The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness – John Muir
There is no doubt we have all being going through some challenging times recently due to the pandemic. This has taken a toll on our mental wellbeing. But it cannot all be blamed on the pandemic. There are many other facts at play, such as where we live, how much time we spend on our devices and if we venture outside or not. Here are some facts that may surprise you.
- 50% of the world’s population live in urban areas – the largest percentage in human history. That’s not all, it is due to increase to 70% by 2050. In Japan it is already 80%.
- It has been estimated the average American, over their lifetime, will spend the equivalent of 44 years looking at their devices.
- The average American now spends more than 90% of their time indoors.
- 792 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide.
Mental health is a complex topic and not one I am qualified to delve into. But I do have a suggestion about how we can increase our mental wellbeing, and that is to spend more time in nature.
Nature gives our brains time to reset from the hectic pace of modern life and gives our mental health a well-deserved boost. Being outdoors can reduce your stress levels, help fight anxiety and depression, boost your mood, improve your immune function, provide relaxation and rehabilitation, and of course, give us the exercise we all need.
Forest therapy is one way of getting our mental health hit. It has been scientifically proven trees have many healing properties. The healingforest.com state:
Certain trees like conifers emit oils and compounds to protect themselves from microbes and pathogens. These are called Phytoncides, and they are good for our immunity. So, spending time with these trees is a special form of Forest Therapy.
Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience – Ralph Waldo Emerson
While we are in the forest, we can do some forest meditation, which is a way of finding calm and balance with the help of nature. In traditional meditation, we withdraw our senses and focus inward to reach a state of inner peace. While in forest meditation we open our senses to experience the peace that exists in nature and deepen our realization.
The mind gets blown around like a leaf in the wind. That makes it hard to control and even harder to predict. Especially during challenging times. Our thought process becomes confused and negative. Therefore, forest meditation is essential for our mental wellbeing.
Here are some suggestions for forest meditation:
Go into a forest and walk at a medium to slow pace for about 20 minutes. While walking, focus your attention on nature and your breath. You may like to alternate between slow and slightly faster walking.
Slow walking fosters a heightened state of awareness, calm, and connection with the natural world. Medium to fast walking relieves stress and energizes the body. No matter how you walk, make sure you pause along the way to notice the small wonders of nature, such as birds, insects, wildflowers, and of course, the trees.
As you marvel at the wonders of nature create a feeling of gratitude. Feel grateful to be in nature, for all the plants, trees, and animals, and above all, to be alive. By focusing your attention on things that fill you with gratitude, you can shift your mind from any negativity or pessimistic thoughts.
Circle of Awareness
A wonderful practice to do in the forest is to sit down and create a circle in your imagination. Now become aware of everything in the circle; plants, flowers, leaves, twigs, insects, and anything else you can see.
Then slowly make your circle bigger and bigger. If your mind starts to wander, simply bring it back to the circle.
This practice will help you to fully engage with the forest, and maybe even learn a thing or two.
Using Your Senses
Find a quiet place in the forest and sit on the ground. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and begin to feel grounded.
Become aware of your environment by focusing on one sense at a time. Notice the forest sounds, and also notice the silence in-between the sounds. Touch the ground with both of your hands. What can you feel? Smell the different forest aromas. Tune into your body. Put your hands over your heart and feel your heartbeat. Now just sit there with a sense of gratitude, peace, and calm. When you’re ready to open your eyes, open them slowly and take a good look around you. Sit there for as long as you wish, just soaking up the beauty of the forest.
Find a quiet place in the forest, take off your shoes and stand barefoot on the forest floor. Focus on your breath without changing it. Just allowing it to find its own natural rhythm. Keep your spine straight but not too rigid. Become aware of any sensations in your legs, ankles, and feet. Stand for a few minutes until you feel stable.
Then, move your awareness slowly up from the feet to the top of your head. Notice if there’s tension, stress, or stiffness in any part of your upper body. Take a deep breath, pause for a few seconds, and then exhale. Repeat this for around 3 minutes or for as long as you wish. Imagine the forest air relaxing your body with every in-breath and your mind calming down with every outbreath.
When you have finished, sit on the forest floor, and ground yourself. Check-in with how you are feeling and be grateful for being in nature.
The Wind on Your Face
Stand still and lift your face upwards slightly. Notice the feeling of the wind on your skin. Then lift your arms in the air and notice the wind on your hands and fingers. Then pick other parts of your body and become aware of the wind gently blowing over your skin. Try not to judge or change anything, simply observe.
Spend about one minute on each area feeling a deep connection with the motion of the air.
I used to do this practice when I lived by the sea. On windy days you would find me on the cliff edge feeling the wind on my face.
You’ll never really see the sunset until you throw open the curtains, swing open the door, step outside, and experience it – Jessica Marie Collins
We humans are animals and as such our true home is in nature. We were never meant to live in houses, drive cars or fly in planes. So, do yourself a favour and go back to your roots.