the participants meditate upon the impermanence that permeates all things in nature – including our thoughts.
“Mushroom Mycelium represents rebirth, rejuvenation, regeneration. Fungi generates soil, that gives life. The task that we face today is to understand the language of nature.”
Paul Stamets, renowned mycologist
Mindful Appreciation: In Search Of Wonder
One of the most effective Mindfulness activities involves focusing on the emotion of awe, and wonder. It helps to shift our attention from the negative cycles of our mind that pull us down, to a more positive frame of mind.
For this activity we can either use the treasure-hunt model where the group goes out into nature and collects object based on a pre-given list, or we can ask the group members to just take a photograph of the objects.
For larger groups it is better to use photographs as it creates a lesser impact on the surrounding. The simple rule all participants need to follow is that you can only take one photograph per item on the list. By restricting the number of photographs, we get the group members to be more mindful of each shot they take. With this single rule we can turn our device of distraction into a mode of meditation.
Mindfulness Group Exercise:
One thing that makes you smile. One thing that brings you calm. One that fills you with hope. One thing that makes you curious. One thing that fills you with awe. One thing that you are thankful for in nature.
What happens when we experience wonder?By Katie Steedly People get along. When people are struck with wonder, they generally are not yelling, arguing, fighting, or angry. Wonder brings people together. We all agree that flowers are wonderful. We all agree that ducklings are wonderful. We all agree that coral reefs are wonderful. Butterflies? Wonderful. Chocolate? Wonderful. Sunsets? Wonderful. Wonder provides a moment where we can hold hands, (perhaps) tear up, and find common ground. The noise of life fades. A silence akin to speechlessness falls when we experience wonder. A gentle hush that is beyond words eases tension. Reflection paints wonderful moments with reverence. Wonder is calm in the chaos of the world.
The ability of Nature to inspire awe and wonder are one of the big factors that contribute to its healing effects on our mind. After a nature session, brain scans showed a sizable reduction of blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex region. It is a region linked to sadness, withdrawal and general grumpiness.
Community service as an outdoor mindfulness activity is an essential way of channelizing group energies for creating positive transformations. One such exercise involves creating or working in community gardens.
The real measure of our progress in mindfulness reflects in our behaviour and actions. The awareness of mindful groups is not limited to the present moment, but extends to foresee the impact of their actions on the future.
Given below are some examples and stories of community gardens. We hope they will inspire you to to create your own mindfulness community garden program.
FOOD GARDEN: South Central Los Angeles, USA is a food desert – an area filled with liquor stores, fast food chains and vacant lots. Tired of driving 45 minutes to buy food that is not chemically treated, Ron Finley decided to turn some of those unused plots, starting with the patch in front of his house, into a food forest. With obesity rates 5X higher in South Central than in Beverly Hills, a neighbourhood only 8 to 10 miles away, Finley realized that food is the problem, but is also the solution. “The drive-throughs are killing more people than drive-bys”, he says. Finley and a group of volunteer gardeners from all over Los Angeles are changing that, one lot at a time. “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”
MEDITATION GARDEN: In the city of Pune, India lies a small meditation garden that used to be a public wasteland. It had a sewage line running through it and was filled with filth. Somehow, a small group of people got together to create a mindful transformation exercise. Through years of hard work and treatment of the land, the area was transformed into a space of tranquility. People from all walks of life make use of the park now, and it serves as an urban oasis of calm in the bustling city.
Every breath we take is a gift from nature. By being mindful of this simple truth we can learn a beautiful life-lesson. Watch this forest song to practise the mindfulness activity hidden in every breath. *Sound on, and full-screen recommended.
We hope you enjoyed these outdoor mindfulness activities and exercises for groups. Add your own ideas in the comments below to grow the collective knowledge.
To get uplifting new ideas once a month you can join our free newsletter. For more mindful activities and exercises do check out our Nature Calm course.
Mindfulness Activities For Groups: Summary
In nature everything exists as a relationship. Through mindfulness we learn to explore those relationships. Seeing a part of our Self in everything, and a part of everything in our Self, is the essence of mindfulness that our groups can help us discover.
Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forest heal.
REQUEST: Please share this post so that it reaches those who might find it helpful.
What does forest bathing have to do with a remedy for loneliness and low self-esteem? Let us go on a forest bathing trip in South Korea to find some clues. Through this article we hope to inspire you to bring some of these ideas into your own nature walks and forest bathing routines.
Forest Bathing is the art of immersing yourself in nature to rejuvenate your mind, body, energy and to activate nature’s healing benefits. For those unfamiliar with the concept here’s our article from Japan that explains: What is Forest Bathing?
Living in a city creates many hidden challenges for our health. South Korea has developed innovative systems to counter these harmful effects. Many of these Forest Therapy concepts remain relatively less known due to a variety of cultural and language barriers. We will introduce you to some of the enriching ideas and share how you can benefit from them.
Life in Korean Cities
About 85% of South Koreans live in urban areas. The country has seen rapid urbanisation and advancement in technology. It has one of the world’s highest Internet speeds and is at the cutting edge of the latest broadband revolution.
Florence Williams, author of Nature Fix states: Perhaps no one has embraced the healing effect of nature with more enthusiasm than the South Koreans. Many suffer from work stress, digital addiction, and intense academic pressures. More than 70 percent say their jobs, which require notoriously long hours, make them depressed, according to a survey by electronics giant Samsung. Yet this economically powerful nation has a long history of worshipping nature spirits. The ancient proverb “Shin to bul ee—Body and soil are one” is still popular.
A big social trend seen in South Korea is the rapid decline in number of marriages as well as birth rates. According to Statistics Korea in 2017 nearly one third of all households were single person households and almost 90 percent of them are exposed to a feeling of loneliness.
Culturally, South Korean pop culture has become enormously popular all over the world, but what is less known is the high aspiration levels created by the Media frenzy. Completely surrounded by subliminal messaging and advertising, many people get caught in a self defeating trap. The quest for living the dream life can take a toll on anyone’s self-esteem. *Today, South Korea is widely considered as the “plastic surgery capital” of the world, boasting the highest number of cosmetic procedures per capita worldwide.
Watch a glimpse of the life in Seoul, the capital of South Korea and notice a few of the social nuances mentioned above, in this beautiful video by Brandon Li.
Forest Bathing in Korea
Running along the length of Korea are the timeless Baekdu-Daegan mountains. Covered in lush forests filled with aromatic Hinoki trees, they provide a comforting escape from the rush of the city lives. For millennia these mountains have stood as sentinels, calmly watching the flow of time and the journey of humans.
They influence the weather, the ecology, and the water systems, which support agriculture and feed the entire nation. The wise elders in ancient times named them energy spine mountains. They believed that Baekdu-daegan continuously fed essential life-energy throughout the land of Korea. Its unimpeded clear flow was considered necessary for the birth and growth of heroic and virtuous citizens, and thus for the health, strength and prosperity of the Korean Nation.
These enchanting mountains hold a vast network of hiking trails that are also great for forest bathing and forest therapy. The intriguing, interesting, beautiful part of these trails is the way they weave through and connect Korea’s nature, culture, rural life, and food.
Korea’s Healing Forests
Today these mountains and forests are the inspiration for the ambitious National Forest Plan. Its goal is “to realize a green welfare state, where the entire nation enjoys well-being.”
Over years of research the Koreans were able to scientifically establish the multiple healing benefits of nature. What’s commendable is how they were able to put this knowledge into creating systems and spaces for forest bathing and forest therapy. To reach a vast spectrum of people, the forest welfare program was divided into 7 distinct stages based on the human life cycle.
In this section we give you a glimpse of the different sections and highlight the benefits of forest bathing for our lives.
Forest Bathing Benefits Across Ages
Birth One of the biggest benefits of forest bathing is the relief it can provide from anxiety, panic, and worry. Having the lowest fertility ratein the world, the South Koreans hold the expecting mothers-to-be in high regard. By creating special pre-natal classes and forest meditation sessions in nature, they not only help the parents ease their anxieties and worries but also establish nature as a space where families can bond with each other.
Childhood Across many of the forests of Korea you will find ‘Children’s forest playground’. Open spaces in nature where children can interact and play safely in the ambience of the forest. Taking this a step further is the establishing of Forest Kindergarten with trained faculty who can guide children in the beautiful art of learning with nature.
Time in the forest also led the children to report feeling happier, less anxious and more optimistic about their futures, according to a study by Prof. Dr. Park Bum-Jin. Many Koreans have been so intensively urban for so long that they can feel out of place in the woods. “Children and the younger generation don’t really have experience in nature; so many of them think of the forest as dirty or scary. If we don’t change their mind-set now, there will be no chance.” he says.
Adolescence Nature offers equilibrium between technology and human interaction. It creates avenues for healthier outflow of teen anxiety, energy and aggression. An interesting experiment was the “Happy Train” which delivers school bullies to a national forest for two days so they can learn to be nicer. Why does it work, you ask? It’s because no one teaches us humility and respect better than nature.
By incorporating regular programs under the theme ‘Education in the Forest’ many schools are helping their students understand the natural world and its magical creatures. Given the craze for video games in South Korea, there are also some digital detox programs for preteens. The aim is to spark awe, wonder, and fascination with the beauty of the natural world. In the confines of nature, the mind can truly open up and unlock the doors of creativity.
Early Adulthood All across the country there are a network of forest hiking trails within easy reach from the urban centers. Bukhansan National Park near Seoul, the capital, attracts millions of visitors every year.
These hikes offer a break from the noise, pollution, and crowds of the city but also allow the hikers to raise their moods as well as energy levels through a range of activities. Testing one’s strength and endurance on a hiking trail is a great way to build resilience.
Nature makes us realize that unlike the promises of a plastic surgeon, there are no cosmetic quick fixes for the challenges of life.
Green Gym is another activity which is increasing in popularity these days. Green Gym was developed by The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and Dr. William Bird from UK. Green Gym is a wonderful concept about improving the local green environment through light physical activities such as tree planting, pruning, and vines removal. It brings people together to connect with nature as well as with each other.
The benefit-cost analysis of Green Gym shows that 1 pound of investment creates 4.02 pounds of social value. Green Gym activities emphasise not only the improvement of green spaces in the community but also on strengthening social communication and connections among the local residents.
Midlife Given how effective forest bathing is against the ill effects of stress and burnout, it is no wonder that many people are turning to nature for their breaks and holidays.
With two-thirds of Korea made up of forests, it is easy to escape from city life and revert back to the laws of nature, seeking out a new life by tasting the peaceful serenity of the great outdoors.
Korea has 37 state-run national recreational forests scattered across the nation. Many of them are designated by the government to create recreational facilities where citizens can fully appreciate all that the woods have to offer.
In a typical recreational forest, like the Jangseong Healing Forest, hundreds of visitors come through every month, including three to four groups per day geared to some kind of healing, from cancer patients to kids with allergies to prenatal groups and everything in between. Depending on the program, participants may do activities like nature bathing, guided forest meditation, woodcrafts and tea ceremonies. But the heart of it all is walking in the Hinoki forest.
The aroma released by these trees to ward of microbes and pathogens has an added benefit for humans. Breathing in these compounds known as Phytoncides increases the count of Natural Killer – NK cells in our blood which is our body’s defence against cancers and tumor cells.
Seniors – Late Adulthood Creating access to nature for its senior citizens is one of the most important goals of any society. Spending time in nature works wonders for their mental health as well as physical immunity. With more time on their hands, simple activities or walks in nature allow the elders to avoid loneliness and depressive thoughts.
South Korea is creating a network of healing forests across the country. In addition, the Forest Agency is building an ambitious $100 million forest healing complex, complete with addiction treatment center, ‘barefoot garden’, herb garden, suspension bridge, and 50 kilometers of trails.
After Death In the traditional Korean philosophy of a holistic world-view and cycles of life and death, a unique ‘National Tree Burial Forest’ has been created. It is an eco-friendly way to send off the loved ones.
The ashes and remains of the body provide life to a seed that will be nurtured to grow into a tree. Over time, these trees of pine, oak, wild cherry and many other local species will become part of a healing forest. Providing a space for future generations to immerse in forest baths and contemplate their own journeys in the circle of life.
What’s commendable is the vision that S.Korea has about integrating nature into their lifestyles. Chungbuk University offers a “forest healing” degree program, and job prospects for graduates are good. It’s a cradle-to-grave operation: Programs include everything from Forest Welfare Experts, Forest Interpreters, Kindergarten Instructors, Forest Trail instructors, Forest Healing instructors and much more. The intention is to implement multiple forest therapy programs so that they can maximise the healing effects of nature, across their entire society.
References: *Prof. Dr. Bum-Jin Park, Director – Lab of Forest Environment and Human Health, Chungnam National University, South Korea. ** Ted article by Florence Williams
Forest Legend from South Korea
Many Korean legends have Dokkaebi in the stories. Dokkaebi, also known as “Korean goblins”, are nature deities or spirits possessing extraordinary powers and abilities that are used to interact with humans, at times playing tricks on them and at times helping them.
One of the legends is about an old man who lived all alone. One day a Dokkaebi visited his house. Surprised, the kind old man gave the Dokkaebi an alcoholic beverage and they had a drink together. The Dokkaebi visited the old man often and they began to have long drinking sessions. One day, the man took a walk by himself in the woods near the river and discovered that his reflection looked like the Dokkaebi. With fear, he realized that he was gradually becoming that creature. The man made a plan to prevent himself from becoming a Dokkaebi and invited the creature to his house. He asked, “What are you most afraid of?” and the Dokkaebi answered, “I’m afraid of blood. What are you afraid of?” The man pretended to be frightened and said, “I’m afraid of money.” The next day, the old man killed a cow and poured its blood all over his house. The Dokkaebi, with shock and great anger, ran away and said, “I’ll be back with your greatest fear!” The next day, the Dokkaebi brought bags of money and threw it at the old man. After that, the Dokkaebi never came back and the old man became the richest person in the town.
Learning: The company we keep will slowly change what we become. In an age of rapid urbanization, the city lives are influencing and modifying our very human nature. The thing we should be afraid of losing is our mental, physical, and social health. Thankfully, the forests offer us a healing sanctuary and a space to remember who we are: A part of nature.
Forest Bathing Insights
Take two songbirds whose home ranges are a few trees apart as an example. These birds are likely to encounter one another relatively frequently. By contrast, if a highway separates them, then they may never encounter one another.
A large part of our behaviour is shaped by our environment. It is influenced by the spaces where our social interactions take place. Over time, repeated behaviour transforms into habits, which build up our personality. This is the way our inner nature works.
City environments and the fast pace of lives are changing the way we live and interact with each other. Living and working in our enclosures we manage to create our own private islands of isolation. Our chances and reasons for interaction with other people become dependent on screens. And these screens lead us to commercial advertisers who prey on our insecurities and poke our inadequacies so that we can aspire to achieve their ever-changing version of a perfect life.
In many ways, the hectic, high-pressure lifestyles in South Korea remind us of the direction in which societies across most parts of the world are moving. If we were to reflect on the lessons learnt, we realize the true value of incorporating nature into our day to day routine.
The forests help us break free from the anxieties of our overstimulated minds. They recharge our energy to face the challenges of the gruelling city lives. They grant us the wisdom of accepting our imperfections and finding fulfilment in the small gifts of life that nature has to offer.
Returning to nature is a great way to boost not only our mental and physical health but also our social health and self-esteem.
Stay wild. Stay connected.
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How to create your own meditation garden and learn a variety of engaging garden meditations. Make an island of calm that you can return to, whenever you need.
Our city lives are slowly swallowing up our nature spaces and nature time. Even our interactions with other people are largely shifting to electronic screens. There is an increasing gap between our inner need for a true connection and our actual reality. Especially in these times of isolation and uncertainty we can observe growing signs of loneliness, anxiety, and depression in our society.
So what’s a simple and effective way to restore our connection with life and imbibe the healing benefits of nature. With our homes becoming our sanctuary, we can all bring a slice of calm, beauty, and joy into our lives through meditation gardens.
A true meditation garden is not about the space you have on ground, rather it is about creating the relation between your mind and your garden.
WHAT IS A MEDITATION GARDEN?
A meditation garden is an island of tranquility which allows you to connect with nature and with yourself. Living in a sea of turbulence, it offers you a space to plant seeds of peace, hope, wonder, and joy within you. With a few simple nature elements you can transform any garden into a meditation garden or create a new one from an inviting earth.
The heart of a meditation garden, beyond its visual appeal and the calming aesthetics is the thought, practice, and care which goes into connecting with your garden.
In this post we cover:
Beautiful ideas to create your own meditation garden.
Meditation garden elements that can enhance your experience.
Philosophy behind their use.
Inspiration and examples of meditation gardens.
Some simple but powerful garden meditations.
Origin of meditation gardens.
Benefits of garden meditations.
MEDITATION IN THE GARDEN
Event though different cultures and countries adopt different approaches, the basic idea remains the same – to create a sense of peace and serenity. Working with your garden to bring out these emotions is a deep meditation in itself. There are many nature elements that can become a part of your meditation in the garden. The real art comes in creating balance and harmony between the different elements. Elements which convey the essence of nature and serve as a gateway to calm and clarity. The design elements should be simple, natural, and low maintenance.
Here is our list of recommendations, but feel free to add your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.
ROCKS Rocks are storytellers of time. Sitting quietly in their corner, with stories tucked away in their folds and shapes. Those who have the patience to sit with them can journey in time and space. Their selection, size, shape and placement in relation to each other is very important. The rocks can give you an appearance of islands, valleys, and mountains – transporting you to different worlds.
WATER Adding water adds movement, stillness, and reflection to your garden. The sight and sound of flowing water is intrinsically soothing and meditative. An ecologically conscious choice to save water is to use a tiny fountain that you can turn on, as and when required. A simpler and friendlier option to incorporate the water element is to have a vessel with clear water in it. Even a small vessel can hold the entire sky in it.
LAND The lifeblood of your garden is the soil and earth it rests on. Interactions with the earth have a deep healing effect. Antidepressant microbes in soil result in the production of higher levels of serotonin in our body and lift our moods. Walking barefoot and working with the soil is a great meditation in itself. Bonus Tip: Having a composting unit, that turns your leaf litter into compost is a great addition to any garden. In nature nothing goes waste, and the process of transformation from waste to life-giving compost, is nourishing for the garden and filled with beautiful life-lessons for you. When life gives you crap – compost it.
LIFE The plants that you choose to be a part of your garden create the character of your space. Combining plants that grow to different heights and form layers creates a beautiful image of a tiny forest. It leads to an optimal use of space and is beneficial for the plants themselves. Other important factors to consider are color, texture, fragrance, and form. Native plants are the best choice for your garden. They are low in maintenance and will attract a lot of native birds, butterflies, and bees.
PATHS Creating contours and curves in your garden has a relaxing effect on your mind. It is a sharp contrast to the straight lines of our houses, cars, and offices. You can consider adding meandering paths and labyrinths for slow mindful walks.
YOU The secret ingredient of any meditation garden is you. Creating a small bench or a place to sit and contemplate in peace, forms an essential cornerstone of the garden. You can also place certain objects or statues that bring you peace of mind. Another addition could be baritone wind chimes or meditation bells for gentle sound.
All these elements are a starting point for your creativity. Space and balance are very important, as is motion and tranquility. Add in lots of flow and elements that can help you focus in the right state of mind. Start small and let the garden evolve, first in your mind and then on the ground.
MEDITATION GARDEN IDEAS
Given below is a slideshow of some ideas and design inspirations for meditation gardens from different corners of the world. It is just a reference, to observe the use of different elements. Click on the arrows to scroll through. Notice the emotion in each.
Having a meditation garden and not knowing how to meditate with it is like having a car and not knowing how to drive. While someone else can drive the car for us, but only we can meditate for ourselves. Given below are some simple garden meditations. You can find many more throughout our website. (find your calm here)
The first stumbling block for beginners is trying to set a goal or desired outcome for your meditation. Instead, the meditation becomes far more effective if we learn to simply enjoy the process. One can think of garden meditations as spending time with a close friend. Without any effort. Without any pretense.
A free download link of these 5 garden meditations is given at the end of this post.
Each one of us will have our own unique way of meditating in the garden. But the precious insights we find, will connect us to something that’s universal.
“There is random love in the universe. Some of it is unconditional. Some of it is for you.”
MEDITATION GARDENS ORIGIN
Historians estimate that the first gardens came to life about 10,000 B.C. – along overgrown river banks and the wet foothills of monsoon regions in India and Asia. By cordoning off places for personal use, these gardens were primarily “forest gardens”. They were used as a source for food and a protection barrier. Much later, with the emergence of the first civilizations, wealthy influential leaders in societies began to create gardens purely for aesthetic purposes.
Spiritual gardens emerged in Japan in the 8th century CE. The arrangement consisted mainly of of rocks. In the Zen tradition, the gardens served to remind practitioners that life can be elemental, simple. The first Zen gardens were called “zazen-seki”, “meditation rocks” because of their simplicity. The essence was to radiate silence, calm, and tranquility to anyone contemplating them.
In the current day, meditation gardens are present all over the world. The famous public ones being found all the way from Kyoto (Japan) to Glasgow (Scotland) and San Francisco (USA). But public meditation gardens are more of tourist attractions. To get the most authentic experience of a meditation garden you have to create one. The process of creating your own meditation garden, is the real meditation.
GARDEN MEDITATION BENEFITS
Within our hyperactive lives, spending even a few contemplative moments can lead to a wide range of benefits. Gardens across history and geography – over different periods of time and different cultures tell us that humans have always found aid and assistance through their gardens.
Meditation gardens are an effective way to clear your head, get grounded, and gain strength in this hyperactive, chaotic modern world. They can even help physically by lowering blood pressure, strengthening the immune system, improving general brain function, and lessening pain & inflammation.
Scientists have found that spending two hours a week in nature is linked to better health and well-being. The National Health Service in United Kingdom has prescribed time in nature and community gardening projects as part of “green prescriptions”. In Shetland for example, islanders with depression and anxiety may be given “nature prescriptions”, with doctors there recommending walks and activities that allow people to connect with the outdoors. (Source)
“Gardens are our teachers. There is a gardener in all of us, especially when tragedy is at our doorstep.”
In Nature things change with time. So will your garden, as will you. We hope these changes become a part of your learning journey and sow seeds of positive transformation across your life.
Do you have a meditation garden tip for us? Add it in the comments for all the other readers. To know more about the Healing Forest project, you can visit our homepage. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and get new ideas and articles in your inbox once a month: Subscribe link.
Download 5 garden meditation posters. We hope you liked this post. Please do share it in your circles with those who may find it of help.
Let the rivers of the world show you how to be resilient in life. Dive in, as we share inspiring examples and stories of resilience from the rivers.
Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Being resilient does not mean that people don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Rather it is an inner trait which helps them adapt to the changing situation and keep moving forward.
Floating down the river of time, each one of us will meet our own set of obstacles, hurdles and difficulties. How we overcome them or deal with them is based on our resilience. Here’s a list of some interesting ideas for navigating through the challenges that life may brings us.
The ancient, abandoned Mayan city of Tikal is a famous site in Central America. Its huge structures – some of which are over 70 meters high – show that the Mayans must have been supremely powerful and wealthy. But despite this wealth and dominance, Mayan civilization collapsed and its cities were left to crumble. Its downfall was self-inflicted.
As the city of Tikal grew more wealthy, its population started to grow quickly. Faced with more mouths to feed, the Mayan leaders reacted by clearing the surrounding forests to create farmland for crops. While this might have brought more food in the short term, in the long run it brought huge environmental pressures. The damage was twofold. Firstly, the erosion left the fields less fertile as the nutrients in the soil were washed away. Secondly, soil was washed into nearby rivers, clogging up irrigation systems. This led to a drought that withered crops.
The rivers are the lifeblood of civilisations, but in the race for power, fame, glory, we often forget to take care of important things. Instead of finding ways to grow more food sustainably, the Mayan leaders spent time and resources on building ever more expensive monuments to themselves and on waging war with rivals. The wars and the wasting of energy helped to quicken the decline begun by the damage to the environment. Together these factors brought a once powerful society to its knees.
INSIGHT: When faced with a crisis, we have to focus on the essential. By safeguarding the things which nourish us, feed us and help us grow, we can get through hard times. What are the things that constitute the rivers in your life? What are the things you must protect and preserve at all costs?
Resilience is how you recharge not how you endure. We normally believe that resilience depends on strength. This is only half true. It is the lack of recovery period which depletes our resilience. Not being able to rest weakens the mind, and erodes our health. Overwork, overstimulation, poor sleep affects us deeply. Losing our resilience leads to burnout and worse. So what’s the key to resilience?
Trying hard. Recharging. Trying again. A river will stop flowing if it is not recharged. It’s the same for humans.
Learning to be resilient requires wisdom and courage, foresight and willpower. The river insights in this article are a way to travel into your mind. We cover many stories and examples that will take you on a journey within. An enquiry, which leads you to discover your own path to resilience. Finding answers to the questions at the end of each section will create a map of resilience for your life. *The short resilience film at the end of this post, is a gift from the rivers. An uplifting message from a beautiful mountain stream.
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”
~ Bruce Lee
2. Resilience Example: A Story from Nature
The Yarlung Tsangpo river is known as the roof of the world and is the highest river in the world. The river is often called as the “Everest of Rivers” because of its extreme conditions and lofty elevation. The average elevation being about 4000 meters, Yarlung Tsangpo starts from the Angsi Glacier in Tibet and runs across Tibet, India and then meets The Bay of Bengal. It has to navigate its way through multiple mountain ranges. While leaving the Tibetan Plateau, the river forms the world’s largest and deepest canyon, Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon which is much longer than the Grand Canyon. The Yarlung Tsangpo is certainly one among the most unusual and inspiring rivers of the world.
INSIGHT: The river is stronger than the mountain. The way of the river, ever searching, ever flowing, always finds its path around the obstacle. In the flow of the river one can observe its true strength. Drawn by its pull to the sea, aided by gravity, every river seeks out its path and sometimes even creates it. These canyons are beautiful pieces of geographical art which serve as a reminder, that in nature, water cuts rock. What constitutes your strength in life? What are the values that you can rely on, to keep you flowing?
The same thinking can also be applied for building resilience to overcome negative habits. To change a habit, substitute the behaviour with a positive habit which creates a similar reward. That’s why the golden rule for quitting any habit is this: don’t try to resist the craving; redirect it.
3. Resilience Example: A Story of Change
The spirit of the river is the spirit of an explorer. When you stand next to a river, its path doesn’t seem to move. But this series of satellite images of Peru’s Ucayali River — featured in Google Timelapse project — reveals something pretty remarkable.
Over the course of fewer than 20 years, its path crawls back and forth, carving out deeper and deeper curves before cutting them off and starting over. All rivers naturally change their path over time, but this one forms meanders (the technical name for these curves) at an especially fast rate, due to the speed of the water, the amount of sediment in it, and the surrounding landscape.
INSIGHT: The key insight here is that, to build our resilience we need to work on our ability to explore. Exploration enables you to grow as a person. It challenges us to overcome our fears and anxieties. It’s how we learn more about the world. The second part is internal. It comes down to creating an understanding of the world through abstract thought. It’s the desire to learn new information and discover new ideas. People who seek out unfamiliar information and experiences, also tend to be intuitive, empathetic, and richer in their emotions. What are your sources of inspiration and motivation? Who can you turn to for advice and new insights?
Resilience is our capacity to change. It’s a positive state that is resourceful, adaptable and energised. Unlike bouncing back and coping, states that can be quite draining over the long term, or grit, that can be rigid and isolating, resilience is a place of high creativity and flexibility.
~Anise Bullimore, Resilience Coach
4. Resilience Example: A Story of Floods
The River Nile is about 6,670 km (4,160 miles) in length and is the longest river in the world. The Nile receives its name from the Greek Neilos, which means a valley or river valley. In Egypt, the River Nile creates a fertile green valley across a barren harsh desert. It was this gift of the river that allowed one of the oldest civilizations in the world to flourish. The ancient Egyptians lived and farmed along the Nile, using the soil to produce food for themselves and their animals.
Regular as sun and moon, in the middle of burning summer, without a drop of rain in sight, when all other rivers on earth were drying up, for no apparent reason at all, the Nile rose out of its bed every year, and for three months embraced all of Egypt in a flood. The people’s happiness or misery depended upon the annual flood. (Uncover the source of this mystery here.)
Generally floods are seen as a form of natural disaster creating loss and damage. But in the life cycle of a river they play an important role. Flood waters carry nutrient-rich sediments which restore the fertility of the land. Floodplains are beneficial for wildlife by creating a variety of habitats for fish and other animals. In addition, floodplains are important because of storage and conveyance, protection of water quality, and recharge of groundwater.
MEDITATION: In life, there are some floods that one cannot avoid. However being well prepared for it and knowing how to manage the flood can help us strengthen our resilience. What are the floods that you can be prepared for? What gifts are you meant to receive from them? What is their role in your personal growth
5. Resilience Example: A Story of Rebirth
Colorado Delta, was once one of the most biologically diverse desert aquatic ecosystems on the planet. Paddling the delta in 1922, naturalist Aldo Leopold was entranced by the flourishing world beyond the tip of his canoe. “Verdant walls of mesquite and willow . . . a hundred green lagoons,” he wrote. “The river was everywhere and nowhere.”
But things have changed since then. By the time the Colorado reaches Mexico, nearly 90 percent of its water has been siphoned off for farms and cities. For the most part, the delta has been reduced to a desiccated wasteland, dominated by invasive tamarisk trees and discarded trash.
In the spring of 2014 an experimental pulse of water was released into the Colorado Delta. It was an experiment to see what would happen and whether it was possible to regenerate habitat. What people witnessed was something extraordinary.
Within a couple days of being wetted by the pulse flow, billions of tiny copepods had hatched. Some were now feeding on algae along the river’s fringe. Dragonflies eat copepods, and they flew into hunt. Carp coming down the river were feeding on the dragonflies and fish larvae were also eating the copepods. The water’s life-giving effects spilled beyond the river’s banks. Kids who’d never seen it in its natural channel splashed and played. Spontaneous festivals came to life. Birds returned, and trees and marshes greened up.
MEDITATION: Nature has an inbuilt resilience. Things which appear to be dead are merely dormant and spring back to life once the conditions are right. It gives us hope that in the river of time, no matter how difficult the circumstances, we just have to wait for the water of life to come back and restore our fragile but precious sense of aliveness. How can you build your patience and reserves of energy? How can you connect with nature to understand its laws better?
The river is not just a body of water flowing into the sea. It is a complex ecosystem. A set of relationship between the water and the many beings whose lives are linked with its flow. A variety of plants, animals, insects, microorganisms, and the river form a web of life which supports and nourishes each other’s life cycle. The influence of the river’s water extends far beyond its observed edges.
INSIGHT: It is difficult to say where the river begins and where its boundary ends. Similarly, our resilience is codependent on the resilience of other people in our lives. It is also dependent on the resilience of the environment we live in. Who can you turn to, for support in tough times? What are the places that you can go to recharge yourself? And more importantly, who can you support when they are going through a tough time?
Resilience is a quality that can be learnt and strengthened. By finding spaces that rejuvenate us, and sharing it with others in their time of need, we are building our own resilience and also creating a resilient support network.
Rivers are stronger than mountains
In these challenging times, it has become essential for all of us to guard our mental health. In case you enjoyed this post, do try our Nature Calm course and find new ways to grow your resilience.
The twists and turns of life affect us in many ways. Therefore, learning to take control of our own wellbeing is an important skill. Let’s discover how to find peace, purpose and resilience with the help of nature. We share the best ideas and practices from around the world. Subscribe to our blog and receive a free newsletter with new ideas and articles in your inbox, once a month.
Which is your favourite river? And what has it taught you? Do add your thoughts in the comments below so that we can grow our collective knowledge. Please share this post with friends, so that it reaches where it’s needed.
If you could change one thing to transform your life what would it be? What if it was your own mind? Learning to train your mind starts with learning to regulate your emotions. It’s because they affect your thoughts, your choices and also the people you attract into your lives.
Our emotions design our experience of life.
Managing our emotions and moods is one of the most difficult but essential skills in life. Those who can achieve it know the secret of leading richer lives with greater success, harmony and more fulfilling relationships.
*During the pandemic, a lot of people are going through a sea of emotions. In these testing times, maintaining our mental balance is as important as protecting our physical health. Through this article we share some helpful tips. If you find them useful, please share them forward. And feel free to add your thoughts and ideas in the comments to grow our collective knowledge.
Just like the virus, our moods are also contagious. Let’s learn spread some calm and hope.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL REGULATION?
Emotional regulation is the ability to handle both the highs and lows of emotions. Generally speaking, the extremes of any emotion can have an adverse effect on us. Therefore, we need to become aware of our emotional environment. And because our emotions are constantly changing, we can learn to transform them, change their intensity and also choose how we react to them.
Going through the circus of life we often encounter situations and people that completely throw our mood off. Anger, sadness, anxiety and other bad moods are like uninvited guests. By taking up our head space, they take away our freedom and pull us down. Understanding how emotions work can show us how to train the mind and transform those bad moods even if you can’t avoid them.
The emotional center of our brain – the limbic system, is an open loop system. An open-loop system depends on external sources to manage itself. In simpler terms, we rely a lot on our environment and connections with other people to determine our moods. We have evolved in this way because it increases our chances of survival. It helps humans form relationships, protect and care for their loved ones and also find environments that were safe to live in and thrive in.
Even though the open loop is so much a part of our lives, we usually don’t notice the process. So how can we use this to our advantage? The link between our inner nature and outer nature gives us a wonderful tool to shape our emotions.
The format that we cover in this post is based on the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku or Forest Bathing. It is a well researched and highly effective practice and has a host of other benefits besides helping you regulate your emotions. * Forest Bathing Introduction | Forest Therapy in Japan
HOW TO CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS?
There are many ways to train the mind to control your emotions, but with nature it’s easier. It’s because, our mind has evolved in nature. In this post we will cover 5 stages of learning to control your emotions. The stages help you progress steadily and create a longer lasting effect.
Emotional skills are part of our genetic code, and each one of us has a certain mood that we are more prone to. However, experience also plays a big role in how our personality develops. The more we act a certain way—be it happy, depressed, or cranky—the more the behaviour becomes ingrained in our brain circuitry, and the more we will continue to feel and act that way.
1. The Forest – Knowing what’s possible
Go for a nature walk. Focus on your strongest sense and find something in nature that brings you deep calm. Stay with that emotion as long as you can. Later when you are at home, sit in a quiet space and try to recreate the same emotion by visualising your moment in nature. Practicing this exercise helps us recreate emotions we can fall back on when the need arises.
The basic practice of learning to regulate our emotions begins with observing, accepting and transforming. Many behaviour change programs include Mindfulness as part of the process. By adding nature to mindfulness we can make it far more engaging and effective.
Emotions are absorbed in the body in about six seconds. Each burst of emotion chemicals, from the time it’s produced in the hypothalamus to the time it’s completely broken down and absorbed, lasts about six seconds. If we’re feeling something for longer than six seconds, we are – at some level – choosing to recreate and refuel those feelings. Recognizing what emotion we are feeling, evaluating its purpose, and deciding whether to recreate it, is what emotional intelligence is all about. (source)
2. The Storms – Knowing yourself
Knowing what triggers you will help you in being better prepared. Make a list of people, situations and environments that affect you negatively. Also knowing how you affect others will show you areas that need improvement. Talk to family, friends and colleagues. Take feedback.
Our moods are like the weather – they can create a climate of trust, creativity and growth, or they can spread dark clouds of stress, fear and anxiety. Practice becoming aware of the links between what’s happening around you and what’s happening inside you.
A good mood leads to a good day.
According to scientists, there are 8 primary emotions: joy, sadness, fear, surprise, anger, disgust, acceptance, anticipation. Other important emotions, like ‘love’ are a complex combination of some of these primary emotions. These permutation and combinations give our mind its emotional richness. In nature we work with the emotions of awe and wonder to create joy, serenity, love and even compassion.
3. The Path – Creating an action plan
The effects of nature work in a dose curve. The more time you spend in nature, the better it is for you. Depending on your need and situation, you can design an action plan for lifting your mood when you are down.
Identify special places in nature you have access to. Find landscapes, elements, and activities in nature that you enjoy. It could be sitting next to a stream, lying on the grass, reading under a tree or walking barefoot. Know what works for you and build a plan for training your mind. The deeper your nature experience is, the stronger its effect.
When you are in nature, focus on all your senses. Soak in the sights, sounds and smells. Taste the freshness and feel the textures. Our senses work at a subconscious level. They also help in bringing your awareness to the present moment. Negative thoughts are easier to quell when we bring our attention to a pleasing sensation.
When you are in nature shift from thinking to sensing, and from sensing to simply being.
*For some beautiful ideas, try our Nature Calm course, with a collection of over 100 creative and mindful activities to find your calm.
4. The Cycles – Keeping momentum
Nature works in rhythm… birdsong in the morning, phases of the moon, and cycle of seasons. Interestingly, so does our mind. Create a habit of adding nature into your life. Whether it is the daily ritual spent with your plants and pets, a weekly nature walk, an annual vacation in the forest. Build a rhythm into your life. It keeps you in a good mood and maintains your momentum.
Even if you can’t access nature, simple acts of watching clouds fly by, listening to bird song, feeling the breeze on your skin and many other small ideas can keep you connected to nature.
Creating a momentum helps you break deep rooted emotional patterns which may be difficult to get rid of.
5. The Friends – Creating a community
Our moods affect our relationships deeply. Therefore, community is the most important aspect of your mind training. Remember, our moods are linked to the moods of people in our lives.
Go for a silent nature walk with those you wish to build a deeper connect with. Let nature do all the talking. Close bonds can form between people who allow each other their own space and yet share a beautiful experience together.
Everyone knows the importance of emotional intelligence in life. Most successful people, teams and families have a high level of emotional intelligence. What people don’t realise is that the foundation of this intelligence comes from the ability to regulate emotions. Emotions in ourselves as well as others.
Our emotions are deeply linked to hormone levels, cardiovascular functions, sleep rhythms, and even immune functions in the body. And strong emotions can even alter these in the body of another. It’s a phenomenon called mood contagion.
Research in intensive care units has shown, for example, that the comforting presence of another person not only lowers the patient’s blood pressure but also slows the secretion of fatty acids that block arteries. Another study found that three or more incidents of intense stress within a year (for example, serious financial trouble, being fired, or a divorce) triples the death rate in socially isolated middle-aged men, but it has no impact on the death rate of men with many close relationships. (Source)
So you see, our emotional health is linked to our mental health, physical health as well as social health.
Changing your mood changes your experience of life.
Creating a deep connection with nature is like growing roots that will keep us stable and anchored in stormy situations. And during calmer times, they will nourish the very essence of our being, helping us enrich other people’s lives with our presence.
May the forest calm always be with you.
We live in a complex world, facing challenges big and small each day. The twists and turns of life affect us in many ways. Therefore, learning to take control of our own wellbeing is an important skill. Discover how to find peace, purpose and good health with the help of nature. We share the best ideas and practices from around the world. Please subscribe to our blog for a monthly newsletter with new ideas.
Do share this post with people who might find it helpful.
Our Earth is full of wonders that fill us with awe, inspiration and humility. From far above in space where all illusions of boundary blur, one can truly admire the beauty of this planet that we call home. In this post we cover 10 fascinating features of our planet seen from high up in space. These images are made possible by Google Earth’s new studio programme which allows you to experience any corner of the world from the comfort of your home.
We may be in lockdown, but that should not stop us from exploring. Happy Earth Day 2020!
WORLD’S OLDEST DESERT
NAMIB DESERT The Namib, at 55 million years old, is the world’s most ancient desert, as well as being one of the driest. Rainfall varies from 85mm in the west to just 2mm in the east – but the area is often covered by a thick fog, which allows plants and animals to survive thanks to the dew it creates. Another source of water are the rivers. Although the beds seem to be almost always parched, there is permanent water flow underground which creates linear “oases” on the surface.
“Namib” is the Nama word for “vast” – and this desert, stretching for 1,600km along Namibia’s coast, is certainly the embodiment of vastness.
WORLD’S LARGEST RAINFOREST
AMAZON FOREST The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world and provides 20% of Earth’s oxygen. It is also known as the ‘Lungs of the planet’.
The Amazon is estimated to have 16,000 tree species and 390 billion individual trees. The rainforest is thought to have over 2.5 million species of insects. More than half the species in the Amazon rainforest are thought to live in the canopy. It shelters 10% of the world’s known biodiversity. One in five of all species of bird and fish live in the Amazon.
Around 400-500 indigenous American-indian tribes live in the Amazon rainforest. Around 50 of them have their own language and culture and have never had contact with the outer world. They are nomadic hunters and gatherers and constantly need to move around.
WORLD’S HIGHEST MOUNTAIN
MT. EVEREST Nepalese call The Mount Everest as Sagarmatha which means ‘forehead in the sky’ and Tibetan call it Chomolungma which means ‘mother of the World’.
The height of Mount Everest is 29,029 feet or 8,848 Metres. According to one survey conducted, the height of Mt Everest increases every year by 4mm. This happens due to the collision of the Indian-Australian and the Eurasian plates.
The top of Mt. Everest is engulfed by the jet stream for a major part of the year, making climbing near impossible due to high winds and extreme sub zero temperatures. It is only when the winds die down in May and again for a short period in September, that we have a so called ‘Summit Window’, when conditions are safe enough for climbers to try and reach the summit.
WORLD’S LONGEST RIVER
RIVER NILE Found in northeast Africa, the Nile is the longest river in the world – stretching a massive 6,695km!
The Nile has been an important source of life for people throughout history. Around 5,000 years ago, the Ancient Egyptians relied on the Nile for fresh water, food and transportation. This fascinating river remains an invaluable source of life for Egyptians to this day. More than 95% of the country’s population depend on its water and live within a few miles of the river banks.
And it’s not just important for humans – the river and its banks are home to lots of wonderful wildlife, too – including different kinds of fish and birds, as well as turtles, snakes, hippos and one of our planet’s largest reptiles… the Nile crocodile!
WORLD’S LARGEST ISLAND
GREENLAND Greenland is one of the biggest places in the world, and yet very little of it is known to the outside world. Greenland is actually the world’s biggest island – by area – that is not a continent. The total area of Greenland is 2.16 million square kilometres (836,330 square miles), including other offshore islands.
Almost 80 percent of the land mass is covered by an ice cap. The ice-free area may be a minority, but it’s still around the size of Sweden. With a population of 56,480 (2017 estimate), it is one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
According to scientists, Greenland was actually quite green more than 2.5 million years ago. A new study reveals that ancient dirt was cryogenically frozen for millions of years underneath about 2 miles of ice.
WORLD’S LARGEST INLAND WATERBODY
CASPIAN SEA The Caspian Sea or Mazandaran Sea is a landlocked sea between Asia and Europe (European Russia). It is the world’s largest inland body of water, with a surface area of 371,000 km² (143,000 sq. mi.), and therefore has characteristics common to both seas and lakes. It is often listed as the world’s largest lake, though it is not a freshwater one.
The Volga River (about 80% of the inflow) and the Ural River discharge into the Caspian Sea, but it is endorheic, i.e. there is no natural outflow (other than by evaporation). Thus the Caspian ecosystem is a closed basin, with its own sea level history that is independent of the eustatic level of the world’s oceans. The Caspian became landlocked about 5.5 million years ago. The level of the Caspian has fallen and risen, often rapidly, many times over the centuries.
WORLD’S LARGEST DELTA
SUNDERBAN DELTA Sundarbans delta has got the world’s largest coastal mangrove forest (an area of about 10,000 km2, with enormous beauty shared between India (4,000 km2) and Bangladesh (6,000 km2 ). Sundarban Jungle has been named after the large mangrove trees Sundari (Heritiera littoralis) found here.
The interconnected network of waterways in Sundarbans makes almost every corner of the forest accessible by ferries and boats. Sundarban has unique tidal phenomenon twice a day – there are high tides when water level seems to rise around 6-10 feet and low tides when one can see the huge mud land area lying flat. Sundarbans is also home to the royal bengal tiger and has been designated as a national park to protect this majestic but endangered species.
WORLD’S HIGHEST ACTIVE VOLCANO
MAUNA LOA Mauna Loa is the world’s largest and one of its most active volcanoes – a giant shield volcano on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Mauna Loa has probably been erupting for at least 700,000 years, and may have emerged above sea level about 400,000 years ago. The oldest-known dated rocks are not older than 200,000 years. The volcano’s magma comes from the Hawaii hotspot, which has been responsible for the creation of the Hawaiian island chain over tens of millions of years.
WORLD’S LARGEST CANYON
GRAND CANYON Grand Canyon is a chasm 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, with an average depth of about one mile. It took 3-6 million years to form and the erosion continues to alter its contour even today. It was formed by the Colorado River, which flows west through the canyon and averages about 300 feet width, 100 feet in depth and flows at an average speed of four miles per hour.
The surround environment hosts approximately 70 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, 25 types of reptiles and five species of amphibians
PALE BLUE DOT
END NOTE We hope you enjoyed this short exploration of our Earth and it has inspired you to check out Google Earth and the many amazing voyages it features. Exploring the world helps us know it better. And knowing the world can help us know our own role in nurturing it and protecting it.
To get a monthly newsletter with new ideas and articles please sign up at this link. Do pass on the inspiration and share this article with friends who might enjoy it.
Calm in Nature offers you simple ways to still your mind and recenter your spirit, so that you may deal better with the challenges of life. It’s because finding peace in difficult times is never easy. In this article we will learn from wise masters, established teachers and some poetic seekers. You will find a collection of exceptional meditations that take inspiration from Nature. The cloud, tree, forest, river, ocean, desert, and mountain can all show you the path of finding your calm in nature.
7 Ways to find calm in nature
The very nature of life is to move through cycles of ups and downs. No matter how much we try to predict or control our paths, we are bound to encounter the unexpected.
With the ongoing pandemic of coronavirus, people across the world are going through testing times. There is uncertainty, anxiety, suffering and loss. Amidst all this, there is also a big need for hope and resilience. Each one of us has to navigate our own journey through this storm. What we can do, is take nature’s help in finding our inner strength and peace. We can grow an awareness that this phase will not last forever. The rainbow at the end of the storm is waiting for us.
The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
Until only the mountain remains.
Allow the body to be still and sit with a sense of dignity, a sense of resolve, a sense of being complete, whole, in this very moment, with your posture reflecting this sense of wholeness.
As you sit here, let an image form in your mind’s eye, of the most magnificent or beautiful mountain you know or have seen or can imagine…, let it gradually come into greater focus… and even if it doesn’t come as a visual image, allowing the sense of this mountain and feeling its overall shape, its lofty peak or peaks high in the sky, the large base rooted in the bedrock of the earth’s crust, it’s steep or gently sloping sides…
Notice how massive it is, how solid, how unmoving, how beautiful, whether from a far or up close…
By becoming the mountain in our meditation practice, we can link up with its strength and stability and adopt them for our own. We can use its energies to support our energy to encounter each moment with mindfulness and equanimity and clarity.
It may help us to see that our thoughts and feelings, our preoccupations, our emotional storms and crises, even the things that happen to us are very much like the weather on the mountain. We tend to take it all personally, but its strongest characteristic is impersonal.
The weather of our own lives is not be ignored or denied, it is to be encountered, honored, felt, known for what it is, and held in awareness… And in holding it in this way, we come to know a deeper silence and stillness and wisdom.
Mountains have this to teach us and much more if we can let it in.
The freedom of an ever moving, ever changing cloud represents the freedom of spirit. One that is not fixed or attached to things that hold us down. Watch this meditative short film from the ‘Valley of Clouds’ and reflect on the cloud within you.
One way of interpreting the word ‘Forest’ is to see it as a place ‘for rest‘. In this beautiful poem ‘Sleeping in the Forest’ by Mary Oliver, we find respite from a weary world and return to a place of deep calm.
I thought the earth remembered me, She took me back so tenderly, arranging her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichens and seeds. I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed, nothing between me and the white fire of the stars but my thoughts, as they floated light as moths among the branches of the perfect trees. All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing around me, the insects, and the birds who do their work in the darkness. All night I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling with a luminous doom. By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better. ~ Mary Oliver
Listening to the song of trees is one of the most calming sounds in nature. The wind in the leaves and birds in the branches can slow down the movement of time and fill your heart with joy.
This soundscape has been recorded in the Bieszczady National Park — one of the few remaining primeval forests in Europe. Bieszczady is located at the extreme south-east corner of Poland, bordering Slovakia and Ukraine. The park and its surroundings are part of the wider UNESCO East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, an area of land where the woods are mostly natural.
The bird sounds as well as the other animal sounds were recorded by hiding recorders in the forest and leaving them running for 24-hours continuously, without any human presence.
Fable: Two giants were about to get into an epic battle. Everyone was nervous and yet there was a thrill in the air. One of the giants was immovable and had stood his ground for centuries. He was made of solid rock and no one had been able to make him move from his place. The other giant was crafty and nimble. She could twist and turn and had never been still. No one had been able to stop her yet.
In a frozen moment of great tension the two giants collided. There was a loud roar that echoed into space. The river pounded with all its force, but the mountain stood his ground. The river’s current was strong, but it had to find ways to flow around and carry on. After watching with great interest the spectators decided that the rock giant was stronger and went to congratulate it. But the mountain was surprised and retorted angrily ‘Can’t you see I am losing?’
In a battle that rages till this day, the River Colorado manages to cut through the Grand Canyon forming one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world.
Insight: Perseverance can move mountains. The way of water is stronger than the way of the rock.
Amazing fact: The Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago. Since that time, the Colorado River continued to erode and form the canyon to its present-day configuration
I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.
The vastness of the ocean is often daunting, for one is always cautious of the unknown. In this wonderful poem by Khalil Gibran we find a metaphor of the river and ocean for overcoming our fears.
It is said that before entering the sea a river trembles with fear. She looks back at the path she has traveled, from the peaks of the mountains, the long winding road crossing forests and villages. And in front of her, she sees an ocean so vast, that to enter there seems nothing more than to disappear forever. But there is no other way. The river can not go back. Nobody can go back. To go back is impossible in existence. The river needs to take the risk of entering the ocean because only then will fear disappear, because that’s where the river will know it’s not about disappearing into the ocean, but of becoming the ocean. ~ by Khalil Gibran
Many people perceive the desert as a harsh and difficult place to live in. But ecologists know that deserts have their own unique ecosystem and many species live and thrive in the desert.
Philosophically speaking, the desert represents emptiness. To meditate on the desert is to meditate on emptiness. It is to go beyond the clutter of thoughts and emotions and to find the vast open space within us.
In following passage from Jack Kornfield’s book ‘A Path With Heart’, he introduces us to the Buddhist concept of healing through emptiness.
“The last aspect of mindful healing is awareness of the universal laws that govern life. Central to it is an understanding of emptiness. We experience it when we see that our existence is transitory, that our body, heart, and mind arise out of the changing web of life, where nothing is disconnected or separate.
The deepest experiences in meditation lead us to an intimate awareness of life’s essential openness and emptiness, of its ever-changing nature, of its nature as an unstoppable process. And it can open us to the great mystery of life, to the discovery of the emptiness and wholeness that we are and our fundamental unity with all things.”
GIFT OF CALM IN NATURE
There are many scientific reasons for the calming effect of nature on our minds. Some of the major benefits include a boost in your physical immunity and well-being. Better mental health and protection from the ill-effects of stress, anxiety, depression. Improvement in sleep, focus, memory and cognitive skills. But the most important phenomenon of connecting with nature is a growth in our understanding of the laws of nature that weave through all creation.
By finding our own calm in nature, we are able to bring this tranquility to our day-to-day chores and influence the nature of other people in our lives.
The coronavirus has shown us that the fate of our species is linked with each other, irrespective of borders and religion. It is time to grow our humanity, come together as a species and lend our support to those in need because we are all connected. There are no others.
As the world enters a lockdown and our forays into nature become limited, we can still find solace and connection with nature through creative works, meditations and most importantly through each other.
Please add any other inspiring creative works that lead to calm in nature, in the comments section below. We will share it with our large audience base on Facebook.
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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.
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 self expression and self confidence.
Forest Theatre also enhances our observation and imagination. It builds our attention, and curiosity and will lead to higher 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.
Sharing: Over and above these games, another big learning happens when people share their insights from the activities. Creating a space for sharing at the very end of the walk, turns individual learning into a shared collective learning.
Listen. Observe. Accept. Create. Enjoy.
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 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 the confidence to be truly free.
For those of you who are more interested in movement and dance, you can check out a modified version of forest theatre in our JOY WALK.
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.
*This post is part of our learning program onnature arts, games, meditations from around the world. The course is available on a pay-as-you-like basis. It is a great resource filled with multiple ideas for people who love nature.
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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, its principles and its 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 is the practice of immersing yourself in 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.
Forest bathing in 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. A forest bath 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. So spending time with these tree is a special form of tree bathing.
An intangible outcome of forest bathing 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.
FOREST BATHING IN JAPAN
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 / forest bathing 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).
JAPANESE FOREST BATHING – 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 idea of headspace creation has become known as restoration in psychology. The Restoration Theory (Kaplan, 1985) and its closely connected Stress Recovery Theory (Ulrich, 1991) state that our 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 our mental health.
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 immersed in a forest bath 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 FOREST BATHING 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.
FOREST BATHING NEAR ME?
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 tree bathing and the sense based exercises in any urban park near you.
For people who are unable to go out 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.
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 “exposure” (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.
Learn Forest Bathing with 100+ activities to uplift your days: NATURE CALM>>
FOREST BATHING BENEFITS
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.
Forest bathing offers a time tested approach. 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.
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We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. The aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.
*This post is part of our Nature Calm course with forest arts, games, meditations from Japan and other parts of the world. The course 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 of creating your own forest bathing walks.
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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 top of the surrounding hills. Occasional reindeer, a medley of birds and a carnival of wild flowers and berries add their own magic to this surreal landscape.
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. You can also check out our Nature Calm course with 100+ ideas to re-wild 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.
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 will fill you with wonder and awe for nature. Every forest story contains within it, a tiny seed of wisdom. We hope you can plant it in your life and enjoy the fruits later.
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
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.
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 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.
What’s Your Forest Story?
What is the source of all stories? Where do they come from? Every story is an adventure of the mind. But spending too much time indoors, and on screens is affecting us negatively. How can we change that?
We have a gift of 3 magical walks that boost your calm, creativity, confidence. Collect the interactive poster below and go on an adventure to create your own forest stories.
Calm Walk: How to create calm and stillness within. Creativity Walk: How to grow your creativity through nature. Confidence Walk: How to build your confidence and self-esteem.
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.
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.
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 President 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 the hunters became even more active and the wolves started disappearing at a faster rate.
The President was extremely sad, but a wise counsellor suggested he take the help of the storytellers. So a new approach was found and the creatives were called. Musicians made beautiful songs on the wolf, the writers wrote enchanting stories, and photographers and filmmakers captured the beauty of the illusive wolf and its importance for our forests. Soon the word spread and the people joined in the movement for protecting the wolf. Slowly the wolf numbers began to rise and balance was restored to the forests.
Moral: Scientists create a better life, but we also need artists and storytellers to create a better world.
A FOREST STORY ABOUT US
*Follow the rabbit and learn skills that schools, books, or internet won’t teach you: Nature Play Walks. Also read about the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing and discover why being in Nature is so good for us.
Now more than ever, we need stories that connect us to forests and the beings who live there. It’s because things we connect to, are things we care for.
END NOTE: To get new stories, films, and inspiration from the forest join our monthly newsletter. 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 part of its magic.