XIU NATURE CONNECTIONS
Name: Youmin Yap
(Founder of Xiu Nature Connections)
In this episode we are celebrating this momentum for International Women’s Day by lifting up women across the globe who get outside to live without a ceiling and inspire the rest of us to do the same. We are so delighted to be collaborating with a special all-women forest bathing series in partnership with Xiu Nature Connections to celebrate Women, Wonders & World.The beauty of our land and nature, of ourselves and of our community go more than skin deep. As we slow down, focus on sensory connections and delight, we begin to notice and appreciate every little thing of nature’s beauty.
Outside is anywhere without a ceiling, and these women are taking it even further by breaking down the barriers for others. So here's to the ladies around the globe!
"The Earth invited us to rest and pause. Let us not forget that even as our usual hum-drum resumes." - Youmin Yap, Founder - Xiu Nature Connections
Tell us about yourself and how did the idea of Xiu Nature Connections came about?
I am one of the pioneer Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guides in Singapore and in the Southeast Asia region. Amongst other practices/modalities that I do including the curating and facilitating of forest bathing experiences for individuals and organisations, I now also train people from around the world who are heeding this Earth's calling to become forest therapy guides themselves.
I was blessed with amazing careers in the education and public service sectors, but in 2017 I took the leap and founded Xiu Nature Connections to trailblaze nature and forest bathing/therapy right here on home ground. Around that time, it was increasingly apparent to me that our society is hustling too much. We continue to hustle even when we are outside in nature, on our trails, or in our parks and gardens - going faster, longer, louder. Intuitively, I knew there is a softer way to partner with nature - a way that promotes our well-being and nature's well-being, a way that complements our fast-paced city lives, and a way that helps us re-member with the natural slower rhythms that we have forgotten.
We all know the need to slow down and to rest. But we all find it hard to be in them. Xiu「休」is a Chinese character that means 'to rest'. That's the purpose of Xiu Nature Connections - an offering of accessible and restful experiences that comprises forest bathing and more, to support our busy society to rest and thrive better.
What is Forest Bathing? And how does it differ from hiking?
"Indescribable, you just got to experience it and then you'll know it." - this is a testimonial from one participant, and there are many other variations of this similar theme. Words can never fully describe what forest bathing is, so my invitation to everyone is simply to go experience it.
In a nutshell, forest bathing is a practice originating from Japan in the 1980s. They call it Shinrin-yoku. It translates to 'bathing or the taking in of the forest atmosphere'. It may sound out-there for some, but I encourage them to understand from the perspective of sun bathing. Instead of sun rays (and UV), we absorb the forest's essence which Science has proven to be teeming with natural plant chemicals called phytoncides that are beneficial to our health. More than that however, in the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs style of forest bathing, the experience is about tending to an ancient and innate bond that we have with the whole of nature, as well as ourselves. It's not about covering distance and scaling the next summit (that's hiking), it's not about head or content knowledge of flora and fauna (that's a typical nature walk), and it's definitely not about entering the forest and extracting or benefiting from it. Guided forest bathing is a slow, restful experience that comprises a series of sensory invitations that naturally promotes connections to self, community and nature.
It's a unique outdoor experience that combines nature appreciation with self-discovery, mental and emotional well-being, physiological health benefits, well-being of nature and place.
The best way to know what forest bathing is? Come along and experience it - come taste the strawberry instead of reading about its taste!
As everyone is going outdoors how can we be mindful of the outdoor spaces we visit? What initiative to take and how do we prepare?
It's a good thing that more people are getting out and about in nature. With increased foot traffic, we need to be more conscious and tend to these places more carefully. I like to imagine myself as a welcomed visitor to a friend's house - as good visitors, some conscious steps that everyone is encouraged to take include:
- Not leaving litter and trash behind (bring those fallen soles out of the forest please ...)
- Bringing water in our reusable water bottles to minimise use of single-use plastics
- Keeping our voices low to avoid scaring the wildlife.
- Turning off the music (or at least keep the volume low) so that others can enjoy the natural forest music.
As part of guided forest bathing, we often have a tea appreciation and communing. We reduce waste by making sure we serve tea in reusable cups and be more eco-conscious by serving locally grown herbs and tea as much as possible.
Apart from forest therapy, what other means can we ensure our health and well-being are in tact with all that is happening?
Rest more and rest better. Not just knowing about rest, but really being in the rest. Individuals can actively seek restful experiences on their own, but I also feel that workplaces have a strong role to play to support employees' wellbeing and nurturing them to become well-rested and thriving leaders. Xiu Nature Connections curates and facilitates a suite of refreshing and restful in-person and online #ThrivingFromRest experiences (including forest bathing) to support workplace well-being.
While we are at it, I also highly recommend everyone to get more natural light and a green plant or two. And that prized window that opens to the street side trees or blue sky and clouds? Look out there more often, open it if you can, and have a mini nature bath!
As an entrepreneur and a solo businesswoman, how do you keep your creative mojo flowing?
- Resting. It's more than sleeping. I make sure I sleep well, but I also make sure I rest well in all other aspects. It's like art - I can keep adding new strokes of paint onto an already crowded canvas, or I can intentionally create whitespace that accentuates the beauty of the other strokes or allow space for others.
- Letting nature inspire me. There is so much awe, wonder and stories in nature, if only we stop and notice. Oftentimes, as I surrender into all of nature's biggest and littlest wonders, that's when I find the next theme for my events, or be inspired to offer something to others or meet the best collaborator!
- Doing what I find joy in. A balance between listening to what my mind chatters on about, and what makes my heart sings. It means sometimes saying 'no' to things that seems right but feels otherwise, and 'yes' to those that seem irrational but a screaming resounding yes in my veins.
In line with INTERNATIONAL WOMENS MONTH, share with us some empowering values for women's out there that you stand for.
When I was hiking up Mount Kenya in 2016 - a lifechanging trip for me, these were some of my nature lessons that led me to a new chapter.
- A positive attitude is half a battle won. Enjoy the process, enjoy what I see, hear and smell. Life presents me with an amazing opportunity and view with every turn.
- Listen to my body. She knows and has the wisdom. Rest when my body tells me so, and celebrate when she gets better, stronger and faster.
- It is ok to walk the roads that others have taken. My perspectives of the views and what I make of the journey will be different.
Also, sharing this quote from one of my teachers, Karen Brody, with all the women: "The world needs you and what you have to offer. But it needs the fully alive, well-rested you, not the exhausted you." We can reclaim rest and rise up well-rested.
Restrictions are still in place, what's next for Xiu Nature Connections?
Restrictions have provided opportunities for cosy and intimate experiences! There are penty of exciting and heart fulfilling what next's ... In the pipeline, I am excited about collaborations with like-minded partners to present new forest bathing experiences to help people connect with self, others and place. Nature welcomes every body - so I'm delighted to continue to support specific communities such as people living with early-onset dementia and caregivers of special needs children with these nature therapy programmes. And then, there are the guide trainings of which, I will be training at least two more cohorts this year.
Since COVID-19, I've also seen more organisations actively engaging in workplace well-being initiatives, particularly our Resting for Your Wellbeing programme that introduces rest experiences including forest bathing to stressed out employees. I am definitely looking forward to support more organisations to rise up as well-rested and connected leaders. This seems like a lot! So what's next for me is also to continue to embrace rest and rise up well-rested!
"The Earth invited us to rest and pause. Let us not forget that even as our usual hum-drum resumes." - Youmin Yap