Connecting with Nature

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” – Lao Tzu

In the last blog we started looking at how connecting with nature can help with mental illness and wellbeing. The concept of ‘forest bathing’ has become a trendy topic in recent years with numerous research articles and other publications extolling the benefits of being immersed in a forest environment. Forest bathing is now best described as a Japanese method of relaxation and is known as ‘shinrin yoku‘.

‘Shinrin’ means “forest’ and ‘yoku’ literally means “bath”, so Shinrin-yoku translates as ‘bathing in the forest’. At its most basic level it is simply being in nature , connecting with it using our senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Although not a new idea, in fact if you go back about 20 years we were running ‘earth walks’ based on similar principles and ideas, the idea of forest bathing has gained popularity through articles in the mainstream press, medical journals and linking in with ‘green prescriptions’ from the GP.

If you are new to the idea of forest bathing, the Forestry England has a simple guide on how to make the most of your forest bathing ‘experience’ (your guide to forest bathing). The ideas behind forest bathing can be applied to any natural setting, for instance a walk along a beach or a stroll in the mountains.

Mindfulness.

There are four pillars or domains of mindfulness:

  • Mindfulness of the body ( kata )
  • Mindfulness of feelings or sensations ( vedanta )
  • Mindfulness of mind or consciousness ( citta )
  • Mindfulness of mental objects (dhammas)

By incorporating a mindfulness walk into your every day routine, you can stop and clear your head of the clutter that builds up and regain your focus. The walk only needs to be 5 – 10 minutes a day for effects to be noticed and as with forest bathing, try to engage all of your senses during the walk.

There are a number of ‘ways’ you can undertake a mindfulness walk:

  1. Just walking
  2. Stealth walking – here you walk as quietly and as stealthy as possible
  3. Gratitude walking – Find things to be grateful for, such as the warmth from the sun, the sound of the birds or maybe the rain bouncing off the leaves (nobody said mindful walks are just for good weather!)
Photo by More Shani

One of the things with a mindfulness walk is to notice how your body feels before, during and after the walk. Explore how your feelings and senses change with each step and if you feel your mind wandering off – stop, reset and start again. Embrace the sensations you feel and if a particular sense is becoming dominant, think about how you can engage the other senses – maybe do something as simple as touch the bark of a tree or reach down to feel the grass under your feet and connect with mother nature. Focus on your breathing, try not to linger in any one spot and above all embrace the whole experience.

“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, you just need to remember to do it.” – Sharon Saltzberg

As an alternative to going for a walk, you can practice mindfulness as follow:

  • Sit on a bench, this can be in your garden, in a park, at work etc
  • Watch who passes by, try not to follow them with your eyes
  • Listen to the sounds around you
  • Lift your head up and watch the clouds as they pass by, try and find patterns in them.
  • Delve deeper into your other senses, what can you smell? How does the air feel?
  • Focus all of your attention on the connection with nature and your surroundings

There are some fantastic resources about mindfulness and connecting to nature on the internet, far too many to list here but a quick search will soon identify the useful ones.

In the next blog we will look at the concept of biophilia in more depth and the benefits of greening interior spaces.

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere” – Vincent Van Gough

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