The Wonders of Woodland

April is Stress Awareness Month and so here at the Harmonious Hub, we are going to be looking at the benefits of nature for stress relief, this week starting with woodland.

Imagine the feeling of walking down this path

Do you have a woodland near you? If not a full woodland, you might have a copse or a little grove. At a public park near me, there is an area at the back reserved for trees and wildlife, a little haven away from the football pitch and tennis courts. You may have something similar nearby where you live too.

Shinrin-yoko’ is a Japanese term which means “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”. Regardless of the fact that it is a very trendy term at the moment, it’s a really meaningful practice, probably one that we already know without putting a name to it. Forest Bathing can be anything from twenty minutes to two hours of relaxing in a Forest environment and more and more people are becoming fans. You can join an organised group or just do it on your own, taking time to become mindful in nature.

Can you remember the last time you truly immersed yourself in nature? We know it feels good, but did you know there are very real benefits to our mental and physical health? And there are lesser-known benefits socially, culturally, and economically too. Read on to find out more…

Physical Health

Exercising in woodland provides an opportunity to exercise in a calm and restful environment. I much prefer the idea of exercising outdoors than in a gym, ok unless the weather is really dire! Exercising in nature has been shown to reduce physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and obesity, as well as mental symptoms of stress and depression. The setting makes all the difference. Walking in nature has been proven to help keep blood pressure down compared to using an indoor gym or walking through busy streets in a town. Not forgetting the vitamin D we get from sunshine, giving our immune system a boost.

This doesn’t mean we have to do a full workout in the forest. Walking and cycling are great and also help to manage the local habitat with schemes such as the ones provided by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers such as tree planting or clearing footpaths and has the dual benefit of helping us keep fit but also taking care of the woodland.

Walking outside has extra benefits because the body has to exert extra energy adjusting to the outside temperature and so this means we feel more tired afterward, and often sleep better as a result.

The benefits of woodland spaces are so important that there is an NHS Forest project (see nhsforest.org) which works to add gardens, woodlands, orchards and meadows to the green space at healthcare sites. According to their website they have planted an incredible 73,999 trees on or near NHS healthcare sites since 2009, and 4,474 trees in the 2020/21 season! You can even sponsor your own NHS Forest tree.

Mental Health

Immersing ourselves in nature has a huge benefit for our mental health. There is something magical about connecting with the natural world, we can really feel its healing properties. Finding a “sit spot” is great, taking time to find a place to sit which “calls” to you, then just sitting and becoming aware of your surroundings.  Being out in woodland has so many mental health benefits that some charities which work with veterans experiencing PTSD choose to hold sessions outside in woodland areas.

Being outdoors has so many advantages, the natural light during the day stimulates the production of melatonin when the sun goes down, helping us sleep better, we get fresh air and become more in touch with the seasons. For women, especially at times in our lives such as the perimenopause and menopause, making that connection with the seasons and changes in nature can help us feel more grounded.

From picnics to festivals being outdoors among the woodlands in a group feels great. Woodlands provide a natural play area for children and they are a great place to unwind and disconnect from tech.

Walking through woodland helps us feel calm, almost meditative, if we are worrying or dwelling on something we can get some clarity and space in our minds. The trees form a protective canopy and shelter us from rain and heat.

Fall in love with the forest

Research shows that walking in green space can put us into a meditative state. It makes us calm and reflective and helps us pay more attention to our surroundings. In this state, our creativity can flourish, perfect for problem-solving or finding a fresh perspective.

If you are in need of some creative inspiration then the woods may be just what you need, the trees, plants and animals, sounds, and scents are wonderful for getting those creative juices going!

Some tips for getting the most out of your time in the woodland:

  • Make sure you have clothes that are warm enough to allow you to sit for some time without getting cold
  • Bring snacks!
  • Try to minimise time on the phone, just ‘be’ in nature
  • Take pens/paper in case you feel inspired to draw or write
  • Or allow yourself to enjoy doing nothing – easier said than done!
  • Connect with the animals and insects you see and hear
  • Find ‘your’ tree, one which you feel a connection with
  • Try to revisit the same spot as the seasons change and really become aware of the way the woodland responds.
  • Always ‘leave no trace’.

So, what are you waiting for?! At the Harmonious Hub shop, we have some fabulous eco-friendly travel cups and bamboo picnic ware so you can pick up some gorgeous things to take out with you to your local woodlands.

Go find your perfect spot!

References:

www.nationalgeographic.com
www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
www.forestresearch.gov.uk