The air is different up here
I had always liked our occasional Sunday walks as a child, and going to the beach, but being in nature wasn’t something that was an integral part of family life for me. It was actually in slightly later life that I first discovered the mental health benefits of being in nature on a trip to Yorkshire with my husband’s family in 2009.
I was twenty one and finding initial life outside of university difficult to navigate. Having suffered with anxiety since I was about ten years of age, I remember feeling very anxious about ‘the real world’ and the process of setting up a new performing arts company with my mum. When we arrived in Yorkshire after a six hour trip, I stepped out of the car, closed the door and looked down the little cobbled street where my husband’s parents had a cottage. I took a breath and let go. I looked at my husband (then my boyfriend) and said, ‘The air is different up here.’ In that moment I experienced a deep sense of inner quiet. I remember feeling as though I had never taken a real breath before.
Walking in nature
The holiday consisted of lots of walking across the Yorkshire Dales and I can honestly say I have never felt so alive, so peaceful or so myself. It was as though every breath and every footstep were taking me nearer to who I really was. In quieter moments I would sit by a river and watch the water flowing or sit on limestone rocks eating a sandwich in the sun. I found these quieter moments hard. Thoughts would sneak in, taking me to darker places and I would remember things I didn’t want to. Nature was always there to help me back. I was entranced by butterflies and delighted by new lambs frolicking in the fields. The hilly landscape, smell of wild garlic and spongy patches of sphagnum moss drew me in. Nature has its own beautiful, organic rhythm that is both cyclical and changing all the time. I fell in love with it on this holiday.
Being in nature
My relationship with nature has continued to evolve over the years and I have discovered not only how to reap the mental health benefits of walking in nature, but how to receive the mental health benefits of being in nature. A favourite place of mine to do this is in my little garden overlooking a large pond. It has taken me years to be able to be able to sit with no agenda, quietly directing my focus back to my breath or back to a leaf on a tree, and sometimes, on darker days it’s a little harder. The important thing is not to give up.
Nature doesn’t judge
If you let it, nature can help you process what’s happening in your life. Being in nature can take you to a different place within yourself where there is a simple, giving space there to support you while you contemplate.
Nature doesn’t judge, which encourages you to let go of self judgement. The worst thing we can do is judge ourselves. Its ok if we go on a walk, sit for a moment and find our minds are in a dark place. Its ok to feel lonely. Its ok to feel as though we’ll never get better. Thinking these things doesn’t mean you’re not engaging ‘properly’ with nature.
Accept your thoughts, observe them for a while and try not to add judgments to them. Just sit with them and let them go. Nature won’t hold onto them, its ok. If the same feelings arise again, its ok. Repeat the process. Keep going for walks and keep sitting with nature. One day, something will give. You’ll find it a little easier.
Nature holds you
I lost count of the number of walks I went on where I felt as though I was walking with a dark cloud surrounding me. They were some of the loneliest moments of my life. But they were also the most important. Nature helped me bottom out and find a way through by holding me as I sat, and grounding my feet as I walked.
There is no doubt in my mind that nature boosts mental health. So why not try out my top tips and start your journey with nature today?
My Top Tips for experiencing the mental health benefits of being in nature:
ONE: Meditate in nature: Pick a favourite spot and return to it every day. Relax your shoulders. Sit comfortably without slouching. Focus on the quality of the air entering your nose and leaving your nose. Label thoughts as ‘thinking’ and return to the breath. Even if you only meditate for ten minutes a day you will feel the boost to your mental health.
TWO: Make friends with a tree: Marek suggested this when I took his Thai Massage Practitioner Course. What a wonderful suggestion it is. Sit with your chosen tree. Name your tree. Meditate by your chosen tree. Place your hands on the trunk of your chosen tree and direct your breath towards it. The support is unconditional.
THREE: Observe from your garden: Pick a favourite spot in your garden and spend time every week, or every day if you have the time, simply sitting. Watch the comings and goings of nature. Look up at the sky and watch clouds form and pass. No agenda. Just you and the natural world. Be aware of what comes up and allow it to pass like the clouds overhead.
FOUR: Walk in nature: Why not try a walking meditation? Connect breath to movement, taking slow, mindful steps. Or simply walk. If you get lost, that’s ok. You’ll find your way again. Focus on each step. Listen to each step. Breathe deeply. Imagine leaving pain or anger behind with each step you take.
FIVE: Write about nature: Walk as you write. Allow the rhythm of your walking to inform the rhythm of your prose or poem. Alternatively, sit and write. If you see a butterfly, find out about it. What are its habits? Find out the folklore surrounding this particular butterfly. Do you have anything in common? Is it shy, just like you? Write from the perspective of the butterfly and allow the words to have meaning for you both.
Let me know in the comments below how you get on or if you have any of your own tried and tested tops tips – I’d love to hear them.
With love and light,