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

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

WHAT IS FOREST BATHING?

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

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

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

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

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FOREST BATHING IN JAPAN

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

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

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

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

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

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JAPANESE FOREST BATHING – FOREST ZEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION

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

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FOREST BATHING NEAR ME?

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

STAGES OF A FOREST MIND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOREST BATHING BENEFITS

Forest Bathing Benefits

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

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

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

END NOTE: Please share this post with friends who might benefit from it. You can download 4 Nature Calm meditations 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. You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link

*This post is part of our Nature Calm course with forest arts, games, meditations from Japan and other parts of the world. The course is 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.

Writing In Nature To Find Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Forest Therapy in Japan and its Possibility for the World

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

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

What is Forest Therapy and its Healing Effects?

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

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

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Examples of Forest Therapy and Forest Amenity Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Case Studies of Forest Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Possibilities of Forest and Tree Amenities in the world

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

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

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

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FOREST THERAPY vs FOREST BATHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forest Wisdom from North America

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

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

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CANADA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Karuk people of California

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

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

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

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

Pic by: Isabella Juskova

 

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

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

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

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Sharpening the 6th Sense

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

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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.

SENSE AND SENSITIVITY

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.

Sensing the forest: 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 with another sense.

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. Try making fox ears: By cupping your hands behind your ears you can capture more of the sound waves. Notice the difference in sound with and without the fox ears.

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 this 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.

Some More Sense Exercises

Sense Multiplier: Each person experiences the forest differently. By sharing our senses with others, we have the ability to enhance our perception of the forest. The group stands in a circle and each person pays attention to one thing in nature that is bringing them calm. After a minute of silence, any one person shares what they became aware of. The rest of the members spend the next minute noticing and sensing what is mentioned. The exercise continues till each member of the group has shared their sense experience.

As A Leaf: Notice the movement of air around you. Even when we are not in the forest, there is always the presence of some wind, which serves as a gentle reminder of nature around us. For this exercise, imagine you are a tiny leaf. Notice the smallest sensation of wind on your skin, especially your hands. Gently sway your body to the rhythm of the air around you. *Exercise contributed by Nilanjana, a psychology student and a trained outdoor educator.

Walking With Your Ears: Find a safe path or trail in the forest. Divide into pairs. One person in the pair becomes the leader and the other the follower. The follower will keep their eyes closed and simply follow the directions given by their partner. The leader can hold the hands of the follower to make this a little easier. Leaders can also describe the surroundings to their followers, to create a mental image for them. Switch roles within the pairs after 5 minutes. Share the experiences you had – as a leader and as a follower. *Exercise contributed by Mav Rebhl, a wandering do-gooder from Bali, Indonesia

My Nature Home: Every person has a nature place that is special to them. Find a quiet spot to sit. Breathe gently and keep your spine straight and relaxed. Close your eyes and remember your special place in nature. Slowly strengthen you memory by adding in details. In your mind, what do you see, hear, smell, and feel? Stay with the emotions that come up. You can return to this memory anytime you feel.

Barefoot Walking: Walking barefoot in nature is known as grounding or earthing. It is becoming very popular because of the surprisingly large number of reports of multiple health benefits. While researchers and scientist study the phenomenon, we can simply enjoy the touch of mother earth under our feet. Walk slowly and mindfully. Different textures of grass, mud, pebbles, sand will send different sensations to your brain. This is one of the most popular and calming experiences on most healing forest walks. So do try it out whenever the place and weather allows it.

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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 nature healing 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


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.

Phone. Photos. Peace: Photography Meditation

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.

In this article 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

COLOURS: 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.

FRACTALS: 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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PHOTOGRAPHY MEDITATION

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. At the end of 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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A Healing Image
Create a picture of something in nature that represents healing for you. Share in your group, why you chose that particular image. This is a very good opening exercise because it gets people to search for metaphors and meaning in nature. It opens the mind to look beyond the obvious.

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

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.

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.

The Invisible Picture
End your walk by asking participants to put away their phones. Simply walk in silence and create a mental snapshot of the forest in your head. A memorable image that you would like to carry back with you. Participants end the walk with a closing circle and talk about the image in their head.

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The aim of these meditative photography exercises is to make us realise that the picture in our mind is far more valuable than the one in our camera. Phones may keep changing, but when you create a strong mental image tied to a peaceful emotion, it can become a lifelong memory.

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

EXTRAS – PHOTO MEDITATION IDEAS

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.

Contrasts
Find contrasts in nature. The easiest contrast is to capture life and decay, but look beyond the obvious. The language of nature is filled with contrasts. Notice how they mirror the contrasts in your own life.

Macro World
Hidden in plain sight is the tiny world of insects and other friends. While most of our attention is focused on the larger objects and wide landscapes, a magical world exists where you seldom look. Try and take a picture of an unusual creature.

Geometry and Fractals
See if you can capture the unusual geometry and fractals the exist in nature. The beauty of a fractal is that it is a self repeating pattern. Which means, a close up of one part of the subject will be very similar to a wide shot. Just like the branches of tree. Interestingly the nerves in our eyes also have a self repeating pattern.

* Note: 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.

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, #naturecalm. It will make it easier for us to find them.

* This page is part of our nature calm program with nature based arts, games, and meditations from around the world.

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”

NATURE MEDTIATION:

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.

Children of Nature

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

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

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

Start Small

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

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

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Listen Closely

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

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

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

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

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

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Wonder Together

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

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

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

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Record It

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

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

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

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

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Invite Nature Inside

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

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

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

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

You may find some inspiration here and here.

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

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BENEFITS OF NATURE ACTIVITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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END NOTE

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

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

Fondly, Monique

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

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

 

Words That Heal: Creative 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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>>.

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FOREST ART – Ideas for Art in Nature


In this article we explain the concept of forest art with some creative examples and exercises. Along with the forest art ideas we share ways to turn these walks into healing experiences.

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 about life.

Our life is but art in the canvas of nature.

FOREST ART WALK

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. It’s a silent walk in nature to appreciate the beauty of art in nature and allows us to express our emotions by creating some interesting forest art. 

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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INSIGHT: These forest art exercises tell us that it’s 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. The entire journey of healing is in being able to observe and transform the art in our mind.

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

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.

EXTRAS – Art in Nature

Colour and Mood:
Choose any colour and collect objects in nature with that colour shade. Create a colour palette with all the different shades of your chosen colour. What are the memories, people and things you associate with that colour? Create a list of all things that come to mind when you see that colour.
*This exercise has been contributed by Mai Ly Tran a school teacher from Vietnam

Creative Visualisation (Nature’s Gift):
Collect an interesting object from nature. Use creative visualisation to turn this object into something else. For e.g: A long stick may become a flying broom, or a microphone stand or a paddle for a boat. Visualise at-least 5 to 10 different things with your chosen object. If you are in a group, then divide into pairs. Each person finds a nature gift for their partner. Visualise a creative use for the gift you have received. Enact it out while other group members try to guess what you are using your object as.

Concentric Circles:
This exercise is designed to build patience and focus. A highly calming nature art activity is to create spirals or circles with nature objects. Start by collecting similar objects like sticks, stones or fallen leaves. Create a small circle with a few objects from your collection. Keep growing your art by adding bigger concentric circles around the original circle. Each of the circles can be of a different colour / size / shape.

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

ART AND 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.

SCIENCE OF NATURE ART 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.

“We can create art out of anything, including our life.”

*This page is part of our Nature Connect course with 100+ nature based arts, games, and meditations from around the world.

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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.