M.A. Psych Tanya Ginwala is an Experiential educator and a passionate Adventure and Nature-based Therapist. She is the Indian representative in the International Adventure Therapy Committee. She initiated the “Adventure and Nature Based Therapy – India” Study Group and has her online practice with patients. She also runs Forest Bathing walks around her neighborhood, as she lives near “a very beautiful pine forest with beautiful mountain views” where she moved with her 15 year-old dog.
Meet this FTHub Upgrade Lecturer who was thought to be no good at hiking and takes groups of disabled people along with non-disabled to experience through nature the end of stigma and social exclusion among the “baby mountains”, thousands of feet high in the foothills of the Himalayas.
“I have always been drawn to nature and spent a lot of time outside under the trees, close with all kinds of bugs and animals. I had a lot of pets and my school was on a hill outside the city. It was a lot about connecting with the natural world.
“It was a part of our daily life watching the sunset everyday in silence. Nature was a common thread. Don’t know if I knew how much it was supporting me but now when I look back I say it was a huge support, something that made me feel connected with my body”.
“I work with people with disabilities, taking them outdoors, in different adventures like marathons, where we paired disabled with body-abled people. It was more about social change and social inclusion. The two groups would get to know each other and that relationship was great because there is a huge gap, body-abled people do not interact with disabled people. And there is a lot of social stigma and stereotypes and I get them together through play and outdoors adventures in the Himalayas.
“I finished high school and studied a Master in Clinical Psychology. While studying also experiential education, outdoor leadership, I was learning in parallel how good going outdoors was for our mental wellbeing and our social health.
“It became really obvious to me to bring these two together, it kind of didn’t make sense anymore to do therapy indoors with clients. Since the last 9 years of learning adventure therapy, there was no qualification or course in India so I had to pick out all of the different pieces and also studied wilderness emergencies”.
Gentle Hiking, Strong Connection
“We go to what we call baby mountains, the lower himalayas, full of fields, beautiful rocks, rivers, glaciers melting down, beautiful lots of sunlight. But we do a slow and gentle hiking. I’ve done it with blind people, older people, it can support anyone, but the focus is not on the challenge, but on the nature connection. Forest Bathing is far more accessible for people, regarding the physical activities.
“I do hiking in a very different way. It depends on the person’s relationship with the outdoors, because some people had very traumatic hiking experiences growing up, I’m one of them. So I don’t want to push people up a mountain and be forceful and rush them.
“I got injured quite badly when I was much younger and I wasn’t actually very physically strong as a child, not so athletic. I always got that message like ‘hiking is not for you’, so I get to introduce people to hiking in the way I wish I was introduced to. Which is with a lot of gentleness, and choice and emotional safety, not just physical safety. With trauma that’s what is missing, that’s what feels challenging for people”.
Witnessing the transformation
“What I saw was the confidence and that self belief that grows. When we are working with trauma it is really important that people get to experience themselves in a way that feels contrastingly different to what they experience everyday and often being in nature provides that contrast for them to say ‘I can lean into feeling safe’, because that’s what nature does for many of us. Makes us feel safe when we haven’t had so much safety while growing up, for different reasons.
“People come and travel from many places for our outdoor therapy programs here, which includes of course Dharamshala -where I live-, there is a lot of buddhism influence, it’s good to make these healing walks here. Which include forest bathing and really slow hiking (because hiking is about fast and just moving, that’s not what we do). You actually get to look and observe and sit for a while.
The woman who liked to climb. “There is a group therapy aspect of the whole thing. There was a female coming from trauma and abuse and really shut down for being outdoors, I knew she liked rock climbing, she came to this program and she found she could feel so safe in that group, which also had men, and women, she could feel safety in her body she had not felt for so long, was so incredible to watch that transformation and witness that”.
“Even the ease in which she could just take off her shirt and jump in the river and not feel scared, not feel like somebody was coming to attack her. She felt so connected. Everywhere I looked she would be hiking and climbing rocks. This confidence in her body, feeling strong again and to feel safe laughing and having fun.
The man who balanced his moods. “There was also someone who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder for the last 25 years, and also diabetic but wanted to come to the program and found that the moods throughout were so much more balanced, grounding, otherwise there is a lot of fluctuation you are dealing with.
“It was really powerful because the diabetes was under control. The program lasted 8 days. I didn’t expect such a dramatic change. Now he would go out to nature and they are removing some of the medication slowly, they know that nature is a really good support.
“People that come to the programs are mostly blind. We experienced with disabled people in wheelchairs though it is very expensive to do hiking with that equipment gear, and also with people with hearing impairment. For example, they are partnered up with a sighted person, and then we lead them up”.
Ph: Courtesy Tanya Ginwala