Tanya Ginwala – Restor(y)ing our relationship with the natural world and the “outdoors” – a South Asian perspective

Restor(y)ing our relationship with the natural world and the “outdoors” - a South Asian perspective

Tanya Ginwala

Session duration: 60 minutes

Key words: decolonisation, south asia, indigenous wisdom, community, outdoor therapy


India is one of the most staggeringly diverse and culturally rich countries in the world, with a population of 1.4 billion people. Historically, living in harmony with nature has been an integral part of Indian society and culture, reflected in a range of traditional practices, religious beliefs, folklore, art, craft and daily lifestyle and rituals. However, with the ruptures and systemic harm caused by a history of colonization and ongoing intersectional oppression, there are multiple layers to understand and deconstruct before we can restore our relationship with the natural world and being outdoors.

Current practices within the Indian outdoor industry are greatly influenced by the global north. While many of these practices may be beneficial, they also run the risk of overriding traditional, wise ways of relating with nature and the “outdoors”. As an outdoor therapy practitioner within the Indian context, there is an ongoing inquiry around what it means to build a place-based outdoor therapy practice that centers local communities, culture, traditional knowledge systems and indigenous wisdom.

Through sharing anecdotes, images, art, storytelling and cultural objects and practices, this presentation aims to share insights from a South Asian perspective and explore the following questions – How did our ancestors relate with the more-than-human world?  What does it really mean to decolonize our relationship with nature and outdoor adventure? What are some practices and ways of being that can support us to come home to a healthful state of interdependence with nature? How may these insights support us to facilitate inclusive, restorative and equitable experiences for all those drawn to the outdoors?

This session hopes to help participants move toward a greater awareness of how their own story, culture and roots may influence their ways of relating with nature– as it is often through observing and learning about other cultures that we begin to see and deepen into our own.

About the presenter/s

Tanya Ginwala is a psychologist, experiential educator and adventure and nature-based therapist living in the lower Himalayas of Dharamshala, India.

Her prior professional experience ranges from rehabilitation for substance abuse to facilitating inclusive outdoor adventure experiences for persons with disability. She is passionate about the interaction between adventure, nature and mental health, a grossly underexplored terrain in the Indian context. She has participated in and presented at various international forums and is currently the India representative at the International Adventure Therapy Committee. She was recently awarded the Karl Rhonke Creativity Award (2023) by the Association for Experiential Education, USA for her efforts in adapting the field of outdoor therapy to the Indian context. She is a champion for the causes of inclusion and mental health awareness and passionate about decolonized understandings of mental health. Presently she runs outdoor therapy programs in the lower Himalayas in collaboration with the local Gaddi community through her organisation Qualia. In her free time, Tanya enjoys spending time in the pine forests by her home, reading, hiking, napping in the sun and discovering new music.