The programme was started as a pivot for making nature conservation relevant to people. It is designed to combine a diverse range of activities like yoga and fitness in natural surroundings as well as organic gardening, nature walks and conservation work. Activities are carried out in a purposely built centre at the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman - the urban wetland the NGO manages and its Heritage Garden.
"Although having had major success absorbing young people and teachers in conservation action, Nature Seychelles had some difficulties in getting adults consistently involved," says Nature Seychelles Chief Executive, Nirmal Shah. "A survey we undertook showed that despite valuing the environment people were too preoccupied with other matters especially handling stress, juggling jobs and home and dealing with daily issues. We have therefore combined yoga and outdoor exercise with promotion of natural values such as organic gardening to tackle these issues and to engage people.”
Research has shown that nature can have huge positive benefits for people. Exercising in nature it has been shown, can increase self esteem, decrease levels of anxiety and reduce tension. "Nature and outdoor activities are increasingly being used, and evaluated, as therapy for a variety of illness and malaise," a paper in the Journal Environment, Science and Technology published in 2010 says.
Seychelles has health problems typical of more developed countries like high blood pressure, a high prevalence of diabetes and obesity. The programme aims to make valuable contributions to the well being of Seychelles society. An important aspect of the programme will be working among the vulnerable in society particularly the youth.
The launch was marked with activities that included yoga sessions for adults and children conducted by Robin Hanson, the programme coordinator. Robin taught guests simple stretches and body exercises that can easily be done even while seated in an office. The children enjoyed wildlife themed exercises - they leaped like frogs, stood like herons and stretched like snakes. This provided physical exercise and learning about Seychelles wildlife.
Guests were enthusiastic about the programme and many expressed their desire to join and get fitter both mentally and physically. They agreed there is no better way to do it than with nature. “What a great way to spend Saturday mornings,” enthused one participant. Another said, "The environment in Seychelles is so beautiful, finally someone is using it to give us peace and vitality.”
"We are offering people the opportunity to explore and develop physical strength, aerobic fitness, mental and emotional life, and diet," says Robin. "But at the same time we are involving them in conservation work. The response since the programme started has been very encouraging and we are looking forward to more people joining us after the launch."