9 Mindful Meditations on Nature. Understanding Self, Knowing Life.

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

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

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

NATURE MEDITATIONS & NUMBERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditation: Walk or sit silently in the forest. Focus on any one sense at a time for a short period of 2-3 minutes. Make a note of all the unique things you can observe and sense. Repeat the exercise with another of your senses. Notice how each sense reveals something new about the nature around us. The aim of this exercise is to bring us into the present moment and stop our thoughts from leaping into the past or future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEDITATIONS ON NATURE | FREE DOWNLOAD

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

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

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

Forest Therapy in Japan and its Possibility for the World

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

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

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What is Forest Therapy and its Healing Effects?

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

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

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Examples of Forest Therapy and Forest Amenity Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Case Studies of Forest Amenities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Possibilities of Forest and Tree Amenities in the world

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

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

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

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FOREST THERAPY vs FOREST BATHING

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sharpening the 6th Sense

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

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

The world communicates with us through our senses.

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

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

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

THEN AND NOW

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

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

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

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

THE SIXTH SENSE

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

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

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

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

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

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SENSE EXERCISES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taste: Carry a fruit with you on your walk. Find a scenic spot to sit quietly and eat the fruit slowly. The aim is to create a memory of the experience. Notice the affect of the ambience on the taste of the fruit.

Working on our senses opens the doors to having a richer experience of life and more importantly fosters a feeling of being alive.

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

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*This page is part of our learning program. You can find the next section of our course at this link.

Bonus: Here’s a link to download a set of 5 waterfall gifs. You can use them to attract more people to your walks, or simply meditate on them. http://bit.ly/hfl-falls

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

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

Depression Vs Nature

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

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

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ADVICE FROM A PSYCHOLOGIST

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

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

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

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

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WALK IN THE WOODS

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

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

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

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

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SCIENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos of Peace

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

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

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

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SCIENCE

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

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

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ACTIVITIES

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

Directions: Some points to note are – move in silence and go slow. Think less and feel more.  Spend 10-15 minutes for each activity in a particular area. We generally tell participants that they can only take one picture for each exercise. This allows them to be more mindful of the picture they wish to take. After each exercise, group together to share your pictures and thoughts for a few minutes. After sharing, read out instructions for the next exercise and continue your walk in silence for 10-15 min to another area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can share some pictures from your photo-walk in nature on our Facebook group: Art of Nature. Please add these tags when you post your pictures on social media #healingforest, #forestlearning. It will make it easier for us to find them.

*This page is part of our learning program. Once you have tried out these activities on a nature walk, you can proceed to learn the next set of activities at this link.

Bonus: Here’s a link to download a set of 6 nature images. You can use them to attract more people to your walks, or simply use them as meditative wallpapers for your screen. http://bit.ly/hfl-pics

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

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

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

NATURE MEDTIATION:

India’s Healing Forests

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

TRAILER

REVIEWS

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

To see the full film visit this link.

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DIRECTOR’S NOTE

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

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

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

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

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

The forests are waiting.
Come home.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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

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

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

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FORESTS AND YOU

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

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

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

 

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

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Relationship lessons from Nature

Our world is made up of relationships.

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

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

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

LeafWhat can nature teach us about relationships?

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

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

Successful relationships are formed for mutual benefit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art of Nature


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

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

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FOREST ART WALK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Learning: One big learning from these exercises is the realisation that it is our mind which gives meaning to art. People look at the same arrangement of objects, but everyone interprets it differently. In the canvas of nature, our life is also like art. Nature brings different situations and people into our lives, but it is our mind which gives meaning to these events. It is this meaning which makes us happy or sad.

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

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

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

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

FORESTS AND YOU

Our life is but art in the canvas of nature.

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

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE OF NATURE WALKS

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

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

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

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

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

*This page is part of our learning program. Once you have tried out the art walk in nature, please proceed to learn the next set of activities at this link.

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

Waterfall Healing – 7 ways to find calm

When life sends you rain, find waterfalls. This month we explore a collection of short waterfall meditations to help you find your calm.

Waterfalls have this unique ability to pause our train of thoughts, bring our awareness to the present moment and fill us with awe. Seeing the movement of water on it’s journey to the ocean reminds us in many ways of our own journey in time. For a brief moment one is conscious of the larger but unseen laws that govern the flow of nature and life.

Given below are 7 short waterfall meditations. Simple ideas and thoughts that one can contemplate on, while enjoying the beauty and wonder of the waterfalls.  Find an image or words that call out to you and spend a little time absorbing it’s essence.

*Note: Some of the gifs on this page may take time to load on slow internet connections. We hope you patience is amply rewarded.

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Fall. Rise. Repeat

Dance

Everything Changes

Slow down. Find yourself.

Flow

Let Go

From Nothing. Into Nothing.

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We hope these words and waterfalls encourage you to explore the hidden peace, power and potential that lies within each one of us.

It would be really nice to hear your reflections or meditations with waterfalls. Please add to our collective knowledge by sharing your insights and experiences in the comments section.

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

 

10 Nature Connection Activities

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

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

1︱Grounding with Yoga

Find a quiet place in nature, take off your shoes and stand on the earth. Feel the energetic charge from your legs, ankles and feet compared to the feeling of the ground. Stand for a few minutes until you feel stable. Then, do the following three yoga poses: Mountain Pose, Warrior I Pose, and Tree Pose (detailed here). Synched with the breath, these poses bring fresh oxygen and phytoncides (natural compounds that increase blood cells which fight cancer and tumors) into our lungs, tissues and organs. They also ground our bodies and can give relief from inflammation, pain and stress. (Source)

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2︱Opening Senses

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

3︱Walking

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

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4︱Make Friends With Trees

Find a tree that attracts to you and make friends with it as you like. Spend at least 10 minutes with your tree. Some possible ways to engage with trees are:

Explore the tree: Gaze at the tree for five minutes. What does it tell you about itself? Trees belong to species and have histories, families, health issues, and unique qualities. Lean against the tree, touch the tree, hug the tree. What knowledge does it share with you? 

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

Tell the tree a story: Share a secret, your dreams, a prayer, or send a message to a loved one.

Meditate with the tree:  Either sitting or lying down, breathe and exchange oxygen and energies with the tree.

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

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5︱Nature Therapist

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

6︱Nature Art

Create an impermanent artwork made from found elements of nature. The work of Andy Goldsworthy is an inspiration, but we need not go so far! Some ideas for your nature art: gratitude mandala, spirit altar, ikebana, labyrinth, toy house and bridge. If you’re with others, try a ‘gallery walk’ afterwards to share your creations.

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7︱Animal Kingdom

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

For groups, stand in a circle and ask people to call forth their spirit animal (or a favorite animal). Then, give yourselves a task, such as building animal homes, or a game to play. After 15-20 minutes of play, reconvene in a circle to create a poem. Begin with a word or sound that suits the day, and then going around the circle each person contributes a word/sound until a freestyle poem emerges and runs its course.

8︱Dance

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

9︱Water Healer

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

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10︱Dream Time

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

*This page is part of our learning program. Once you have tried out these activities on a nature walk, you can proceed to learn the next set of activities at this link.


Article contributed by Julie Hall. Julie is a forest therapy guide and founder of Shinrin-Yoku Walks.