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  • Mrinalika bhanj Deo

Barefoot in the park: The casual comfort of embracing nature

Shinrin-yoku, which refers to the practice of immersing yourself in nature for better mental and physical health has been something that I learnt about while I was training to be a certified hatha yoga teacher in Bali, Indonesia three years ago. However, on renovating my ancestral home last year year to become a heritage homestay in Mayurbhanj, Odisha called The Belgadia Palace, I realized the abundance of healing properties that were embedded in the indigenous flora and fauna of the district as we are situated 20 minutes from Asia's second largest UNESCO certified biosphere - the Simlipal Elephant and Tiger Reserve. On conducting a few yoga classes with guests in our 15-acre property, which is surrounded by orchards and groves, the idea of also introducing forest bathing occurred to me. We have been conducting mindfulness walks in the property and around the buffer zone of the Simlipal forest for almost a year now and now nature therapy is something I have inculcated into my yoga practice as a highly recommended experience valuable to bringing peace and tranquility to peoples travel experience.

Brief history and contemporary relevance

Forest bathing was developed in Japan in the 1980s after the population was experiencing a high amount of health issues primarily related to stress. It has since become a component of the country’s preventative healthcare and can also be seen as eco-therapy. Forest bathing is not just for the nature-lover; the practice can be as simple as walking in any natural environment and consciously connecting with what’s around you. Forest bathing expert and Japanese author Dr. Qing Li’s research finds that being surrounded by trees allows us to expose ourselves to plant chemicals which naturally boost our immune system, enhance our mood, fight disease and lower stress levels hence all ages are encouraged to join the practice and I believe it is highly beneficial to inculcate this practice from a young age so that children grow up appreciating and being conscious of the bountiful benefits that nature has to offer.

A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that 7.5 per cent of the Indian population suffers from some form of mental disorder. Mental illnesses constitute one-sixth of all health-related disorders and India accounted for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological and substance abuse disorder burden. Apart from air pollution and climate change related public health epidemics, mental health is an invisible disease no one in India is taking any preventive measures to stop. It is long overdue we look within our own country for answers to help people with a nature based treatment that can easily be included in school, in urban planning and definitely in rural areas and adivasi belts where our development indicators are low.

Starting from your home

The difference between the age old Indian practice of walks in community gardens or parks is that here there would be the yogic practices of mindfulness and deep breathing with a focus on your sensory experience which we forget to do, every step is purposeful and should clear your mind of all thoughts and heighten your sensory experience. Being closer to nature, you eat better, you are constantly breathing better air and your internal body clock follows the natural cycles of waking and sleeping.

Introducing it in within your primary location is the first step. Even starting with a terrace garden and introducing more flora and fauna in your home, school, and community is a good first step.

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