Top up your wellbeing bank by getting out of the house and back to nature
Have you ever noticed how a romp through some leafy woods can lift your spirits? Or how a walk along the beach can leave you feeling fresh and new again? Living close to nature and spending time outside has been proven to have significant and wide-ranging health benefits. And according to new research, these benefits run far deeper than blowing away a few cobwebs. Exposure to green space reduces the risk of type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease among others and can reduce stress levels and high blood pressure. So, as doors slowly begin to open again, why not immerse yourself in one of these soul-soothing outdoor pursuits? Who knows where it might lead…
If you’ve ever wondered why taking off your shoes and stretching your toes amongst some soft grass feels so good, earthing could be an explanation. Earthing is the simple process of walking barefoot on soil, grass or sand in order to allow electrons to move freely between your body and the earth.
“Mother Earth is a bit like a big battery with a subtle electric charge, and everything in the whole world is grounded to her,” explains Yolandi Boshoff, soul coach and business mentor (divinesoul.me). “She has an infinite supply of electrons and these are constantly recharged by the sun, lightning and the orbit of the earth.”
The idea is that this electrical charge helps to rid our bodies of inflammation-causing free radicals. The trouble is, we don’t spend much time barefoot on the land anymore, so we are missing out on this process.
Earthing comes with a whole host of wellbeing benefits from regulating our cortisol and blood sugar levels to easing chronic pain and aiding sleep. As well as this, spending time in nature enhances your mood, reduces stress and anxiety. “You will feel more grounded and centred, able to focus on the tasks at hand and tackle problems with more clarity and calm,” adds Yolandi.
Try it: Yolandi recommends trying to earth yourself for at least 30 to 40 minutes a day. If you are unable to get outside to a patch of grass, sand or soil with your bare feet you can try earthing sleep mats, foot mats, wristbands and more.
Forest bathing or Shinrin-Yoku combines mindfulness techniques with the therapeutic energy of the forest to create a wellbeing experience that can leave you feeling calm and refreshed. It’s so popular in Japan, it’s now one of the cornerstones of Japanese healthcare. “Studies have shown that forest bathing actually reduces stress levels,” says Gerry O’Brien, forest therapy guide at Forest Holidays, “which is not only good for your mental health but leads to improvements in your physical health too, including a boost to your immune system.”
At Forest Holidays, a typical forest bathing experience lasts for three hours and includes a guided walk through the forest, with invitations to open your senses to the world around you. “These walks follow a standard sequence,” adds Gerry. “They begin with guided sensory attention and embodiment activities that establish contact with the present moment and place. Next come a series of connective invitations, often improvised in the moment and adapted to the needs of participants. These may be followed by wander time and/or a sit spot. The walks end with a ceremony of sharing tea made from foraged local plants. You won’t walk far but you will appreciate the forest in a deeper and more meaningful way than ever before.”
Try it: Forest Holidays are now offering all guided forest bathing sessions free of charge to all. These sessions are available at Blackwood Forest and Forest of the Dean locations. For more information, visit: forestholidays.co.uk
Foraging is the identification, and gathering of edible and medicinal plants and fungi. However, according to author, forager and forest bathing practitioner Adele Nozadar, it is so much more than that. “We learn about so many other things – nature, history, medicines,” says Adele. “ It’s not about the having, but the getting. Paying close observation to the plants and wild things around us puts us directly in touch with our ancestors – we learn that there’s nothing new under the sun, which is quite a liberating thought. We can also end up with lovely ingredients to use in our meals.” So what are the wellbeing benefits of foraging over popping to your local supermarket? Being outside, as we all know, is very good for us – it helps with mental illness, health problems, and gives us a sense of wellbeing. Even if we don’t find anything for the dinner table, we’re guaranteed to have a good time.
So, where to begin? “Given that when people historically had to forage to survive, they wouldn’t have gone very far,” advises Adele. “You don’t have to live in the countryside to go foraging. Start from home. Cities, where there have been hundreds, if not thousands of different nationalities passing through, are better places for foraging than empty rural landscapes. People are very useful vehicles for seeds to disperse themselves.”
In the UK, you can find nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and more, but you should always seek permission before you forage on private land, and only take from areas that are plentiful, so as not to deprive local wildlife.
Try it: Read Adele’s books: Hedgerow Handbook, Foraging with kids and The Garden Forager, £12.99 each for inspiration before you get foraging. To buy these, or for more information, visit breconbeaconsforaging.com
Anyone who’s spent time gazing at the night sky will know that stargazing can leave you pretty awestruck, but recent research has shown that exposure to the night sky can actually lower stress and increase a positive mood.
“Stargazing acts as a profound act of meditation, soothing anxiety at the deepest level,” says our columnist, author and keen stargazer Jane Alexander. “Everyone’s experience is different, but for me it puts my problems in perspective – it’s about connecting with something way bigger than me. We’re all living on this tiny green and blue spinning globe in an infinite vastness – our divisions are insane when we look at it from the perspective of the wider universe. It focuses on how Earth is our home – our beautiful home, but also reminds us that we are literally made from stardust so the whole universe is our wider home.”
So what do you need to get started? According to Jane, just your eyes and a clear night sky. “You don’t necessarily need to know anything about astronomy, but if you start to star gaze regularly you may notice familiar constellations and become intrigued to discover more.”
Sadly, few of us can now truly stargaze from our back gardens because of light pollution. So for the true stargazing experience we need to head away from civilisation on a cloud-free night.
Try it: Jane recommends Vitality Retreat vitalityretreat.com up in the far north of Scotland, where you may even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Wild swimming is simply the term used to describe swimming in an outdoor natural body of water. Take a dip in the sea, a lake or a river and you’re wild swimming. It sounds chilly, especially in the UK, but swimming in cold water actually gives you a natural high, activating your feel good hormones, endorphins. According to Laura Bell, founder of The Zest Life Retreats (thezestlife.co.uk), the colder you get, the bigger the high. “It improves your circulation and immune system, and also helps to alleviate stress.” “Overall, it can be an exhilarating experience, where you’ll feel refreshed and rejuvenated.”
If you’d like to give it a try, head for somewhere that has easy access to the water and is safe. You don’t need to be a particularly strong swimmer to give wild swimming a try, but as with anything, you need to be vigilant. Care must always be taken when entering open bodies of water. It’s safer to go with someone and, of course, don’t enter deep water unless you can swim.
Try it: With more than 5 years experience of running wild swimming and yoga retreats in some of Wales most stunning locations, The Zest Life (thezestlife.co.uk) in North Wales will take care of and deliver everything you need for a luxury wild swimming retreat experience.
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