Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains


While it may seem obvious that a good hike through a forest or up a mountain can cleanse your mind, body, and soul, science is now discovering that hiking can actually change your brain… for the better!

Hiking In Nature Can Stop Negative, Obsessive Thoughts

Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. Many of us often find ourselves consumed by negative thoughts, which takes us out of the enjoyment of the moment at best and leads us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst. But a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.

To conduct this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.

The researchers noted that increased urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Taking the time to regularly remove ourselves from urban settings and spend more time in nature can greatly benefit our psychological (and physical) well-being.

Hiking While Disconnected From Technology Boosts Creative Problem Solving

A study conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. Participants in this study went backpacking through nature for about 4 days, during which time they were not allowed to use any technology whatsoever. They were asked to perform tasks which required creative thinking and complex problem solving, and researchers found that performance on problem solving tasks improved by 50% for those who took part in this tech-free hiking excursion.

The researchers of this study noted that both technology and urban noise are incredibly disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be taxing to our cognitive functions. A nice long hike, sans technology, can reduce mental fatigue, soothe the mind, and boost creative thinking.

Hiking Outdoors Can Improve ADHD In Children

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is becoming more and more common among children. Children who have ADHD have a difficult time with impulse control and staying focused, they get distracted easily, and exhibit excessive hyperactivity

While raising children who have ADHD can be difficult for parents, the usual solution — opting for prescription medication — may be doing more harm than good, particularly when natural solutions can work just as well. A study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” reduces symptoms significantly. The results of this study suggest nature exposure can benefit anyone who has a difficult time paying attention and/or exhibits impulsive behavior.

Hiking In Nature Is Great Exercise And Therefore Boosts Brainpower

We already know that exercising is fantastic for our overall well-being. Hiking is an excellent way to burn between 400 – 700 calories per hour, depending on your size and the hike difficulty, and it is easier on the joints than other activities like running. It has also been proven that people who exercise outside are more likely to keep at it and stick to their programs, making hiking an excellent choice for those wishing to become more active on a regular basis.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume — the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory — in women over the age of 70. Such exercise not only improves memory loss, but helps prevent it as well. Researchers also found that it can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self esteem, and release endorphins. Many people take medication to solve each and every one of these issues, but the solution to these ills may be a lot simpler than you think!

How Can You Begin To Start Hiking?

Luckily, hiking is one of the easiest and least expensive sports to get involved in, and it can have great benefits for the whole family, including grandma! Start out small and test your abilities. Do what works for you — if that means just walking through trails in a park, that’s fine. Any exercise outdoors is better than none. You can easily find maps of trails around your home online, and there are plenty of smartphone apps to map them out, too. I recommend turning off your signal and your phone while hiking though, so you can reap the most benefits of the hike (though it may be wise to at least carry it with you in case of emergency).

Make sure you have some good sturdy hiking shoes, a hat, and a water bottle, and be sure to layer your clothing so you can take things on or off easily as you warm up and cool down. You may want to consider using trekking poles as well, which can increase your speed and take some of the pressure off your knees. Now, can you just do one thing for me?
Go take a hike!



Reconnecting today’s kids with the outdoors


There’s something ingrained in our DNA, something seared into our psyche that triggers a primal sense of harmony when we escape four walls and venture into the great outdoors. Team Kshitij feels that euphoria every time we step out on a trail. When you go out in the woods you feel good. You play. You discover. You feel peaceful.

It’s almost like going a little crazy if we can’t get a regular dose of outdoor activity.

We believe, we as humans have a special connection to the outdoors. It is a natural desire we have to feed. Driven by our own passions, Kshitij is trying to grow a movement to reconnect today’s kids with the outdoors. We evolved as part of the natural world. But today most children live in a totally artificial environment. It’s intriguing to watch what happens when kids are left to their own devices with a dose of unstructured outside playtime.

You will see them just start running and going to the creek and looking at bugs — they revert to what they are supposed to be. “We just have to encourage them to be free.”
It’s important for the body as well as the soul. They need to use their bodies to really develop properly. Movement affects cognition. A day of being in the outdoors, hiking, kayaking can pay off all week long, helping kids focus in school thanks to a subconscious sense of fulfilment — both physical and emotional. Obviously it is a great outlet for the pent up energy within kids these days. Being in the outdoors is a gateway to a healthy lifestyle, a critical element in an era of junk food and childhood obesity.

Given the bad influences and diversions surrounding children, an outdoor hobby “keeps the mind and the body pure. A national movement to combat so-called “nature deficit disorder” has been building over the past decade. The phrase was coined by author Richard Louv in his influential book Last Child in the Woods, which sounded the alarm about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, and touched off a rallying cry to action.

Instilling children with a love of nature is critical for the well-being of society at large, which depends on a healthy planet. “They will be our future caretakers”.



Edited by: Charmi Gada



Camping with Kids !

Camping with children can bring you back to the simplicity of nature. It increases your awareness of your surroundings and can refresh your appreciation for the many things that so often go unnoticed. Many things are learned and experienced for the first time during each day in the life of a child. Patience is almost unavoidable. It is so important to take the time to enjoy the journey of these new experiences with your child. In nature there are so many amazing things to discover. Camping can be a wonderful adventure. Just think – the birds and animals, the plants and trees, the rocks, the streams and ponds, the insects, the sounds, the weather, the wildflowers, and the many activities that can provide so much excitement. The possibilities are endless! By planning successful, enjoyable camping trips when your children are young, you will set them on the path to a lifetime of outdoor adventures.

**Get the kids interested in the trip by getting them involved. Build their excitement and anticipation.

  • Plan the camping trip together
    • Decide on places to go – consider interests, outdoor experience and children’s ages.
    • Pick activities to do
    • Plan and shop for your meals
    • Prepare and pack the equipment and supplies
  • Try a backyard campout before you go for the first time
    • Teach the kids how to set up a tent
    • Try some outdoor cooking
    • Experience a night outdoors in sleeping bags
    • Show them how to use some camping equipment
    • Plan a few activities
    • Search the sky for constellations
    • Listen to the many night sounds
    • Don’t forget the special nighttime snacks
  • Try to experience outdoor activities with your kids
    • Get them familiar with the outdoors in order to eliminate their fears
    • Teach them about safety and to respect nature
    • Teach outdoor skills and outdoor ethics
    • Camp chores are actually fun for kids. They love collecting firewood, filling water containers, hammering in tent stacks, camp cooking etc.
    • Make the camp chores extra fun – have contests for gathering the most kindling, best camp cooking, most organized gear
    • Take a small day hike in the woods at a local park
    • Visit a nature center
    • Go fishing at a local pond or stream
    • Take an evening walk
    • Go on a picnic
    • Read related books
    • Have a scavenger hunt
    • Go on a flashlight walk

**Take the necessary gear and supplies

  • Extra clothing and shoes – the kids will get wet and extremely dirty
  • Warm clothing – it may get chilly especially in the evening/dress in layers
  • Insect repellent – consider time-release formulas
  • Sunscreen – they’ll be outside all day
  • First aid kit – for those little accidents
  • Rain gear – keep them dry and warm
  • Toys, games, activities – you want to keep them busy
  • Check out Want to Play a Game?
  • Familiar bedtime items – pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, dolls etc
  • Flashlight/glow sticks – to help relieve nighttime fears
  • Snacks – all this activity is going to make them hungry
  • Drinks – avoid dehydration due to heat and activity level

**Create memories

  • Bring a camera with plenty of film/flash/extra batteries
  • Disposable type are excellent for outdoor activities
  • Give each child their own disposable camera
  • Capture your memories with video
  • Keep a journal
  • Describe details about your trip and the activities you did
  • Document special moments
  • Include photos
  • Have each family member write about their experience
  • Save crafts etc.
  • Personalized Jigsaw Puzzles
  • Keeping an Outdoor Adventure Photo Journal

**Plan alternative activities

  • For bad weather
  • To avoid boredom during down times
  • If they dislike a certain planned activity

**Respect campground quiet hours

**Make your travel fun

  • Don’t travel a great distance – stop frequently
  • Make your trips short – maybe two or three nights
  • Take toys and activities to keep them busy
  • Play car games – license plates, sign abc’s, singing etc
  • Take plenty of snacks
  • Build their excitement and anticipation

family camp

‘Lil’ moments of meaningfulness

Untitled-2 copyIt took him plenty of courage in that already fearful state of mind, to cross over and go to the outer side of the rappelling wall. It is at this point that one is supposed to lean behind as an initial step to climbing down the wall. It is at this point that the fear reaches its peak. As one participant child told me, ‘It felt like I would fall down and the back of my head would hit the floor!’ Although all the safety harnesses are used, and the participants are aware of that, fear finds its way. This boy, around eleven years old, already seemed too scared – most participants are, children and adults alike, when they climb those stairs which feel like they are floating in the air, with no walls around them. This, coupled with the widely prevalent fear of heights, makes the activity even more challenging for many, especially the first timers!

The moment he got himself to the outer side of the wall, he almost freezed there.  The technical expert tried encouraging him to lean back and start rappelling down, but in vain. Just when I started telling the technical expert to get the boy back inside, I saw tears in his eyes. We got him inside. I told him to sit, breathe and relax; offered him some water. It seemed liked he wanted to be alone for some time. So I started attending to the other participants, while constantly aware of the boy and how he was feeling. After sometime, I sat beside him, and we began conversing.

JBCN1We were looking at other participants doing the activity while we were talking. Almost everyone had that look of ‘I’m scared but I would like to be able to do it!’ on their face. I made him aware of how the initial part of leaning behind was scary for all of them, after which it got easier. He expressed his concerns and I explained to him how the safety gear that we use keeps us in total control and keeps them completely safe. Not once in the conversation did I ask him, ‘Would you like to try again?’ That didn’t feel right to ask at that moment. In fact, I told him that I’ll take him safely down the stairs if he wishes to do so. I reminded him that we had already decided earlier as a group that we would be following the principle of ‘Challenge by choice’* and no one would force him to complete the activity. I was quite surprised by the way I was dealing with the situation. It almost felt to me like I was being his ‘mum’ at that time, who was trying to make him feel safe and was trying to do the right thing for him at that moment.

A few minutes passed by while the other participants continued doing the activity. And then came that moment of magic! He told me that he wanted to do the activity, this time, with a lot more confidence in his voice. He got up. We helped him put on the safety harness. He crossed over to the outer side of the wall. No wonder he was scared! But this time, he did not freeze. With some encouragement from our side, he leaned behind and went down rappelling on the wall. I saw him from above when he reached the floor. With both his hands up in the air, he felt and expressed a strong sense of victory!

A few minutes later, almost the same story got replayed, with another participant. Only this time, when he finally reached the floor rappelling down the wall, he happened to say, ‘Hey, this was easy!’ – wondering, why was he so scared at all in the first place. Untitled-3While this was happening, one of the participants, who had mustard enough courage to climb those stairs after some initial hesitation, was standing there on the top for quite some time, looking at other participants doing the activity. She was the only one remaining.  I asked her, ‘Would you like to try?’ She said yes. And during that crucial moment when she had to lean back, she got highly scared and changed her mind. I told the technical expert to get her back inside. She almost rushed to go back down the stairs. I told her to wait, breathe and I accompanied her down the stairs. I tried telling her things like ‘It was quite brave of you to climb up those stairs and attempt the activity’. But I knew that nothing I would say would make her feel completely fine about the fact that she didn’t go ahead with it, while most others were able to do so. A few moments ago, when she was up there, on the outer side of the wall, I had a choice. I could force her down the wall (while ensuring her safety) and hope that it would help her overcome her fear and feel good about herself. But that would bring with it the risk of it becoming an experience that she would thereon associate with a state of ‘panic’, and may be, never ever attempt it at all. And this would not only defeat the entire purpose of the activity, but could also cause damage to her overall self-confidence.

The activity was over. I walked away from the wall with a lot of thoughts in my mind, but with an overall positive feeling in me, a feeling for which I haven’t yet found the exact word. A feeling that I would like to further explore in the years ahead. A feeling that may be the prime reason behind my current desire to be a part of more such experiences as a facilitator. A feeling that comes back to me every time I think of those moments – those ‘Lil’ moments of meaningfulness in which the power of ‘Challenge by choice’ came alive!

Nikhill (raahi)

* This experience was a part of the three-day camp for a school organized by ‘Kshitij – Redefining Fun’. At Kshitij, we try and add value to the lives of participants by using a methodology called ‘Experiential Education’. One of the key principles we follow is ‘Challenge by Choice’, wherein the participants themselves choose the way they want to participate in a particular activity and the level of challenge they would like to attempt. It has been observed that learning that happens in this way is more effective and ownable than in a situation where the participants are reluctantly made to do an activity on someone else’s terms.


The First Step in Nature’s Bounty

Perhaps the happiest weather of all time is Monsoons, which is exactly why we feel happy, cheerful and colorful in this season. The nature is at its best, bestowing upon us its green bounty, hours of drizzles and chilling fog. Most of us, hang out with friends, visit new destinations, try new savories, and sinfully indulge in eating and shopping sprees in these months. Monsoons bring with them an eclectic freshness which is too contagious! It spreads happiness like fire. Inspite of being loaded with our busy schedules, we give in to those moments of laziness and enjoy a hot cup of lemongrass tea watching the rain droplets slide down the window. We want to sing, we want to dance, we want to experiment, we want to push our boundaries, we want to discover ourselves, there is so much we want to do all the time. As adults we can choose to do any of these anytime we wish. But have we ever thought of opening up the gates for our younger ones??? Imagine seeding the idea of self discovery and contentment in the raw, untamed brains??

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Kshitij World, a social organization from Mumbai attempted to do the same in July 2014, over three treks to Lohagad, Lonavala with almost 120 kids, as a part of their annual program called as the Kids Club. Kids aged seven to fourteen from all over Mumbai participated in the trek. The kids left Mumbai by 6:45 in the morning, on their official day of rest! Looking adorable in their brightly colored rainy wears, shoes and have-a-sacks, they looked ready for a mission. The banter never ceased all through the bus journey, but the kids were disappointed at the early morning traffic on the expressway. The weather favored them with loads of rain and scenic beauty all around, but the never ending expanse of cars seemed to go on forever. The mad race to reach Lonavala and Khandala for the weekend seems to have gripped the Mumbaikar’s pretty tight! Munching on their sandwiches and singing songs all along the way lightened the long hours it took to reach the base village.


Lohagad, situated at a height of 3389 feet from the sea level, is known for its Strength and Sturdy appearance. Various dynasties have ruled the fort right from Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, Nizams, Mughals and Marathas. Lohagad is one of the best trekking locations for first timers. Lohagad is quite near Mumbai and Pune both, thus causing a great deal of public attraction for families and youth.


The kids reached base village and halted for some tea and coffee break. Plenty of small waterfalls invited people to have fun, thus leading to a lot of crowd at the base. Several cars and traveler vehicles made it difficult to progress further in the bus, so the kids had to start walking quite before the regular start point. What a pleasant sight it was to witness a huge troop of 40 kids at one go, stand in a queue and start footing the mighty mountains of the western ghats. Rains and red soil, slippery pathways, dense bushes guarding the tracks and rains blurring the view in the front added to the thrill and excitement. Organizers had divided the trek into 5 stages and the flag on the fort was the final accomplishment. The curiosity of the kids knew no bounds so as to what was up there on the fort, how many kilometers was the trek, why was the fort built , and the constant question – how long would it take to reach to the top etc??? It pained to see the younger generation, physically challenged! Not in the literal sense, but imagine an 8 year old boy complaining of leg pain after 10 minutes of hiking isn’t really, rather shouldn’t be acceptable! Girls squeaking at the sight of their branded shoes getting drenched in mud and requesting to wash them with the only drinking water they had !!! It was just astonishing to think, has easy access of every basic necessity pushed us away from basic life skills??? Certainly kids aren’t to be blamed, they are kids after all ! Nonetheless, the kids showed their true spirits and abided by their instructor’s constant motivation and encouragement. Inspite of the arduous walk uphill, the kids completed the climb in three hours, some falling , some getting dirty and some panting! The beauty of the hike was constant and ever increasing. Far away from the worries of their homework and tuition’s, the kids slowly began to loosen up and savour the pleasure of walking amidst nature.

For them, it was the first experience in wilderness. They never knew places like these existed. They never knew they could push themselves so hard to achieve a goal ! The rays of hope on their faces on seeing the fort nearing , was an expression to die for ! They learnt to share their space, water and food ! They learnt to help each other, they learnt to trust others! They cared for their partners. They learnt to let go! The kids fabulously marched through mossed stones and cold rivulets, dodged water falls and balanced on uneven rocks! Nature came to rescue and all the stored energy came to power. After reaching the highest point, a sense of victory overshadowed their tired bodies and hungry stomachs! Their faces glowed in the happiness of their first conquer! The chilly winds and razor blade rains couldn’t dampen their mighty spirits.

Shivering with cold, they posed lovingly for photographs, eager to tell the tales to their mothers! A pure moment of bliss, a walk through the rains, a walk through the wild, a walk to remember and memories to cherish for years to come! Does the journey end here??? No, absolutely not…. It’s the beginning of the Travel for them. It’s the beginning of self discovery and learning. No one teaches as better as Nature. These kids were lucky to get to put their first step forward at a very tender age. It’s never too late to begin to travel and take that quintessential walk in the rain.

Get up and get started. Monsoons will accompany you!

– Dr. Charmi Gada ( PT )

4th August, 2014.

A stranger in the Mirror


Often we hear people saying “Walk into someone else’s shoes, and then check out, do you fit in??” This holds true aptly, when it comes to Theater! Thinking of the term ‘Theater’, what does it actually mean??? We see various characters around us each day, on screen as well as off screen! Many a times, an absurd display of behavior by a friend raises a question, is he alright?? Then simply imagine, what kind of an experience it would be, to play something that is externally fed to your brain to memorize, heart to feel and gestures to express!

Oh, it isn’t really that complicated. Theater is a bare, naked form of expression. Possibly a very strong one, if used efficiently. Theater gets you into a world of its own. It’s very similar to daydreaming, with a slight difference that in here, you have to express those dreams using your body language, gestures, expressions, voice, tonation etc. Theater is a form of art that ignites a struggle within yourself. There is an immense force of the character you perform which over powers your entire self. The force demands so much from you to be someone fictitious! It might seem paradoxical in nature, but after one goes through the entire churning process, you realize the learning has so much to do with your everyday life. There is this mountain of self confidence that you feel and the stage fear seems a blurred image of the past. Your perspectives widen towards each new bend as after hours of rehearsing the scenes from every possible angle, and finally zeroing down on the  one chosen by the director, is hard to follow because that’s where ‘the ME’  factor in you peeps in! This brings about an immense self control, as on stage, you are going to be held responsible even for others, and now comes into picture the Responsibility! Unknowingly, learning begins to develop- you become more observant. You begin to notice those slightest of the gestures, that flicker of expressions and that change in one’s tonation! Be it real or reel life, you realize how crucial a significance it carries in your routine!

Exploring this form of Expression, may not necessarily drive you for an actual performance on stage, but the fun you will experience in grooming yourself about tales, narration, history, lights, make up, nine rasa’s of expression, voice modulation, teaming up with others in the group, yearning for a better performance, indulging yourself in your character till the limits of bipolarism, and rehearsing till you can’t take it anymore!


After the successful commencement of our latest venture- The Kids Club, Team Kshitij was all geared up for the event listed under the month of July. With the way, monsoons were progressing, we were sure, the much anticipated Waterfall Trek to Kondana Caves – built in the late 200 B.C, would be full of fun for all our kids in the club. The trek was announced and soon all the preparations started gaining momentum. Much to our surprise, we got an overwhelming response with 72 confirmations! The footage in Mumbai Mirror generated more inquiries, but certainly we were booked to our limits, so we tried to squeeze in as many as we could.Image

On 28th July, 2013 both the buses started on the dot as per the scheduled time, and we reached our destination- base village : Kondiwadi via Panvel , in about three and half hour’s time. Since the kids already knew each other, they had a gala time during the bus ride, playing games and munching on snacks together. The trek commenced after a breakfast on idli and sandwiches with hot beverages. It was amazing to see a huge line of 72 kids waiting to be with their friends and yet obeying the guides for the formation of groups. Approximately nine kids per group, and we had eight groups with us, each headed by a Kshitij volunteer.Image

Tiny, cute little kids as they appeared in colored raincoats and their sacks on their backs, worried about their shoes getting dirty in the mud, and remembering their mother’s instructions to not spoil their clothes!! What responsible behavior they sported… Amazing!!! Walking in pairs, the kids began their first expedition into the wild. Full of curiosity, with what lay ahead of them, they forgot all their tender worries about school, homework etc. They all had only one question on their minds- where are the waterfalls?? When are we reaching the caves?? Lush green forest, slippery muddy paths, rains all the way, crossing tiny rivulets, helping each other and saving themselves from falling, understanding the laws of nature, step by step the gang made it to the Buddhist caves which had Chaityas, Viharas and stupas to boast of. The falls were mighty and abundant, full of force with breathtaking icy cold water ready to relax everyone! What a pleasant sight it was to see the kids enjoying in their groups. Though tired with an hour’s hike and their stomachs now growling for food as the lunch time approached, none of the kids showed any signs of impatience and pleasantly trotted on the way back, eager to change into a fresh pair of clothes and fill their bellies! All the mommies would have been stunned to see their tiny tots dress up and pack up dirty stuff neatly into plastic bags! Some even learnt to tie their shoe laces on the way up to the caves! How happy they were to be appreciated for this new effort by  their guides. Hot food, yummy rasgullas and lemon juice satiated the young hearts as much they fueled their tummies.

The way back home took a little longer due to the constant traffic right from Karjat to Vashi – but the mighty spirited kids, unaffected by the tiring day and honking horns, continued to have fun and joke- entertaining even our team and feeling so happy about being acknowledged! Everyone reached home with content hearts! Team Kshitij got overwhelming appreciation texts and mails from parents about how their kids had a great time! That is when the team smiled – The task taken at hand had begun fulfilling…. The Kids Have Begun Exploring…. Experiencing…Exploring….Image