Project Reconnections

Helping others benefit from nature's healing effects

Certified forest therapy guide Ding Kian Seng set up the Project Reconnections initiative to promote wellness activities in the community, starting with people with disabilities. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Certified forest therapy guide Ding Kian Seng set up the Project Reconnections initiative to promote wellness activities in the community, starting with people with disabilities. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

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

The practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, began in Japan in the 1980s.

People were encouraged to take walks in forests and immerse themselves in nature to improve their mental and physical health and prevent the onset of diseases.

After seeing how the Covid-19 pandemic amplified mental health issues, Mr Ding Kian Seng, who is a certified forest therapy guide, set up the Project Reconnections initiative to promote wellness activities in the community, starting with people with disabilities.

Said Mr Ding: "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... may require support in accessing outdoor areas. I thought that conducting forest therapy sessions could help them reduce the psychological strain caused by the pandemic."

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

Mr Ding, who manages a paddle sports company, engaged Caregivers Alliance as a partner.

The non-profit organisation told caregivers of wheelchair users about this initiative.

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

Each session is typically more than 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.

The session ends with tea-drinking.

Mr Ding said: "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."

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

He will also be partnering organisations like the Day Activity Centres for those with special needs.

In addition, there will be scheduled dates available between January and March next year for members of the public who wish to take part.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2020, with the headline 'Helping others benefit from nature's healing effects'. Print Edition | Subscribe