The nights may be drawing in but there is no excuse not to get outside and enjoy some autumnal sunshine, or a crisp, frosty morning, even more important to do so on #worldmentalhealthday.
The perfect way to shake off those approaching winter blues, boost your mood, and strengthen your immunity, is to get out for spot of garden bathing.
It may seem like the wrong time of year to be advocating garden bathing but sunlight exposure triggers the release of serotonin, nature’s happy hormone, which is associated with helping to boost mood, and help promote calmness.
It is also scientifically proven that exposure to the UVB radiation in the sun’s rays causes skin to create vitamin D, a nutrient which is important for immune health. 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face, two to three times a week, is enough to enjoy vitamin D benefits – as long as the sun is able to penetrate your skin.
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which we know as forest bathing, was promoted by the Japanese government in the 1980s as a way of helping the physical and mental health of its citizens. It actively encouraged people to walk, and to linger, among the trees, perhaps to meditate, but just to spend time in nature.
Lots of their study during this period reported the positive results of simply spending time in, and paying attention to, nature which produced a reduction for subjects in feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and anger. Physically, metabolism was boosted, cardiovascular health was improved, fatigue was reduced, and sleep quality increased.
Some of the benefits were found specifically to be down to the proximity of trees as oxygen levels are high in a forest setting, thus boosting energy. Evergreen species produce high levels of phytoncides, natural oils which boost human health.
While forest bathing has grown in popularity round the world, and Scotland has a plethora of forests to visit, garden bathing, is something we can all immerse ourselves in on a more regular basis – simply by heading outside our own back door. It is the practice of applying the immersive and meditative techniques of forest bathing, to the plants and shrubs in your own garden, to connect you to the natural world.
Still Not Convinced?
- Research from the University of Exeter Medical School discovered that those who simply sat amongst greenery for a total of two hours a week felt healthier and happier than those who did not.
- Australian researchers found that spending at least 30 minutes a day in green spaces reduced depression among the subjects by 7%, and high blood pressure by 9%.
- Research from the University of Michigan found that simply being in the garden reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and improves mood. Benefits were felt after 10 minutes but for maximum effect, 20-30 minutes should be spent outside during daylight at least 3 times a week.
- Swedish researchers have shown in studies that the smells from the garden help to reduce stress levels.
- A Norwegian study food that women who have lifelong exposure to green spaces are less likely to suffer with premenstrual symptoms like anxiety.
- The World Health Organisation found in 2019, that people who lived in, or near, green spaces tended to live longer than those who did not.
How to Garden Bathe
Garden bathing involves stepping into that state where you are so absorbed by the moment that you lose all sense of time, so ideally set aside 20-30 minutes, to allow your mind to unwind.
Find a Sheltered Spot
Find a spot surrounded by as much of the garden as you can. You can bring plants in pots nearer to you to help you feel cosseted. At this time of year, look for a spot that provides some shelter from the wind, maybe with a solid structure like a wall, fence, or shed behind you. If the ground is wet, put a waterproof rug down under your chair and bring a blanket for warmth. Wrap up in a warm coat, hats, and gloves – you can even pop a hot water bottle under the blanket if there is a chill in the air.
Turn Off Your Phone
Properly turn it off. Even better turn if off, and leave it inside.
Settle in your seat, in your cosy spot, with your feet on the ground.
Focus on slowing your breathing for a couple of minutes, in through your nose, and out through your mind, to help your body and mind slow down.
Absorb the Surroundings
Look around your garden. Look down at the ground. Look at the colours and shapes of the plants. Look at the leaf textures. Look at the blades of grass. Look at the spaces in between the plants. Look up at the sky. Close your eyes. What can you hear? What can you smell?
Finish with Deliberate Breathing
Breathe slowly again in through the nose and out through the mouth to finish before you head indoors.
Other Things to Try
Mix up your garden bathing experiences to help you attune to different aspects of your garden.
Find a Natural Object
Look for an object from your garden like a leaf, a flower, a stone. How does it feel in your hand? What is the texture like? Notice if it feels warm, cold, wet, dry, heavy, light, or textured.
Try a Different Spot
Choose different spots to help you appreciate your garden from different angles.
Try a Walk
Walk slowly through your garden, allowing yourself to stop, look at, and touch anything which catches your attention, noticing all the colours, shapes, and textures.
Try Lying Down
Put a rug on your patio or deck, or on top of a waterproof covering if the lawn is wet. Lie down and notice your surroundings for a whole new perspective on your garden. This way is great for noticing things at ground level which you normally step over.
Try a Different Time
Try a garden bathe at different times of the day – early in the morning to lift your energy, or towards sunset to help you unwind from the day.