Anoushka Jain is a post-graduate in History from Delhi University and holds a diploma in Art History. She has an experience working in oral and visual traditions of folklore at IGNCA(Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts). Her interest in museums has made her work with National Museum and temporary Community Museum half her academic life.
An Article by Anoushka Jain
In the maddening crowd of the city, and the nature of lives that we live, receiving even modicum of happiness and a moment of solace is as elusive as the neighborhood cat that occasionally pays you a friendly visit.
There are number of therapeutic, relaxing activities that prescribe mindfulness to the chronically anxious denizens of the city. In 1980s Japan, seeing the pattern of hectic life and the growing isolation of the youth to its tradition and culture, the practice of shinrin yoku- literally forest bath- was initiated that later grabbed global attention.
In the recent years, western doctors have provided statistics and results that show nature has healing qualities and can help improve health conditions such as blood pressure, boost immunity, memory, and concentration. It can be an effective preventive measure against cancer, ulcers, anxiety, depression, and improve sleeping patterns. The urban population majorly lives and work indoors, it has even shifted to carry workout exercises inside the buildings in the AC halls. The lack of presence of nature in our lives has created severe psychological and physical crisis and a higher increase in insomnia, suicidal tendencies and breakdowns.
The concept of forest bathing is simple and accessible. It does not prescribe you to run for hills and mountains to find mindfulness and peace. The recent trend of going to Himalayas by the people living in plains has been catastrophic and disastrous for the delicate ecology of the mountains with the consequence of choked roads, heavy traffic and over exploitation of limited resources in the mountains.
Instead, the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, forest bathe, requests people to go to their nearest forest or park and walk slowly and aimlessly amongst the trees. The idea is to let your body and the nature guide you, without the anxiety to jog, power walk or run to burn calories. The slow walking gives a chance for your senses to open, to see, smell, hear and touch the nature around you and notice the changing seasons.
You do not need to be fit or unfit to take forest bathing activity. Nature is not obtrusive or demanding, it is a simple companion that will make space for you and your consciousness. This activity has not only proved to have healing capacity by altering lifestyle patterns of people but it has also made humans aware of the impact of climate change and man- made disasters on nature.
Forest bathing also acknowledges that everyone has a different way to connect with nature and calm down. It is not possible that one shoe fits all. Thus, it suggests an individual to pick on various activities while being in the forest such as pack a lunch and eat, bring a musical instrument, sketch, or read in the forest. The idea is to disconnect with the digital gadgets and to live the moment instead of making it Instagram worthy capture.
The Importance of nature in indian civilization
The practice of staying close to nature for a healthy mind and body has had been an age old wisdom that has been passed onto to us from generation to generation. Historically, acknowledging, protecting and respecting nature has been prevalent in the ethos of Indian Civilization. It is reflected in the articles of faith, rituals, folklore, myths, and literature across all religion and culture. In the pre-historic times, one of the oldest cave paintings of Bhimbetka in Central India visually depicts birds, animals, nature and humans living in harmony. The Indus Valley Civilization has seals depicting the peepal tree, in the Vedic Age the sacred philosophical text Aranyakas were composed in forest; Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. There are sacred groves in most indigenous culture. The religion of Jainism adheres strictly to non violence against any living being and practices harmony, empathy and tolerance towards nature extending even to smallest of insects.
In the īśopaniṣad of the Shukla Yajurveda it is mentioned ‘This universe is the creation of the Supreme Power meant for the benefit of all his creation. Each individual life-form must, therefore, learn to enjoy its benefits by forming a part of the system in close relation with other species. Let not anyone species encroach upon the other’s rights.’
The importance of co-existence and importance of nature in the lives of human is not an alien concept in the Indian ethos. However, in the modern life and the alarming rate at which forest are depleting the existence of nature seems a laughable idea. The glossed over modern life has faded the importance of ancient wisdom as passable axioms.
It is understandable, with the new face lifting of the ‘ancient’ everything organic and sacred has once again received its long awaited due and more and more millennial are trying to rediscover and accept their heritage with a zealous attitude.
The Forest walk in Sanjay Van, New Delhi
Recently, I took a guided forest walk early in the summer morning before the sunrise in Sanjav van, Mehrauli, one of the most thickly wood area in the city. The walk was led by Anna Zimmer, who teaches Urban Ecology in Ambedkar University. She instructed the group to purposefully walk slowly and aimlessly.
Initially, both the mind and the body resist the nature. The feeling of restlessness arises as one is habituated to walk with an aim or purpose and multi-task by being on phone or make mental plans for the rest of the week. However, as the deliberate slow walk continues, the charm of pre-monsoon forest takes over your senses.
The pale green leaves glisten in the sunlight. The tunes of birds tremble and linger in the air, before it dies down and starts again with a more joyful, chirpy gusto. The mating season of pre-monsoon makes forest play its personal summer concert with the feisty birds gossiping, complaining, quarrelling and attracting each other in sweetest musical notes. The touch of freshness in air, the smell of damp earth and the buzz of insects fills your senses and the tap of your feet become a musical note with the nature symphony.
The amaltas tree(Cassia fistula), golden shower with its bright, bold yellow flowers. It stands out as a statement in the hush of the forest. The stripped squirrel, zealous birds, vibrant insects boisterously express their joy that the summer has terminated and it is time for monsoon. The rains will soon hit the earth and the smell of wet soil, sweet fruits and heavily scented jasmine flowers will waft the air in heightened frenzy.
There is a small stream in the Sanjav Van forest, with tall grasses growing around it. The stream murmurs and ripples as shafts of light make break from thick canopy over you. There are boulders around the stream, where you can sit and read, play music or simply be making you part of the forest.
As you sit in the forest, touch the thick trunks of the trees and breathe in the deliciously cool air, you reach the realization that the trees are older than you, older than your worries. They were here before you were born and they are going to be present years from now when you won’t exist. You are just a part of smooth running cogs of universe and it is best if you don’t resist the nature but become a part of the greatest running show since the dawn of civilization.
Next time, when you get time over the weekend instead of spending handsome amount over spa or intense workout session, go for one of the forest bathing walks and become a part of a community that knows how to slow down and lets the nature wash over you.