FORCE Oncology Support Specialist Sally Hoult has some advice on enjoying the benefits of nature and the warmth of human company as we move gradually out of winter and lockdown measures ease.
I have always loved walking, particularly dog walking, and nature seems to have a secret way of making us feel happier, more positive, open chested and fresher. Of course, this is partly due to having more oxygen in our lungs, but it seems that nature goes deeper than helping our physical health.
It touches the unconscious mind and the soul. Being in nature is both physical and sensory and at this time of year as Spring is certainly springing, we cannot but notice the splashes of colour of daffodils, crocuses and primroses, together with hearing the birds chirping and singing as they search for somewhere to nest, coupled with feeling the warmth of the sun on our faces and backs for the first time in what seems like ages.
Walking in a mindful way is about the quality of the attention we give to what is around us and can allow us to feel more grounded, more present. It can help prevent our thoughts from running away and ruminating on worries, uncertainties.
We can acknowledge what is happening, notice these thoughts for what they are and bring ourselves back to the sensations of what we can currently hear, see and feel. If the mind feels scattered, we can try to narrow our thoughts down to the here and now.
We know instinctively how our bodies affect our emotional selves and vice versa.
Posture is affected by how we feel – if feeling vulnerable, we tend to hold ourselves in a more closed-in way, protecting our soft tummies and exposed chest by curling in towards the foetal position. Or we can put up a front by puffing our chests out and broadening our shoulders looking brave and strong. We tend to smile most when looking up and to cry when looking downwards.
We may have felt rather “closed in” or withdrawn over the winter, especially during lockdown.
Most of us have experienced those confusing messages as children:
“You can’t be feeling tired we’ve only just set off.”
“You can’t be hungry, you only had lunch half an hour ago.”
So perhaps we stop trying to hear what our bodies are telling us, and therefore no longer sure what our default is for coping.
And when enduring both lockdown withdrawal and distress from illness, bereavement, anxiety about appointments etc it isn’t always clear how to soothe body and mind.
When we really pay attention to our bodies, we uncover all sorts of messages, often becoming metaphorical – being a pain in the neck; having butterflies in the tummy; it’s giving me earache.
Especially as we live in a society which perhaps cuts us off from our “embodied” knowing or intuition, we can become cerebral, using computers, phones, tv etc to try to distract, or very physical pounding away in the gym, for example.
Things that can help include:
Paying attention to the body’s messages – what are the pains and discomforts? If the discomfort was as metaphor what would it say?
Be mindful and tap into meditation if possible.
Paying attention to your emotions, what might they be telling you?
Physical actions such as putting your hands over your heart; putting one hand on the back of your skull and the other on your forehead; wrapping your arms around yourself; telling yourself you are good enough just as you are.
Try soothing this distressed part of you by including yoga, a complementary therapy just as soon as they are running again, and if at all possible, to enjoy nature in its abundance. The health benefits of walking in nature can enhance the efficiency of healing and of therapies.
After all, nature is our ancient home and we have only being living in urbanised areas for a few centuries, so stopping from time to time and looking around us, taking a deep breath and feeling the wind on your face and being fully mindful of what you are experiencing really can help to calm and restore.
As we come out of lockdown, reflecting on what has happened this last year, especially the last few months of winter and longing to be able to meet together with family and friends, albeit outside and in our gardens, there is a golden opportunity to enjoy not just the warmth of human company again but to enjoy the sensations of sitting in a park, garden, bench – of being in nature too.