Forest Bathing – Secrets from South Korea

Forest Bathing

What does forest bathing have to do with a remedy for loneliness and low self-esteem? Let us go on a forest bathing trip in South Korea to find some clues. Through this article we hope to inspire you to bring some of these ideas into your own nature walks and forest bathing routines.

Forest Bathing is the art of immersing yourself in nature to rejuvenate your mind, body, energy and to activate nature’s healing benefits. For those unfamiliar with the concept here’s our article from Japan that explains: What is Forest Bathing?

Living in a city creates many hidden challenges for our health. South Korea has developed innovative systems to counter these harmful effects. Many of these Forest Therapy concepts remain relatively less known due to a variety of cultural and language barriers. We will introduce you to some of the enriching ideas and share how you can benefit from them.

Life in Korean Cities

About 85% of South Koreans live in urban areas. The country has seen rapid urbanisation and advancement in technology. It has one of the world’s highest Internet speeds and is at the cutting edge of the latest broadband revolution.

Florence Williams, author of Nature Fix states: Perhaps no one has embraced the healing effect of nature with more enthusiasm than the South Koreans. Many suffer from work stress, digital addiction, and intense academic pressures. More than 70 percent say their jobs, which require notoriously long hours, make them depressed, according to a survey by electronics giant Samsung. Yet this economically powerful nation has a long history of worshipping nature spirits. The ancient proverb “Shin to bul ee—Body and soil are one” is still popular.

A big social trend seen in South Korea is the rapid decline in number of marriages as well as birth rates. According to Statistics Korea in 2017 nearly one third of all households were single person households and almost 90 percent of them are exposed to a feeling of loneliness.

Culturally, South Korean pop culture has become enormously popular all over the world, but what is less known is the high aspiration levels created by the Media frenzy. Completely surrounded by subliminal messaging and advertising, many people get caught in a self defeating trap. The quest for living the dream life can take a toll on anyone’s self-esteem. *Today, South Korea is widely considered as the “plastic surgery capital” of the world, boasting the highest number of cosmetic procedures per capita worldwide.

Watch a glimpse of the life in Seoul, the capital of South Korea and notice a few of the social nuances mentioned above, in this beautiful video by Brandon Li.

Forest Bathing in Korea

Running along the length of Korea are the timeless Baekdu-Daegan mountains. Covered in lush forests filled with aromatic Hinoki trees, they provide a comforting escape from the rush of the city lives. For millennia these mountains have stood as sentinels, calmly watching the flow of time and the journey of humans.

They influence the weather, the ecology, and the water systems, which support agriculture and feed the entire nation. The wise elders in ancient times named them energy spine mountains. They believed that Baekdu-daegan continuously fed essential life-energy throughout the land of Korea. Its unimpeded clear flow was considered necessary for the birth and growth of heroic and virtuous citizens, and thus for the health, strength and prosperity of the Korean Nation.

These enchanting mountains hold a vast network of hiking trails that are also great for forest bathing and forest therapy. The intriguing, interesting, beautiful part of these trails is the way they weave through and connect Korea’s nature, culture, rural life, and food.

Korea’s Healing Forests

Today these mountains and forests are the inspiration for the ambitious National Forest Plan. Its goal is “to realize a green welfare state, where the entire nation enjoys well-being.”

Over years of research the Koreans were able to scientifically establish the multiple healing benefits of nature. What’s commendable is how they were able to put this knowledge into creating systems and spaces for forest bathing and forest therapy. To reach a vast spectrum of people, the forest welfare program was divided into 7 distinct stages based on the human life cycle.

In this section we give you a glimpse of the different sections and highlight the benefits of forest bathing for our lives.

Forest Bathing Benefits Across Ages

Birth
One of the biggest benefits of forest bathing is the relief it can provide from anxiety, panic, and worry. Having the lowest fertility rate in the world, the South Koreans hold the expecting mothers-to-be in high regard. By creating special pre-natal classes and forest meditation sessions in nature, they not only help the parents ease their anxieties and worries but also establish nature as a space where families can bond with each other. 

Childhood
Across many of the forests of Korea you will find ‘Children’s forest playground’.  Open spaces in nature where children can interact and play safely in the ambience of the forest. Taking this a step further is the establishing of Forest Kindergarten with trained faculty who can guide children in the beautiful art of learning with nature.

Time in the forest also led the children to report feeling happier, less anxious and more optimistic about their futures, according to a study by Prof. Dr. Park Bum-Jin. Many Koreans have been so intensively urban for so long that they can feel out of place in the woods. “Children and the younger generation don’t really have experience in nature; so many of them think of the forest as dirty or scary. If we don’t change their mind-set now, there will be no chance.” he says.

Adolescence
Nature offers equilibrium between technology and human interaction. It creates avenues for healthier outflow of teen anxiety, energy and aggression. An interesting experiment was the “Happy Train” which delivers school bullies to a national forest for two days so they can learn to be nicer. Why does it work, you ask? It’s because no one teaches us humility and respect better than nature.

By incorporating regular programs under the theme ‘Education in the Forest’ many schools are helping their students understand the natural world and its magical creatures. Given the craze for video games in South Korea, there are also some digital detox programs for preteens. The aim is to spark awe, wonder, and fascination with the beauty of the natural world. In the confines of nature, the mind can truly open up and unlock the doors of creativity.

Early Adulthood
All across the country there are a network of forest hiking trails within easy reach from the urban centers. Bukhansan National Park near Seoul, the capital, attracts millions of visitors every year.

These hikes offer a break from the noise, pollution, and crowds of the city but also allow the hikers to raise their moods as well as energy levels through a range of activities. Testing one’s strength and endurance on a hiking trail is a great way to build resilience.

Nature makes us realize that unlike the promises of a plastic surgeon, there are no cosmetic quick fixes for the challenges of life. 

Green Gym is another activity which is increasing in popularity these days. Green Gym was developed by The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and Dr. William Bird from UK. Green Gym is a wonderful concept about improving the local green environment through light physical activities such as tree planting, pruning, and vines removal. It brings people together to connect with nature as well as with each other.

The benefit-cost analysis of Green Gym shows that 1 pound of investment creates 4.02 pounds of social value. Green Gym activities emphasise not only the improvement of green spaces in the community but also on strengthening social communication and connections among the local residents.

Midlife
Given how effective forest bathing is against the ill effects of stress and burnout, it is no wonder that many people are turning to nature for their breaks and holidays.

With two-thirds of Korea made up of forests, it is easy to escape from city life and revert back to the laws of nature, seeking out a new life by tasting the peaceful serenity of the great outdoors.

Korea has 37 state-run national recreational forests scattered across the nation. Many of them are designated by the government to create recreational facilities where citizens can fully appreciate all that the woods have to offer.

In a typical recreational forest, like the Jangseong Healing Forest, hundreds of visitors come through every month, including three to four groups per day geared to some kind of healing, from cancer patients to kids with allergies to prenatal groups and everything in between. Depending on the program, participants may do activities like nature bathing, guided forest meditation, woodcrafts and tea ceremonies. But the heart of it all is walking in the Hinoki forest.

The aroma released by these trees to ward of microbes and pathogens has an added benefit for humans. Breathing in these compounds known as Phytoncides increases the count of Natural Killer – NK cells in our blood which is our body’s defence against cancers and tumor cells.

Seniors – Late Adulthood
Creating access to nature for its senior citizens is one of the most important goals of any society. Spending time in nature works wonders for their mental health as well as physical immunity. With more time on their hands, simple activities or walks in nature allow the elders to avoid loneliness and depressive thoughts.

South Korea is creating a network of healing forests across the country. In addition, the Forest Agency is building an ambitious $100 million forest healing complex, complete with addiction treatment center, ‘barefoot garden’, herb garden, suspension bridge, and 50 kilometers of trails.

After Death
In the traditional Korean philosophy of a holistic world-view and cycles of life and death, a unique ‘National Tree Burial Forest’ has been created. It is an eco-friendly way to send off the loved ones.

The ashes and remains of the body provide life to a seed that will be nurtured to grow into a tree. Over time, these trees of pine, oak, wild cherry and many other local species will become part of a healing forest. Providing a space for future generations to immerse in forest baths and contemplate their own journeys in the circle of life.

Tree Burial Forest
Tree Burial Forest

What’s commendable is the vision that S.Korea has about integrating nature into their lifestyles. Chungbuk University offers a “forest healing” degree program, and job prospects for graduates are good. It’s a cradle-to-grave operation: Programs include everything from Forest Welfare Experts, Forest Interpreters, Kindergarten Instructors, Forest Trail instructors, Forest Healing instructors and much more. The intention is to implement multiple forest therapy programs so that they can maximise the healing effects of nature, across their entire society.

References:
*Prof. Dr. Bum-Jin Park, Director – Lab of Forest Environment and Human Health, Chungnam National University, South Korea.
** Ted article by Florence Williams

Forest Legend from South Korea

Many Korean legends have Dokkaebi in the stories. Dokkaebi, also known as “Korean goblins”, are nature deities or spirits possessing extraordinary powers and abilities that are used to interact with humans, at times playing tricks on them and at times helping them.

One of the legends is about an old man who lived all alone. One day a Dokkaebi visited his house. Surprised, the kind old man gave the Dokkaebi an alcoholic beverage and they had a drink together. The Dokkaebi visited the old man often and they began to have long drinking sessions. One day, the man took a walk by himself in the woods near the river and discovered that his reflection looked like the Dokkaebi. With fear, he realized that he was gradually becoming that creature. The man made a plan to prevent himself from becoming a Dokkaebi and invited the creature to his house. He asked, “What are you most afraid of?” and the Dokkaebi answered, “I’m afraid of blood. What are you afraid of?” The man pretended to be frightened and said, “I’m afraid of money.” The next day, the old man killed a cow and poured its blood all over his house. The Dokkaebi, with shock and great anger, ran away and said, “I’ll be back with your greatest fear!” The next day, the Dokkaebi brought bags of money and threw it at the old man. After that, the Dokkaebi never came back and the old man became the richest person in the town.

Learning:
The company we keep will slowly change what we become. In an age of rapid urbanization, the city lives are influencing and modifying our very human nature. The thing we should be afraid of losing is our mental, physical, and social health. Thankfully, the forests offer us a healing sanctuary and a space to remember who we are: A part of nature.

Forest Bathing Insights

Take two songbirds whose home ranges are a few trees apart as an example. These birds are likely to encounter one another relatively frequently. By contrast, if a highway separates them, then they may never encounter one another.

A large part of our behaviour is shaped by our environment. It is influenced by the spaces where our social interactions take place. Over time, repeated behaviour transforms into habits, which build up our personality. This is the way our inner nature works.

City environments and the fast pace of lives are changing the way we live and interact with each other. Living and working in our enclosures we manage to create our own private islands of isolation. Our chances and reasons for interaction with other people become dependent on screens.  And these screens lead us to commercial advertisers who prey on our insecurities and poke our inadequacies so that we can aspire to achieve their ever-changing version of a perfect life.

In many ways, the hectic, high-pressure lifestyles in South Korea remind us of the direction in which societies across most parts of the world are moving. If we were to reflect on the lessons learnt, we realize the true value of incorporating nature into our day to day routine.

The forests help us break free from the anxieties of our overstimulated minds. They recharge our energy to face the challenges of the gruelling city lives. They grant us the wisdom of accepting our imperfections and finding fulfilment in the small gifts of life that nature has to offer.

Returning to nature is a great way to boost not only our mental and physical health but also our social health and self-esteem.

Stay wild. Stay connected.

Request: Please share this article to inspire more people to connect with nature.

You can visit our homepage to know more about our Healing Forest project. We share the best ideas and practices from around the world. To receive a free monthly newsletter with new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to our blog.

Depression Vs Nature

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

Clouds

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

wreath

ADVICE FROM A PSYCHOLOGIST

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

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

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

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

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WALK IN THE WOODS

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

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

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

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

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SCIENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Painting

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.

Patterns

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.

Cone-web

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.

Leaf-web

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.

Photos-of-peace-poster-web

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.

Waterfall Healing – 7 ways to find calm

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

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

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

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

B-Leaf-peepal-Green

Fall. Rise. Repeat

Dance

Everything Changes

Slow down. Find yourself.

Flow

Let Go

From Nothing. Into Nothing.

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

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

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

 

10 Nature Connection Activities

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

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

1︱Opening Senses

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

Sun

2︱Gratitude Walk

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

An interesting addition to your walk is to create a feeling of gratitude. By focusing your attention on things that fill you with gratitude, you can shift your mind from any negativity or pessimistic thoughts. Here’s a simple list to help you fill your heart with gratitude.

3︱Make Friends With Trees

Find a tree that attracts to you and get to know it well. Spend at least 10 minutes with your tree. Some possible ways to engage with trees are:

Explore the tree: Gaze at the tree for five minutes. What does it tell you about itself? Trees belong to different species and have histories, families, stories, and unique qualities. Lean against the tree, touch the tree, feel its leaves, bark, flowers, fruit. What knowledge does it share with you? 

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

Tell the tree a story: Share a secret, your dreams, a prayer, or send a message to a loved one. Trees provide a non-judging space to express yourself.

Meditate with the tree:  Either sitting or lying down, breathe and become aware of the interconnected link of breath between you and the tree.

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

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❤ Read the story behind this film and get a copy of the poem at this link.

4︱Grounding with Body and Breath

Find a quiet place in nature, take off your shoes and stand on the earth. Relax your breath. Straighten your spine. Become aware of the sensations from your legs, ankles and feet moving up from the ground. Stand for a few minutes until you feel stable. Then, move your awareness slowly up from the feet to the top of your head. Notice if there’s tension, stress, or stiffness in any part of your body. Stay with the areas of your body that call your attention. Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat. Imagine the forest air soothing your body with every in-breath and your tiredness dissolving into the ground with every out-breath. This deep breathing brings fresh oxygen and phytoncides (natural compounds that increase blood cells which fight cancer and tumors) into our lungs, tissues and organs. They also ground our bodies and can give relief from inflammation, pain and stress. Benefits of deep breathing are amplified manifold in the forest.

Nature Connection activities

5︱Nature Therapist

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

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6︱Nature Art

Create an impermanent artwork made from found elements of nature. The work of Andy Goldsworthy is an inspiration, but we need not go so far! Some ideas for your nature art: gratitude mandala, animal home, ikebana, labyrinth, a magical fairy house and bridge. If you’re with others, try a ‘gallery walk’ afterwards to share your creations. (A full post on the process can be found at our post on Nature Art )

Arranged leaves by Andy Goldsworthy

7︱Nature Journaling

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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8︱Animal Kingdom

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

For groups, stand in a circle and ask people to call forth their favorite animal. Then, give yourselves a fun task, such as building animal homes, or a enacting the role of your animal. After 10-15 minutes of play, reconvene in a circle to create a poem. Begin with a word or sound that suits the day, and then going around the circle each person contributes a word/sound until a freestyle poem emerges and runs its course.

9︱Dance

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

10︱Water Healer

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

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11︱Dream Time

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

*This page is part of our Nature Calm course with 100+ ideas for mindful nature based activities and meditations from around the world.


Article inputs by Julie Hall and Monique from USA

7 Healing Forests from Japan

Travel with us into the delightful healing forests of Japan. Discover the magical moss covered forests of Yakushima island and know about the volcano museum. Breathe in the deep greens of dense forests and soak in the crystal streams, waterfalls and hot springs scattered around.

During the 1980’s Japanese researchers and scientists started discovering multiple benefits of being in forests and reconnecting with nature. With the development of medical equipment related to natural and life sciences, this field has advanced even more. They have given us scientific proof on our intuitive understanding that nature heals. Japan as a country has established many healing forests in their country over the years. Designated nature reserves where people can go to experience the healing powers of forests.

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SHINRIN YOKU

Japan is a technologically advanced world. Cities have become mazes of steel, concrete and silicon, swimming in a sea of electromagnetic waves. In this electronic age, some part of us still yearns for the freedom and comfort of nature. For many people, the answer lies in reaching out to the forests.

Shinrin-yoku is a term the Japanese use to describe this practise of immersing oneself in the forest. Literally translated it means ‘forest bathing’. Allowing nature to cleanse the mind and spirit of negative thoughts and emotions. Reawakening your senses, rejuvenating your energy and adding strength to your healing ability.

Given below is a hand picked list of some of the best healing forests of Japan.

Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima Japan
One of Japan’s natural wonders, Shiratani Unsuikyo Gorge on Yakushima Island is home to a mystical, primeval forest with yakusugi cedar trees between 1,000 – 7,200 years old. Covered in 600 types of moss, the forest glows green and radiates an otherworldly beauty that is legendary in Japanese culture. Shiratani Unsuikyo is best explored on the longer trail, Taiko-Iwa, that passes through the most luscious landscapes on the island and leads to the top of the mountain with stunning panoramic views. Yakushima Island is a registered UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site for its rare and diverse ecosystem, unlike any other on earth. Indigenous deer and monkeys roam freely. There are many places along the trail to stop and enjoy the scenery. Bring your rain gear and lunch, walk carefully and enjoy! Information contributed by: Julie Hall, www.shinrin-yoku-walks.com

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Kitago, Miyazaki
“A town of great natural beauty, clean streams and hot springs”, Kitago Town in Nichinan City is located in the southern part of Miyazaki Prefecture. The natural hot springs of 51 degreesC welling up from 800 meters below the ground are popular with visitors from both within and outside Miyazaki who refer to it as the “The Beauty Hot Spring”. Hanatate Park is famous for its 10,000 cherry trees and in spring, visitors flock from all over to gaze at the clouds of soft pink blossoms.


Ukiha City, Fukuoka
Located in the southeastern part of Fukuoka Prefecture with the Minou Mountains ranging to the south and the Chikugo River flowing in the north, Ukiha City has a rich natural environment.

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Iinan, Shimane
The Town of Iinan nestles in the highlands at an elevation of 450 meters. The sources of both the Hii and Kando Rivers are to be found in this region made famous by its long history of rice and vegetable production. With easy access to such a rich natural environment, the town of Iinan’s Forest Therapy programs offer a combination of nature, history and culture.

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Ashizu, Chizu Town, Yazu-Gun
Along the forest therapy road in Chizu, in the Ashizu valley, flows one of the best streams in western Japan. It is situated in a forest of cedar and hardwoods. The valley is magnificent in all the four seasons and has something new to offer every time you visit. The valley stretches to the Chugoku Nature Trail, encircles the Mitaki Dam and continues on to the upstream river valley.

Ashizu |Image Source

Shiso, Hyogo
Surrounded by towering mountains with an elevation of over 1000 meters, such as Hyonsen, the highest peak in Hyogo Prefecture, the City is full of lush greenery as it is part of the Hyonosen-Ushiroyama-Nagisan Semi-National Park and the Onzui-Chikusa Prefectural Natural Park.

Shiso Hyogo |Image Source

Yamanouchi, Nagano
With towering mountains, primeval forests and clean sparkling lakes, it has an undulating terrain surrounded by high 2,000 meter mountain ranges rich in volcanic rocks such as green tuff, andesite, diorite and basalt, indicating the intensity of past volcanic activity. It is known as a “volcano museum”. The therapy roads often take you to vantage points where you may find a sea of clouds under your feet. The primeval forest of Shiga Kogen also has circular loops around emerald lakes reflecting the forest green.

We hope this article inspired you to go out and spend some time in nature. As part of our project we are identifying and marking healing forests around the world. Quiet spaces in nature that one can visit without feeling unsafe. You can check out the map so far and even recommend a nature trail to be added to this map.

If you haven’t already, 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. To know more about us and join us as a fellow volunteer visit this link.

May the forests be with you.

KUMANO – 熊野 from Mathieu Le Lay on Vimeo.

Secrets of flowers

What is Flower Therapy?

Flower Therapy is based on the belief that psychological and emotional well-being is the cornerstone for reaching or maintaining physical health.

According to Flower Therapy, a patient’s psychological state is not only decisive for their health, but is responsible for it. Therefore, getting rid of the illness is the consequence of having gotten rid of one’s own negative feelings, no matter if these are fear, inferiority complex, sense of guilt, etc. As long as the individual is not able to face these mood concerns to treat them, restoring emotional harmony, the illness will keep sending signals, affecting the body.

On the contrary, the existence of harmony among body, spirit, and mind makes possible relief and recovery, particularly if the individual is able to prevent the symptoms of the disease.

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Dr. Bach the founder of flower therapy, identified precise negative emotions able to distress the individual and open the doors to disease. For each single emotion, he found the appropriate Flower Remedies; each of them works in specific patterns and covers various emotional nuances:

  • For fear: Rock Rose, Mimulus, Cherry Plum, Aspen, Red Chestnut
  • For uncertainty: Cerato, Sclperanthus, Gentian, Gorse, Hornbeam, Wild Oat
  • For insufficient interest in present circumstances: Clematis, Honeysuckle, Wild Rose, Olive, White Chestnut, Mustard, Chestnut Bud
  • For loneliness: Water Violet, Impatiens, Heather
  • For those over-sensitive to influences and ideas: Agrimony, Centaury, Walnut, Holly
  • For despondency or despair: Larch, Pine, Elm, Sweet Chestnut, Star of Bethlehem, Willow, Oak, Crab Apple
  • For stress about welfare of others: Chicory, Vervain, Vine, Beech, Clear spring water

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Origins

Between 1930 and 1936, a new method of therapy was developed in the United Kingdom by Edward Bach, a doctor who discovered in some flowers and plants the power to soothe the ailments of the troubled mind. It was an alternate method, completely different from phytotherapy, closer to homeopathy, but with peculiar features. Dr. Bach decided to name it Flower Therapy.

Though developed for soothing human pains, Flower Therapy has also given very good results when used to treat animals. The therapy is not a supplement for clinical medicine but is used in preventive and supportive roles.

Read more about Dr. Bach and his flower therapy at this link.

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Therapy for flowers

There are lots of books, websites, resources that tells us about taking care of plants, but here is an interesting note by Scilla Di Massa, specifically for taking care of flowers.

A few studies demonstrated that plants love music. But this is not all; they also have preferences: they adore classical music and dislike rock. Put in a place where music was diffused, they reacted by growing in various ways, quite different from similar plants living in the same conditions but without music. Those listening to classical music grew larger than normal size and in the direction of the radio: one of these almost coiled around the radio in order to embrace it. Those that, instead, listened to rock music grew quickly in the beginning but after a short while they withered and died.

The experiment was proposed again using flowers: petunias, zinnias and calendulas. Once more it was verified that rock music stimulates the flowers’ growth, but in a certain sense weakens them, because after fifteen days the calendulas that had listened to acid rock withered, while those that had listened to classical music were still blooming. Moreover, it was noticed that the flowering plants submitted to rock music “drank” a lot more water than those that listened to classical music.

But do plants love classical music unconditionally or do they have preferences? It’s interesting: the composers most loved by the vegetable kingdom turned out to be Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Bach. Moreover, the plants demonstrated a special preference for some particular musical compositions like Rapsody in blue by George Gershwin. But the most amazing result was shown in a later experiment in which Bach and other Indian devotional music – in particular that composed by the musician–guru Ravi Shankar – was played daily for the plants: in the first case the plants stretched out towards the music of Bach, creating a 35 degree angle, while in the case of Ravi Shankar, the plants, in an effort to catch the source of the sacred Indian music, bent toward it at a 60 degrees.

If you have any personal experiences with plants and music, do share them in the comments box. This is a simple experiment that can be tried out at home. We’d love to hear about your results and the music that your plants love!

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Scilla Di Massa

Scilla is an accomplished author of Heal yourself with Bach Flowers Remedies (1991) and The Inner Garden (1994) a book from her research about the healing properties of all 450 flower essences that she uses daily as a naturopath. Scilla currently lives in Milan, Italy, where she successfully practices her profession of naturopathy and flower therapy.

Her latest book Green therapy is the synthesis of Scilla’s life quest. Green therapy is the art of using the hidden power of Nature for healing, happiness and guidance. How can we clean the air of our home just by using specific plants? How can we be nurtured by flowers, and be rebalanced by their colours, form and scents? How can we find the answer to our questions and the road to ourselves just by being in a wood or in a garden?

This unique book combines scientific enquiries with spirituality and is full of practical examples about how we can benefit from Nature without destroying her.

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We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you haven’t already, 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. To know more about us and join us as a fellow volunteer visit this link.

Finding Answers In Life

As the year turns, here’s a story from the deep Amazon forest that brings us some old wisdom to create a new vision. This post is for the seeker in all of us.

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We live in an age of information, mis-information and information overload. There are times when this can lead to confusion and lack of clarity. One may often find the mind caught in a whirlpool of troubled thoughts and unable to create a vision for our lives.

Can the forests show us a way out and help us in finding answers to important questions in life?

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Lessons from the Amazon

The Achuar are a group of indigenous people of the Amazon Basin, currently numbering around 6,000. Their ancestral lands – nearly 2 million acres in all – straddle the modern borders of Ecuador and Peru, a remote area that has allowed them to preserve their way of life with little outside influence or colonization.

The wise elders and shamans of the Achuar have always relied on their ability to engage with nature to create a vision for their lives. This interaction with their environment plays a mysterious role in guiding their actions and influencing their decisions.

Here’s a short film on the uncommon wisdom of this enchanted world.

The shamans know that being in nature can give us a larger perspective of life. To solve our problems we must begin by asking the right questions rather than simply seeking answers.

Connecting with nature helps us get our priorities right. It makes us focus on things which are important and those who really matter. This results in a better way to evaluate our choices and leads to better decision making.

On a more practical note spending time in nature can help in calming us. The act of interacting with the outdoors, brings our awareness to the present moment. Our mind gets a much deserved rest so that it can apply itself with renewed energy and come up with surprisingly creative solutions.

The vision always comes from soul, and soul is an aspect of nature. If the vision is true and we embody it well, we embody our place in the more-than-human world. Doing so always serves the greater web of life. ~Bill Plotkin

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A vision from the Achuar

Here’s an interesting example of how the Achuar have developed a new vision for their forests.

Since the early 20th century, individuals and corporations from the so-called “modern” world have sought to exploit Achuar land for its oil, disregarding its irreplaceable ecological and cultural wealth.

By the early 1990s, Achuar shamans and elders were having dreams of an imminent threat to their land and traditional way of life. From contact with neighbouring tribes, the Achuar knew that oil companies were poisoning the rainforest and steadily moving closer and closer to their areas.

The Achuar have found a bold solution to this threat. They have sought alliances with the world outside their forest. Partnering with environmentally conscious organisations, they have fought a long battle to protect the forests they call home. These initiatives have been successful in creating delay and in many cases holding back the damaging actions of the oil companies.

The Achuars and their alliances are finding new answers to these difficult challenges. By choosing to guard their precious forests instead of giving in, they are inspiring us with their wisdom and courage. The future is always uncertain but if our vision is strong, our path becomes clear.

To know more about their story and become a part of it visit.
https://www.pachamama.org/about/origin

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END NOTE:
Healing forest is a journey to explore fascinating forests and discover the healing powers of nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to help people reconnect with nature. To know more about us and join us as a fellow volunteer visit this link.

Recovering from Accidents and Injury

B-Leaf-3This month’s story is about an unusual lady called “the queen of canopy research”. World renowned biologist Nalini Nadkarni pioneered the use of mountain climbing equipment to assist her climbs of Costa Rican rain forest canopies in the early 1980’s. Years of research, countless ascends (on four different continents) came to an abrupt halt during a normal afternoon 50 feet above ground in the Olympic National Park, Washington (America). Nalini eloquently describes her near death fall and offers some insight into a life altering, meaningful disturbance.

FILM CREDITS
Production vitabrevisfilms.com + videowest.kuer.org
Directed by: Skylar Nielsen | Interview: Doug Fabrizio

Forest Healing from Accidents, Injury and Surgery

There have been multiple studies on the link between the mind and the body and how a calm and healthy mind boosts one’s immunity and helps the body recover faster from illness and injury.

People who are recovering from an accident, injury or operation have to go through a testing time. Simple tasks which were easy to do earlier can take up a lot of effort and also require assistance. Beyond the physical difficulties, most people also face a host of mental challenges. Sadness, anger and anxiety about their present condition can change their outlook to life as well as affect their behaviour.

Therefore it becomes very important to supplement their physical therapy with a more holistic approach to their problems. Something that can help them find answers to unsolved questions in their mind. And forests serve as friends to give comfort and hold space for connecting with something deeper so that the process of healing can begin.

Richard Mitchell, an epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, did a large study that found less disease in people who lived near parks or other green spaces. Compared with people who have lousy window views, those who can see trees and grass have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behaviour. *Source

TIP: So if you know someone recovering from an accident, injury or surgery ask them to spend a little time in nature. It will help them find the connection that triggers faster healing and reduces the recovery time.

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ABOUT DR. NALINI

Dr. Nalini is an exceptional scientist whose work has challenged our perspective on trees and prisons. Nalini Nadkarni explores the rich, vital world found in the tops of trees. She communicates what she finds to non-scientists — with the help of poets, preachers and prisoners. See a short TED talk on her work here:

“The web of social relationships is essential for our health”

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We hope you found this article helpful. If you have any suggestions or stories of healing from nature do write to us at healingforest(dot)org(at)gmail(dot)com

Healing Forest is a project to help people reconnect with nature and build a community of friends who have a deep connection with forests. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

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Forest Ways To Sleep Better

Sleep is nature’s way of recharging our batteries and raising our energy levels. When a person is not able to sleep properly it has a bearing on his or her mental and physical health in multiple ways.

One in three people may suffer from some form of insomnia during their lifetime. Inability to sleep is more common than you think and can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere for a wide variety of reasons.

But there is a need for greater awareness on dealing with insomnia and many people continue to suffer in silence. Fo more information on insomnia, follow the link to this helpful article.

B-Leaf-1Watch this short 2 minute film to see how a young girl found healing from her insomnia and the gift of sleep from a magical forest.

How Forests Help

Forests have the ability to calm people down and soothe troubled minds. It has been proven that silent walks in the woods calm areas of your brain that are related to stress and anxiety.

Nature helps you slow down your thoughts. It makes you see yourself as a small part of a larger whole. This can shift focus from your individual anxieties and problems and produce insights and philosophies that bring peace.

The next time you are in a forest, pay close attention to not just what you see but also to the sounds and the smells in the forest. When you actively engage with the woods with all your senses, then you are redirecting your brain to move away from sleep preventing thoughts and giving it the much desired time to unwind.

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Benefits of a good sleep

When you sleep well you wake up feeling positive and have the energy to go through your day with vigour and zest.

A good sleep affects your emotional balance which in turn creates an impact on the quality of your relationships as well as interactions with other people.

The quality of sleep is linked with the ability of making better judgements and decisions. When your mind is well rested it is sharp and alert. On the other hand sleeplessness can hinder your decision making skills. In fact lack of sleep is one of the leading causes of road accidents.

The healing ability of your body and the immune system also rely on your sleeping conditions and habits.

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Tips for better sleep

Kaleido-circleThe secret of a good sleep lies in it’s preparation. Maintain a proper sleep schedule with fixed times for sleeping and waking up. Avoid things which can hamper with your sleep like caffeinated drinks, heavy dinners, too much time in the company of a TV or your mobile phone.

One of the biggest challenges for people who are unable to sleep is turning off their thoughts. The trick lies in switching focus from disturbing thoughts to soothing feelings. Here are a few tips. Give them a try.

Relaxation by parts: As you lie in bed start by paying attention to your feet and gently relax them. Move your attention up the legs and repeat the process, mentally relaxing each body part. Scan and relax your whole body, part by part until you reach your brain. Finally send a feeling of relaxation to your brain and also your thoughts.

Reverse counting: Try counting in reverse in your head. Start with 100 and count down to 0. Remember the purpose of this exercise being to shift your thoughts from things that are disturbing you and keeping you awake. It is similar to counting sheep but less traumatic for the sheep.

Creative visualisation: For people with an active imagination, this technique can channelise their abilities into relaxing thoughts. Simply visualise yourself in a place where you feel absolutely calm. You could be at the top of a high snow covered mountain surrounded by a sea of ranges, lying by a gentle brook in a beautiful wood or floating on a cloud watching a million stars overhead. Let your imagination take you to a place where sleep falls on you like gentle mist.

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Pl note: People suffering from chronic insomnia – which lasts more than a month should contact their Healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

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HEALING FOREST is a journey to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is to help people and forests heal. As part of the idea we are collecting stories of healing from nature. If you have a personal story that you would like to share and inspire other people, please email it to us: notes(at)healingforest(dot)org

For monthly updates to new stories, films and helpful articles please subscribe to our blog at this link.