During the recent NoVA symposium, we were asked to organize three student-led workshops that each addressed different themes. The idea behind this assignment was to try out actual pedagogical activities during the symposium. In this blog post, we are going to share the result of our workshop and our reflections of it.
Our team members were Aryan Hasanvandi, Judit Kemppilä and Mariko Yoshida. Our common interest was sensory and somaesthetic communication. Understanding and listening to yourself is not always easy, but it is important especially during the pandemic. We pondered how could we provide sensory and somaesthetic communication through art during our symposium session. Our object was to make participants realize the relationship between their body, mind, nature and sense.
We designed the session in three parts: The first part focused on listening to one’s inner voice through nature, the second part focused on listening to one’s inner voice through one’s body, and the third part focused on listening to one’s inner voice through spiritual communication, mandala. Lastly, we asked participants to visualize their feelings.
Below, you will find details of how we built the workshop and also the ideas behind our session. The following text and audio files also include instructions on how to do our workshop by yourself. For a whole session it is good to reserve at least 1,5 hours of time.
If you go through our workshop, we would love to hear your experiences as well. You can write about your experiences to our post’s comments. Enjoy!
Forest bathing and education
In this part, you will receive an element of nature by listening to forest sounds. First, listen to the recording below, and then imagine the smell, the visual, where the sound comes from, and what the surroundings looks like.
The forest bathing “Shinrin-Yoku” method originates from Japan. Research shows that spending time in nature in this way provides us with many health benefits and improves our overall well-being. “Forest therapy” is a research-based healing practice through immersion in forests. Its aim is to promote mental and physical health and improving disease prevention while at the same time being able to enjoy and appreciate the forest. To give you some ideas for activities one can enjoy while practicing “Forest Bathing”, there are relaxation techniques such as mindful meditation or yogic breathing in the forest, as well as aromatherapy.
Forest bathing has also educational roles. The one example is getting to know the relation between humans and nature through forest. Exploring the forest can make people realize the ecosystems and how it is important to sustain the ecosystems for our future. The other example is “Mokuiku” which means children learn and nurture creativity through wood materials. Some Japanese kindergartens are made from wood and their toys are also made from wood so that children get more familiar with nature and wood.
Workshop, part 1
Let’s try forest therapy briefly! Hope you can get a fresh mind and feel nature.
1. Go to forest or if you cannot go to forest, please listen the sound
2. Breathe deeply, and feel the smell, the wind and the soundscape.
3. Try to let go of your concerns
4. Merge yourself into forest
Somaesthetics and voicefulness
Somaesthetic is a form of aesthetics and it was invented by American pragmatic philosopher Richard Shusterman. Somaesthetics examines peoples’ mind-body relation. With that term, you can indicate inner body awareness and sensations, but also to the use of body to build your personal style and expression. (Shusterman 2008, 2-3.) Shusterman writes that a person can understand their body as an instrument or a subject. In the instrumental level, a body is perceived as a servant of a mind or a soul, which means that the body is a different self than the one who uses it (Shusterman 2008, 3.) Shusterman himself understands his body as a subject; a transparent source of observation and action (Shusterman 2008, 3). Shusterman argues that “somatic work” leads to better body awareness and understanding of your behavior (Shusterman 1992, 268). Moving your body and experiencing yourself is an opportunity to at least increase the aesthetic quality of your life by making you aware of the lived experience (Shusterman 1992, 207).
The method consists of exercises, which help to increase mind-body awareness. In the exercises you are using body movement and simple and free voice. The exercises can also be used to relax your mind and muscles and increase acceptance towards your feelings and body sensations. When practising Voicefulness®, you are free to produce your own kind of voice. Criticism towards your or others’ voices is not part of the program. (Tarvainen 2018a)
Workshop, part 2
Here is an audio file about Voicefulness®. It includes one exercise, where you are led to use your body and voice. You need about fifteen minutes alone time in a peaceful place. It is also a good idea to mute your other electronic devices and apps.
Mandala (Sanskrit for “circle”) is an artistic representation of higher thought and deeper meaning given as a geometric symbol used in spiritual, emotional, or psychological work to focus one’s attention. This spiritual practice as an art form first appeared in Buddhist art that was produced in India during the first century B.C.E. It is a diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos symbolically. It is meant to represent wholeness and a model for the organizational structure of life itself. Mandalas often have radial balance. The image is usually defined as a circle decorated with imagery, which directs the mind of the observer (or creator) inwards from the outer rim toward deeper reflection on the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of the universe, the substance and reality of God, the true nature of the self, the underlying form of reality, cosmological truths, and, actually, any other spiritual, psychological, or emotional aspect of one’s life.
“The mind is a microcosm representing various divine powers at work in the universe.” (Ankerberg, 1996)
Workshop, part 3
Now that you are calm and more aware of your body and inner senses, it’s time to observe your feelings more “visually”.
1. Please gather some papers and materials you prefer to draw with. It’s important that you choose the materials that suit your feelings. How do you feel now? Are you calm? Rough? Excited? Tired? Happy? Sad? A combination of these feelings?
2. What kind of drawing tools can define your feelings better? Pencils? Crayons? Watercolor? Markers? Remember to not overthink it. Just go with the first thing that comes to your mind. If there are not too many options, go with whatever that you can use. I also recommend you to use large papers to give yourself more space and freedom to express your feelings.
3. Now that you have gathered everything, please close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Pay attention to the first images that come to your mind and start drawing freely. Follow the lines and observe the instant changes you make through the process. The point is that you let your hand draw whatever it wants. There are no rights and wrongs here. Just draw…
4. Take at least 10 minutes to visualize your feelings, but don’t limit yourself. If you feel you would like to draw more, do it as long as you want.
5. After you finish, take a close look at your piece… Can you trace the path? The beginning and the end of it? What kind of shapes did you come up with? How different would the outcome be if you were in a different mood?
If you prefer, show your drawing to someone and ask them to define what they see. How can they explain it?
If you like the process, repeat it again and again later.
Our NoVA’s drawings from our workshop is on top.
Here are some of our team’s observations and feedback that we received from our participants. According to the participants, the workshop was very relaxing. One participant became so relaxed during the voicefulness part that she did not feel very motivated to continue the workshop with the drawing part. Though one side effect of the exercises can be relaxation, as an instructor it is important to highlight awareness through the exercise. Awareness can help us to stay focused during the whole workshop and that is also what we practice in the exercises.
Many of our participants mentioned that it was a nice change to do something related to your body while being in Zoom. Some people noticed in the workshop how their bodies were in need of movement and “awakening”. Spending a lot of time in front of a screen can cause lack of attention and bodily exercises can instead help to increase your level of vitality. These kinds of exercises that ground your mind to your body and also make you aware of your surroundings can help you to stay focused, but at the same time relaxed. That kind of “mind and body set” might also help you with creativity.
The drawings made during the last part of the workshop had some similarities. Many of the drawings included a notable amount of blue. Round shapes and zig zag figures were also “popular” forms. Coincidence or not, Aryan compared this session to his meditation and drawing -occasions. In those sessions there has been a group that has first meditated together and then made drawings individually. In those drawings there have been a lot of similarities with colors and shapes. If we would have done this exercise physically in the same space, would there have been even more similarities with the works?
These questions about vitality, creativity and non-verbal connections would be interesting to investigate further with a long-term participant & co-researcher group. How about you? How are you communicating with yourself? How are you communicating with nature? How are you connected to your body and your surroundings? Can you get aesthetic experiences from these moments of connection? We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Aryan, Judit and Mariko