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Embracing the art of Shinrin-Yoku

Shinrin Yoku book

I’ve always loved Nature and how being in Nature makes me feel. This feeling prompted my training as an environmental biologist and subsequent years of working within nature conservation organisations. What has stayed and grown within me is the desire to help others to experience this sense of well-being when they are in nature too.  More and more evidence is becoming available about the health and well-being effects of nature.   ‘Ecotherapy’ is now becoming mainstream, and some NHS services are commissioning ‘social prescribing’, that is, prescribing activities which benefit the health of patients – ecotherapy is high on this list.  I love the multi-sensory approach to mindfulness in nature – bringing all our senses into the experience of being fully present. As we walk into a forest, seeing, listening, smelling, tasting and touching, we bring our body’s rhythms into step with nature. I recently spent time on the edge of Dartmoor immersed in woodlands, on a Shinrin-Yoku practitioner training course – and am now learning more and more about it, so that I can bring it into my teaching practice later this year. Shinrin -Yoku, or the art of Forest Bathing was introduced as a national health programme in Japan in 1982, and is now practised regularly by millions of Japanese people. Evidence has shown that just a 2 hour Forest Bathing immersion, connecting to nature using all your 5 senses offers a vast array of benefits. Shinrin-Yoku is described as being like a bridge. By opening our senses it bridges the gap between us and the natural world. it has been proven that Shinrin-Yoku can: Reduce blood pressure, Lower stress, Improve cardiovascular and metabolic health, Lower blood-sugar levels, Improve concentration and memory, Lift depression, Improve pain thresholds, Improve energy, Boost the immune system, with an increase in the count of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells, Boost anti-cancer protein production, Help you to lose weight. WOW! By 2050, it is estimated that 75% of the human population will live in cities, and yet we are at heart, part of the natural world. 

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Summer time at the sea – new morning routine

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It’s summer time and we are enjoying long days bright with sunshine, with light waking us up and lingering until late evening. Whilst I am living by the sea, I am making the most of this opportunity to experience the outdoors and the beach. I’m not, I hasten attempting to squeeze into a small space to lie amongst hundreds of sun worshippers on their holidays, but am spending these light early mornings and late summer evenings outdoors and feeling immense gratitude that life is allowing this, this year.

The opportunity to practice mindfulness on the beach is just too good to pass up and is so worth getting out of bed for. Rising early, walking as the sun begins to gently warm the day, and taking my breakfast with me. Settling in for an hour to enjoy the food and drink I’ve prepared, to people watch and to engage in mindful activities: meditation with the breeze and the warmth of the sun on my face; barefoot mindful walking, feeling the sand and pebbles under my feet.  Paddling at the waters edge, becoming fully aware of the sea – the coldness and the sensations as it laps against my ankles;  how the waves form and cast themselves onto the shore, the soothing sound of the waves as they rise and collapse on the sand.  Even pebbles and shells can provide mindful contemplation with so many textures, sizes, patterns, colours scattered along the shoreline.

Practising multisensory mindfulness in nature on a beach is a delight – do try it if you are having a week or two by the coast this summer. Become aware of all sensory stimuli – sounds, sights, scents, textures. And with open curiosity, be mindful of  how these stimuli differ, or feel similar to natural stimuli in your home environment.

Taking time out for recovery and reflection

 

 

fullsizeoutput_20cI’ve been quiet for a while, and that’s because I’ve been going through a major life change. I’ve sold our family home, which has been part of our lives for nearly 25 years and have spent the last 6 weeks intensively clearing, sorting and packing. Last week I closed the door on my home for the last time and said goodbye to it. It’s been an interesting, emotional, intense few weeks.

Letting go

Despite regular clear outs, I have spent a couple of months letting go of possessions that had been deliberately held on to. Things that immediately bring back memories of my young children, friends, places visited, special moments. I discovered boxes of letters written 20-30 years ago by friends and former sweethearts. It was important to me to read these, to remember those times, those individuals – before letting them go, keeping only the most special. I realised just how much I had collected and accumulated over 25 years – it was time to let go of schoolbooks, old reports, my children’s artwork (anyone else have a portfolio of their children’s art?) – this was photographed for posterity first – and I agonised over some of it once it had gone.  I’ve worked from home for many years – and as a result of this, I had stored boxes and files related to that work. Again, time to sift, recap, sort and discard, keeping only the most significant and those which are still relevant to my future endeavours. This sifting offered another trip down memory lane, as I revisited my varied career and read reports and correspondence from time working overseas, from starting up new ventures, from colleagues who have passed on since that time. On reflection, it has been much easier to let go of household items, which cost more money to acquire – dishes, furniture, appliances – than it was to let go of those personal letters, paintings and reports. Appliances and furniture don’t require a revisit to your 20, 25, 30 year old self, to your former toddlers and young children.

Of course, the biggest letting go has been the house itself. It was time to end a chapter. But of course, when the prospect of leaving is an absolute reality, nostalgia floods in and one is constantly assailed with memories, with appreciation of its attributes, with gratitude for its constant presence – a nest, a crucible for family life, a haven, a space to let go and be oneself. And nostalgia hits equally with the community – a place which, like the house, has become interwoven with us, with our souls and our lives. Extricating one’s thread from the tapestry of a place leaves one colour less – until a new entrant adds their particular thread and the tapestry continues. On reflection, I feel so fortunate to have lived in that house and within that community.

Mindful self-awareness

This has been the closing of a chapter. And it has been mentally and physically exhausting. I am in an intermediate zone, staying in a Cornish cottage, recuperating, catching up on sleep and pausing to reflect. Being mindful of self-care, aware of what I need right now to recover. I hope soon to start dreaming of the next chapter, of what it might be, of where it might happen. Considering what to harvest from all that has gone before, what to carry through into the future. With no concrete plans, it feels a bit dangerous – there is an element of fear making its presence felt – a new home has not materialised yet – and I am acutely noting this mental and emotional state – and trying to ride it. Letting go has been and still is very important. Discernment, openness, acceptance also. Allowing mindful self- awareness every day. Allowing time – holding a space for a new chapter to emerge.

 

Signs of Spring – a mindful walk

The sun was shining when I woke up yesterday morning, so I made plans for an outing, with one intention in mind – to look for signs of Spring. Armed with my phone camera, the arrival at Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire was heralded by blustery winds and a very cold rain shower – lots of weather to contend with!

Walking around the gardens in search of springtime was a delight for the eyes, and awakened my vision to things I might not have noticed had I not been fully engaged on my quest – I discovered carpets of snowdrops, bright yellow Winter Aconites growing next to acid yellow lichens on a fallen twig, buds sprouting from tree branches, catkins, gorgeous pink cyclamen plants in shadier spaces next to trees. I was aware when out of the wind, of how fabulous the warmth of the sun felt on my face and body.

It wasn’t just the early spring plant life that caught my attention. Watching the behaviour of the numerous water birds in the lakes, it was clear that they too were affected by the oncoming season, and were gearing up for its arrival. There was immense delight to be found in each of these small revelations; even the quality of light yesterday seemed to contain a promise of warmer, sunnier days to come. By contrast, I was certainly fully present on the walk back to the visitor centre, as the wind changed and virtually chased us indoors! With smarting ears and cheeks we gratefully embraced a hot drink in the café, watching the outdoor environment turn white as the snow started to come down at a rapid rate. An immense feeling of gratitude came from the memory of the walk we had just had, the discoveries that were made and the relief to be in the warm again.

Signs of Spring are everywhere around us at the moment – the weather may be cold, and sometimes inclement, but Nature knows that the time has come for emergence and growth. I encourage everyone to turn this change in the seasons into a delightful experience of awareness.

Grant yourself a moment of peace

Grant yourself a moment of peace,
and you will understand
how foolishly you have scurried about.
Learn to be silent,
and you will notice that
you have talked too much.
Be kind,
and you will realize that
your judgment of others was too severe.

~The Tao of Wealth

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Autumn Mindfulness Morning 21st October

A perfect way to boost your well-being this Autumn!
The term Mindfulness is being used more often these days, but what is it all about? Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation practice whilst incorporating activities which resonate with contemporary lifestyles.

It is a gentle, easy way to reduce stress and anxiety, to help you live more in the present and develop appreciation for each moment.

Mindfulness practice helps us to let go of mind chatter and judgement. It also helps us to foster compassion for ourselves and others.

This workshop will introduce you to mindfulness using practical techniques which are easy and enjoyable to try.

We’ll explore formal techniques such as following the breath, body scan or loving kindness meditation, and try some informal ways of mindfulness practice which can easily be continued at home.

The price of this workshop is £27.
For bookings and enquiries please click here.

Enjoy being Mindful this Springtime

At last, the dark Winter days are over and Spring is here! But, how many of us are really paying attention to what is outside our window?

So much is happening right now! I originally trained as an environmental biologist and am now a passionate advocate of ecotherapy. I believe, and research has proven, that spending time out in nature is good for us! So, I invite you to step outside……. go to a local park, walk along a canal path, spend time in a bluebell wood, sit on a bench in your garden – and immerse yourself in the burgeoning life that is happening all around you this Spring.

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Close your eyes and feel the warmth of the sunshine on your face and body; listen to the symphony of birdsong; feel the breeze in your hair and upon your cheeks and hands; look at the colours – the vibrant greens, the blossoms, the gorgeous blue-purple of the bluebells. Gently touch and feel the delicacy of petals, breathe in and smell the scents of the flowers and tree blossoms. Be fully present in these moments, experience them completely, with all your senses. And know that you are intrinsically connected to nature and can reconnect any time you choose to.

 

8 week Mindfulness course starts in May

I’m delighted to be offering an 8 week mindfulness course in the community, starting 8th May.    If you want to develop a regular mindfulness practice, better manage stress, calm the mind and cope with juggling a busy life, this is for you! Mindfulness can help you to develop compassion towards yourself and others, bring in a sense of well-being and to let go of judgemental thinking. Within a small group, this eight week life skills course will include mindfulness meditation, gentle stretching and movement, mindful walking, group dialogue and discussion, combined with your own home practice.

The course will take place at The Old School Community Hub, Ivinghoe, on Monday evenings on the following dates: 8th, 15th, 22nd May, 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th June, 3rd July. There are just 9 spaces in total and bookings are open.

For further information and to book your place on this course, please use my contact form or email at sara@saragreenwood.co.uk