Causes Week 2020: Forest bathing for better mental health

Causes Week runs this year from Dec 20 to 25. It shines a light on various individuals and groups, and shows how they are making a difference through their chosen causes within the community.

Certified forest therapy guide Ding Kian Seng started the Project Reconnections initiative to promote wellness activities in the community.
Certified forest therapy guide Ding Kian Seng started the Project Reconnections initiative to promote wellness activities in the community.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Trekking through the forest and revelling in nature can be healing for both mind and body.

The practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, began in Japan in the 1980s.

People were encouraged to take walks in the forests and immerse themselves in nature to prevent disease and see the benefits to their mental and physical health.

Seeing that the Covid-19 pandemic has amplified mental health issues, Mr Ding Kian Seng, who is a certified forest therapy guide, started the Project Reconnections initiative to promote wellness activities in the community.

"People with disabilities find it difficult to leave their homes due to transport challenges. And during the circuit breaker period, mental health helplines were receiving more calls than usual.

"Taking this into consideration, I felt that wheelchair users who may already be spending limited time in nature may require support in accessing outdoor areas for their well-being. I felt that conducting forest therapy sessions for them could help them reduce the psychological tension and strain caused by the pandemic," said Mr Ding, who manages a paddle sports company.

A total of 16 sessions have been conducted since Aug 27.

Mr Ding engaged the Caregivers Alliance as a partner, who told caregivers of wheelchair users of this initiative.

The sessions were also funded by the oscar @ sg fund, helmed by Temasek Trust, which supports ground-up initiatives that address community needs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Each session is typically over 2½ hours long and usually conducted at venues such as the Botanic Gardens and the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

During the session, participants are encouraged to awaken their senses and focus on the natural landscape surrounding them.

This would help them shift their attention from their "thinking mind", open up their senses and take in their surroundings - the sight, smell and feel of nature, said Mr Ding.

The session ends with tea-drinking.


The session ends with tea-drinking. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

"Studies have shown that nature and nature-related activities promote health. There is a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress and anxiety.

"Those who take nature walks tend to have lower activity in their prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination, when repetitive thoughts focus on negative emotions," he said.

Taking this into account, Mr Ding will be extending Project Reconnections to individuals with mental health issues.

He will be partnering organisations like the day activity centres for people with special needs.

There will also be scheduled dates available between January and March next year for members of the public who wish to take part. They can sign up via a link which will be available on Christmas Day.

For more information, Mr Ding can be contacted at sampankian@gmail.com.