Society

Tired of concrete jungle? Therapeutic forest atmosphere comes to the rescue

Green healing Kiran Bagade with others in a forest

Green healing Kiran Bagade with others in a forest   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Why John Muir, the 19th-Century naturalist and environmentalist was right, when he said that the clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness

I forest-bathed in 2011, only I did not know that is what it was called. I was on an assignment to write about Longwood Shola in Kotagiri — a 116-acre patch of forest that was lovingly brought back to life by Nature lovers and guarded from marauders. It was allowed to rest, recuperate and regenerate, the three Rs that everyone from sleep medicine experts to psychiatrists talk about. I remember walking into the forest and almost instantly wading into an eerie green silence. A guide from Kotagiri accompanied me and, in hushed tones, pointed out the trees, shrubs, creepers, ferns and fungi. We stopped every now and then to identify birdsong. Around 60 species of birds had come home to roost, once the forest was restored. It was a living, breathing being. I emerged, cleansed, rejuvenated and at peace. Since the 1980s, the Japanese have used ‘forest bathing’ — or Shinrin-yoku — as a means to preventive healthcare. There is research that proves beyond doubt (what we all long knew intuitively) that ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ is therapeutic. Here are people who have taken it a whole step further.

Saravanan Chandrasekaran – gave up a corporate job to set up Canopy Nature Academy in Coimbatore that takes people on trips into the wild

“There is a world out there waiting to be explored. I never feel as alive as when I am in a forest. All I need to do is close my eyes and I can hear a bird sing, a leaf rustle, smell the incredible forest smells. Sitting back and observing the universe of damselflies, butterflies, dragonflies and birds calms me down and at the same time awakens my curiosity.”

Health benefits
  • Boosts the immune system.
  • Reduces blood pressure.
  • Reduces stress.
  • Improves mood.
  • Is shown to help children with ADHD.
  • Accelerates recovery from illness.
  • Increases energy levels.
  • Improves sleep.
  • Source: Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs founded by Amos Clifford

S Pravin – runs a business and brings out a magazine about his beloved home town called The Pollachi Papyrus

“I love the idea of going into the forest with no agenda. I leave everything behind. There is no trophy chasing. The deeper I go into a forest, the more I realise what a speck I am in the larger scheme of things! I enjoy the fact that I am so dependent on my senses when I am there. It is all about sights, sounds, and smells. There was a time when I would visit a forest and, if asked what I had seen there, I would say ‘nothing’, only because I had not sighted a tiger or an elephant. Now, even if I do not see a big mammal there, I am happy with just the sense of anticipation. I love the idea of not knowing what awaits around the corner. It is not about the number of hours or miles one has clocked. Even a couple of hours in the mornings or evenings is enough to come out feeling alive. You can easily spend three hours in just a small clearing in the forest and have a rewarding time. The same patch of forest holds different surprises in different seasons.”

Chandrakanta Das – an artist and art restorer who lives in Delhi, Lucknow and Ramgarh

“I go to the forest to unfreeze my brain; for the tremendous sense of well-being when I am surrounded by trees. I remember how startled I was when I heard a sudden sound in an otherwise silent forest. A leaf had floated down from its branch and landed on the ground below! I have never heard the sound of a leaf falling in the city. In the forest, I can hear the breeze, birdsong and, when I take a deep breath, smell the best perfumes of the world — of flowers, damp soil... It calms me, grounds me and nourishes me. There is inspiration for my paintings wherever I turn.”

Kiran Bagade – a student of Development Management and a certified ornithologist with BNHS based in Mysuru

“I leave the responsibilities outside the forest when I go in. And I embrace the life I find in every step I take inside. It is not just about the birds that I love or animals. It is the sense of adventure. I am learning something new all the time. It is a deeply satisfying connect with Nature. To stand there and bathe in the silence I think is the most amazing thing. It has changed me. I am a calmer person now; the forest has answered many of my questions, and most importantly, it has taught me that wherever I am, if I am a keen observer, I will find Nature in her bounty, even if it is in my own backyard.”

 

A mind cleanse

New Delhi-based Clinical Psychologist and Cognitive Behaviour Therapist Dr Nimisha Kumar says, "There is a Nature deficit in the urban environment which means you are away from the sights and sounds of a natural environment. The sensory overload in big cities with its harsh sights and sounds creates a jam in the brain and leads to panic attacks, meltdowns and imbalance. We have to get away from the ringing phones, honking cars and shouting people. On the other hand, Nature provides stimulation to the senses that is just right and balanced. The triggers of panic and stress are minimised in Nature. The mind and systems settle down and calm down and we can begin processing all that has been backed up and piled up in the brain in our feverish existence in the cities. Human beings are biologically programmed to be spiritual — being in touch with the sky, grass, trees and the flowers connects them to the Universe. Eco therapy does that. Increasingly, this kind of therapy is being prescribed to children, troubled teens, the elderly and everyone else in between. It is therapy for loneliness too. There are positive vibrations in these spaces that release our energy systems that are locked up when we are unbalanced. When energy flows back, our life gets back into a rhythm.

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Printable version | May 24, 2020 11:18:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/forest-medicine/article23645342.ece

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