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.

*This post is part of 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.

Nature By Numbers | Nature Meditations on Life and Self

Nature by Numbers

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 look for answers in nature by numbers and 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. But first, here’s an inspiring film by Cristobal Vila.

NATURE BY NUMBERS FILM

NUMBERS IN NATURE & MEDITATION

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 nature meditations in this article is given at the very 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

Nature By Numbers

Download link of 2 posters for mindfulness meditations on nature by 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.

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.

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>>.

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

NATURE ART – Ideas, Inspiration, Insight


In this article we explain the concept of nature art with some creative examples and exercises. Along with the nature 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.

NATURE 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.