‘And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul’ – John Muir
Who hasn’t returned from a walk in the woods, or a natural green space and noticed a spring in the step and a warmer and softer feeling in the heart? ….. that’s nature doing its thing!
Many of us are benefitting from a growing awareness of the positive effects that a natural green space can have on both our physical and mental wellbeing. Time spent in nature is never wasted. The obvious improvement to physical fitness is just the tip of the iceberg. In a world where we are often walking on hard, even, open surfaces, even the very nature of the forest floor, scattered with trip hazards, in dappled sunlight, can be a sensory challenge for some; but the gains of regularly being emersed in nature, far out way the risk of tripping on a stick!
Being in nature lowers blood pressure, has benefits to the immune system, quietens the mind, and reduces the stimulation that the brain receives during everyday life. We can see the world in a state of ‘soft fascination’, when we are stimulated just enough to engage the brain’s attention lightly. Noticing the colours of leaves, the overall shape of trees and the sounds of birdsong and gentle breezes, the scent of spring blossom.
Immersing rather than traversing in nature is the key - spending time sitting at the base of a kindly tree trunk or splayed out on meadow grass, maybe with closed eyes - reducing our visual input and heightening awareness from our remaining senses, of which we have many more than just our well known ‘Big 5’; as well as being beneficial to our physical and mental health, it feels such an indulgent treat!
Daydreaming has got many of us into trouble at school – but, who knew, it is essential for our minds to drift off; it’s a healthy break for a frazzled brain. A time to expand our thoughts and to reduce anxiety and stress levels. Research shows that we spend 30 – 50% of our time in daydreams.
There are many ways that we can connect and build relationships with the natural world to benefit our physical and mental health – Forest Bathing or Shinrin Yoku, is becoming very popular, having arrived here from Japan where it has been practiced since the 1980’s.
Earthwalks help us to connect with our surroundings by moving slowly, often barefoot, in a natural space; noticing the small things in nature, acknowledging them and sharing gratitude for these 'other than human' beings.
Green prescriptions, as part of a pilot project, are now being offered by some doctors in the UK, with the hope that this will become a wider offering in the near future.
Nature is a healer and a teacher. When we connect with nature in a multisensory, reciprocal way, the benefits to our holisitic wellbeing are wonderfully rich and rewarding.