I found a parking spot and made a dash for it. I knew I was running late, so zipped up my bag and toppled out of the car. Walking hurriedly towards the gate, I furtively searched my phone to check if I was at the right place. It had been a mad week at work and outside and this felt something like it. There was still a mountain of tasks to complete, emails to respond to, household chores neglected for weeks, relationships in the dumps (yes, all at the same time!) and the constant question, “How in the world will I pay my bills this month?”
Lost in this pool of disconcerting thoughts, I stepped through the gate and found myself in a different world. I was Alice in Wonderland. It was the fragrance that struck me first. A pleasant fragrance of sweet smelling flowers from a tree bowing down to the strong breeze. I couldn’t help but close my eyes for a brief moment, in spite of my hurry and take it all in. I stood there, distracted from my world of problems. I smiled, shook myself out of it and hurried to join the group of people huddled together in a little forest clearing. We had all come together for the same purpose – to learn and experience first-hand what the Japanese call Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing.
The concept of forest bathing was born in Japan in the 1980s as a powerful source of healing and preventive healthcare. It was backed by scientific research that connected forest therapy with good mental and physical health. It was a simple idea – spending even a little time in the forest, can benefit you immensely.
They weren’t kidding! Five minutes of being inside this city forest and I was already feeling so much better. The clean air, the silence save for the incessant twittering of birds and crickets, the verdant hues and little natural wonders to observe. Just the feeling of being miles away from the complexities and trials of everyday life. I thought to myself, “Life is so simple in nature. The more we walk away from it, the harder we make things for yourself.”
My reverie was interrupted by this soft spoken, gentle man leading the group, who I had known for years but never had the opportunity to meet. Until now. Nitin Das is the man who brought the concept of forest bathing and therapy to India in recent times, after having spent considerable time understanding for himself how it works and living the journey. Founder of the Healing Forest Project (https://healingforest.org/), he has started a gentle movement to draw people back to nature and to help them realise the immense healing it holds.
He explains simply, “Forests are known to have great healing properties. As humans, we have evolved in nature. It’s where we feel most comfortable. New research on healing powers of nature show multiple benefits for our mental health, relieving stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, and depression. It boosts our body’s immunity, energy levels and healing ability and improves our mood, sleep, and concentration. Being in nature has a direct influence on our social relationships and emotional well-being.”
Das conducts silent healing nature walks in small forested areas in cities to help people rediscover their own unique connection with nature which often gets lost in the deafening humdrum of life.
Talking about the project, he explains, “In today’s world, green spaces are replaced by urban structures, crowded places and polluted environments. This rapid change puts an unwanted pressure on our body and mind. As a result we have seen that chronic illnesses, stress, depression, anxiety and other ailments are on the rise. Also as a society, there is an increase in apathy, anger, intolerance, and loneliness. The aim of this project is to help people heal by reconnecting with nature. And also to help forests heal through volunteer projects.”
The objective of the Healing Forest Project is to create greater awareness about the connect between us and nature through films, nature walks, articles and activities. Das intends to build a small community of people who can lead healing forest walks to help people find themselves by getting lost in the forest (not literally of course!).
My first healing forest walk changed my life. The immediate as well as the lasting impact it had on me was extraordinary. As I walked in slow silence along the forest path, in no particular hurry to get anywhere, I realised how refreshing it was. To simply be. We were encouraged to open and surrender our senses to the forest and take in the scents, sounds, sights and varying textures that surrounded us.
When I emerged from the forest, I was a person different from the one who had frantically walked in a few hours ago. I loved the forest and I knew the forest loved me back. Unconditionally. This was the therapy I needed. What everybody needs!
Soon, I started passing on the benefits I experienced by conducting walks for my friends. Wherever I got stuck, Mother Nature helped me out. The happiness attached to helping others find their calm is immeasurable!
A little unhurried time spent in the lap of nature and watch your anxieties melt away. If this becomes a regular habit, imagine the benefits!
Come home to the forest
Where time goes slow
And the breath is mellow
Where thoughts find rest
and Calm comes to nest
Come home to the woods
To be friends with trees
And listen to the breeze
To wander through trails
And mend your sails
Come home to nature
When your heart is hurting
Or your soul needs healing
When something feels wrong
Or you just need a place to belong
The forest awaits
Come home. Be healed
Nitin Das, Founder, Healing Forest Project
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