It was National GetOutside Day in the UK on Sunday but surely every day should be a #GetOutside day?
One project’s findings earlier this year found that the positive mental health gains of spending time in the great outdoors can last for as long as seven hours afterwards. Another last month indicated that just ten minutes of light physical activity such as slow walking or tai chi (best practised outside) can improve the brain’s ability to store memories, and potentially help slow cognitive decline.
I first came across the word shinrin-yoku in Annie Proulx’s epic novel about the destruction of the world’s forests, Barkskins. The Japanese art of forest bathing has a simple idea at heart: visiting a natural area and walking in a relaxed way brings calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits.
Nature therapy itself probably goes back to antiquity when every tree and every hill had its own spirit but in Japan, where the Shinto religion is rooted in nature worship, Forest Therapy Camps were established in the 1980s with signposted Therapy Roads to help boost citizens’ immune systems and reduce stress levels.
As our daily grapples with modern living become ever more time consuming and energy sapping, it’s no coincidence that back to nature activities like mindful walking and wild swimming are seeing a huge growth in popularity. At Blackwood Forest in Hampshire, you can try shinrin-yoku for yourself with a three hour meditative guided walk culminating in a tea ceremony using foraged plants.
The disappearance of wild childhood
Nature deficit disorder is a major problem for our disconnected, technology driven times. I was initially shocked that last year’s bestselling The Lost Words by writer Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris contained what for me were staple words from childhood: dandelion, magpie, acorn, kingfisher. Do today’s children really not know what these are I wondered incredulously? And yet it turns out that the inspiration for this beautifully illustrated wild dictionary stemmed from a decision by the Oxford Junior Dictionary to drop around 40 common words relating to the natural world.
The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas recently called for a GCSE in Natural History to be established following a government-funded study in 2016 that found that more than one in nine children in England had not visited a park, forest, beach or other natural environment for at least 12 months. “Unless we educate young people on the value of nature,” she said, “the next generation won’t be able to recognise the scale of the loss we’re living through or do anything to reverse it.”
Meanwhile came news this week that some of the country’s most important wildlife sites are being neglected and that the government has quietly abandoned efforts to meet a longstanding target to improve them. Regulator Natural England has had its budget nearly halved in the past decade and, according to a leaked report, is too stretched to prevent “further human-induced extinctions of known threatened species.” A catastrophic scenario that I touched on in Bringing the harvest home.
So don’t just sit there, get outside and hug a tree while you still can; I’m off to try a spot of moss meditation!
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com