Thursday, October 12, 2017

Forest Therapy

You may have heard of Forest Bathing, or Shinrin Yoku. The miraculous power of the forest to calm and to heal seems to be gaining popularity. From Japan to Europe to North America, there are various guides, retreats, and programs available to help you connect with the forest, and make use of these wonderful healing powers.

In case you are skeptical about this, do check out some of the documented evidence. A  Chiba University study found that “Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.” (Pubmed)

Children in the Wild Art program are just like all people in all communities: sometimes they have difficult days. Whether the problem stems from physical illness or injury, social/emotional struggles at home or at school, new and awkward situations, or just a plain old unexplained malaise, kids arrive with an assortment of attitudes. Today when I arrived to pick them up after lunch, one was running and jumping across the table-tops, one was quiet and removed, two more were sliding gleefully across the wet porch, unconcerned about the group's desire to get going, and two were patiently (and then less-patiently) waiting to go.

Enter the forest. Or, to be more precise, we entered the forest. It took about ten minutes for the group to settle into an exciting, engaging, and creative couple of hours. They built little clay houses, harvested clay and mud from the creek banks, built three impressive dams and various other creek and creek-side creations, and sorted out all manner of social stumbles ably and compassionately. In the calm, productive atmosphere of their forest play, they were able not only to take into consideration the needs and ideas of their peers and the technical constraints of their creations, but also the needs of the forest. In the video below you'll hear one of the kids call out across the creek to others who were collecting moss for plugging a dam: "You're wasting all the moss from it. You can't take that much, or the whole tree will die." He was referring to something these kids learned from me last year: that the moss on our trees and rocks is part of the trees' water-retention system, as well as a vital substrate for many other living things, and that taking too much from one area will deprive the tree of too much water, before that quantity of moss is able to regenerate. You'll hear the kids agree, and move on. I loved that this sharing of advice and information was going on without judgment or shame, between a few kids who are quite new to sharing this space with each other.

Ahhh... the healing power of the forest. What a gift.

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