Forest Theatre, Mindful Play in Nature

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

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

Cartoon by Angel Boligan

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

Benefits of Nature Play

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

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

Forest Theatre Rules

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

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

Listen. Observe. Accept. Create. Enjoy.

A short film made after a nature play session

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

Forest Theatre

A Curious Way To Break Bad Habits

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS: More Forest Theatre Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Nature Meditations. Understanding Self, Knowing Life.

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

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

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

NATURE MEDITATIONS & NUMBERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEDITATIONS ON NATURE | FREE DOWNLOAD

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

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

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

Words That Heal: Creative Nature Writing

CREATIVE WRITING EXERCISES IN NATURE

Writing is therapeutic. Writing in nature – meditative.

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

It’s about observing the nature outside and observing the nature within.

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

forest-element-heart

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

writers-walk-hf

WRITING EXERCISES IN NATURE

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

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

Senses: Pick any one of your senses. Describe your surroundings keeping only the chosen sense in focus. You can turn this exercise into a letter to a friend. In the letter you are describing your nature walk to a close friend who is not present with you, but remember you can only use one sense to portray the scene.

Objects: Choose any object in nature, create a riddle around it. Let others in the group guess what object you picked. In the riddle the less you reveal, the more interesting it becomes. Just like the language of the forest which is full of riddles and mysteries.
Here’s a riddle for you. The answer is given at the very end of the article.

You can see me, but you can’t hear me.
You can feel me, but you can’t smell me.
What am I?

Emotions: Take an emotion that you are feeling. Include it in a 3 line poem. These 3 line poems are a simplified version of Japanese Haikus. The aim of our poem is to capture an image from your nature walk and convey the emotion you are left with. It’s not a test of your poetic skills and the lines do not have to rhyme. Here’s an example:

Characters: Pick the oldest tree around or a tree that feels special to you. Spend time with it and write the story of its life. In this exercise allow your imagination to fly. You can compress time and write a biography for the tree or simply write about a day in the life of your tree.

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EXTRAS: IDEAS FOR NATURE WRITING

Magical Creatures: Our forest stories have always been full of magical beings like elves, fairies, gnomes. If you could create your own magical creature what would it be? What magic will they have and what would you call them?

Game of Memories: When we recollect positive memories in nature it strengthens them and allows us to return to them when we need it the most. Write down your earliest happy memory. Write down your most peaceful nature memory.

Nature Song: This is a fun exercise that gives rest to the logical, thinking side of your brain. Pay attention to the sounds of nature and write a song in gibberish. Which means you cannot use any known words from your language. Just compose a song from the sounds around you: Krr Krr Krr Krr Krr, tok tok, Ku-oo

One Word Connections: This game serves as a warm-up to our next exercise, but is also fun on it’s own. If you are in a group, form a small circle. The game starts by one person saying any word from nature. The next person says the first thing that comes to mind on hearing that word. You are not allowed to think and respond. If a participant takes too long to respond, then the chance automatically passes to the next person in the circle. Complete 2 to 3 rounds of the circle with this exercise and build your spontaneity.

Twisty Tale: This is a group exercise. Stand in a circle and create a story starting with ‘I went for a walk into the forest….’. The conditions are that each person adds one line to the story, but alternate people add happy and sad twists to the story. So one set of people are trying to make the story positive and happy while the other set is giving it a dark or tragic turn. Once the story runs its course, switch the roles of the people.

Gratitude Note (Closing Exercise)

We usually end our nature walk by writing a note of gratitude. The note starts with gratitude for the gifts we have received from nature and grows to encompass other aspects of our life.

Without gratitude, nothing is enough

~Julio Olalla

At the core of all emotions in life, this emotion of gratitude is the one that allows us to find contentment and make peace with ourselves. It shifts focus from what is missing within our life and moves our heart to appreciate what we have.

As with all writing, this exercise is effective only when the words flow from the heart and not the head. We hope that being in nature has enabled you to do so.

Games-writers

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

WORDS THAT HEAL

Fewer people are spending time in nature these days. This distance is affecting our health – as individuals, as a society and also as a planet. The intention of this idea is to bring nature back into conversations and inspire more people to connect with forests in creative ways. Let’s do this as a collective.

When you create writing in nature and share it with other, it spreads the seeds of emotions you felt and the insights you learnt. Hopefully, it will grow the magic of nature and draw more people to it.

Do share your poems, puzzles, stories or reflections from the nature walk on our Facebook group. In case you post your writing on social media, add these tags: #healingforest / #forestlearning. It will make it easier for us to find them.

*This page is part of our learning program with nature arts, activities and meditations from around the world.

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

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

flowers

p.s: Our answer to the riddle is ‘Sunlight‘. But in nature, there can be more than one right answer!