Nature Connection & re-wilding yourself in all weathers
18th November 2020
Why not make getting out in all weathers your next adventure?
Whilst we love being in woodland and forests, we realise that during autumn and winter, especially when we are in another lockdown, it’s not always possible. However, getting outside and connecting with nature, in whatever way you can, has been proven to help mental wellbeing and health. There is now unequivocal evidence from numerous studies round the world that support this, as well as additional research we are doing into Forest Bathing through the institute here in England.
We get it though, at this time of the year when it’s cold, wet and damp, as well as shorter daylight hours, it’s easy to feel discouraged from getting outside. However, re-framing the way we feel about going out in all weathers, seeing it as a route to adventure and unique experiences, may be just the mindset change we need!
I remember a winter Forest Bathing + session in Newlands corner one January. My bed was warm, outside was definitely not. However, when I arrived the mist descended and brought an air of magic and mystery to everything , it even had it’s own sound in the woods, as moisture droplets settled on leaves and picked out tiny gossamer spiders’ webs that I may otherwise have missed entirely. To this day it’s one of my favourite forest bathing memories.
At the time of writing, Autumn still brings daily changes. The leaves continue turning and falling, a carnival of colour. The woodland is noticeably changing every day. The smells are new, the texture is changing underfoot, the light is often golden, there’s so much to notice.
As we tail out of Autumn and into winter it’s a fantastic time to be out in nature.
Embrace the elements!
Wind and rain can be exhilarating! As a child, did you ever lean into the wind with your coat held open like a sail or tilt your face up to feel the drops of rain? A ‘bracing walk’, allows us to experience the energy of the elements and it really can be breath-taking. In fact in Hindu philosophies, including yoga, they refer to the breath as ‘prana’ which can be translated as ‘life force’. In other traditions it is called chi or qui. Next time the wind picks up, why not nip outside and take some deep breaths for a high-energy pick-me-up.
Breathe in the unique smells of autumn and winter:
If the weather’s damp and grey, take a deep inhale! You may find smells are stronger in damp weather. Savour the smells of autumn, from the fallen leaves and damp earth to woodsmoke on the air.
A damp forest can also bring out a multitude of new and familiar smells; lichen can smell a little citrusy, the leaf litter can bring back memories of childhood walks, when you were kicking through the leaves. Pause and give something a sniff! What do the smells mean to you?
A wintery morning walk, with a sharpness to the air, is a true joy at this time of year
An early morning walk, when few people are out and about, and the quality of the light is beautiful, is not only a lovely experience, but a great way to get some sunshine, which may help to maintain your vitamin D levels as well as assisting your wake/sleep cycle and circadian rhythm.
Frost is also beautiful and fleeting – you’ll often need to be up in the first hour or two of daylight to catch it glinting across the landscape and turning everything white and silver. It really is worth getting out of bed for. Maybe wear your cosiest scarf or favourite winter warmer.
Regular walks outside can help the extended time indoors to feel more manageable, as well as help you figure out what times feel best for you. If you’re working from home, then a nature break in the middle of the day may make that next zoom call feel much more productive! Some people have even started ‘fake commuting’, and the beauty of working from home is that your walk to and from work can be as short or as long as you like!
If you can take the time to sit still, it’s a great time to sit in the woods or a park and watch the leaves fall, or to close your eyes and listen. Really listen closely, and you’ll likely hear the confetti of falling leaves clattering against branches as they fall to the woodland floor.
As we move through autumn and towards winter, the quality and colour of the light changes throughout the day. At dusk, if you observe a woodland on a hill as the trees become bare and more sunlight shines through, it can look like it’s being lit from the inside, like a grand hall of nature. Some people find it sad to see the trees when they’ve lost their leaves, but have you noticed how beautiful a sunrise and sunset can look behind a silhouette of bare and sleeping trees?
But it’s cold!
Well, yes, it’s getting colder out there. Think of the many joyful photos you’ve seen of people on holiday in the snow – why not make time for a winter mini break where you are right now? Dig out your warmest winter coat, pop outside and imagine you’re on holiday in your lunch break.
Did you ever catch snowflakes on your tongue as a child? Capture that feeling of magic and keep it safe – I bet it’s the snowflake you remember, not how cold your nose was at the time.
Dusky wandering and moonlit strolling
We may not be “going OUT out” on the town at the moment, but if you wrap up warm and plan for safety and visibility, the night time can still be a great time to be out.
As dusk begins to fall you may see mammals that are nocturnal, as well as those traditionally shyer and more cautious during daylight. If you’re particularly lucky, you may be treated to a bat circling, snapping up bugs, or a badger passing through. Try spending a few moments listening too, and notice how the sounds, and the quality of sound itself, may change. At this time of year, it’s likely you will hear the hoot of an owl. You may hear rustling in the undergrowth as mammals move through fallen leaves and find themselves moving less quietly than in the summer months.
If you’ve ever seen a child delightedly splashing in puddles, you’ll know how much fun it CAN be to get out in the rain, if that’s what we’re there for!
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
― Alfred Wainwright, author and creator of the Coast to Coast walk
Rain is also an opportunity, it’s not ‘bad’ weather, it just needs the right clothes! Don’t be put off getting out into nature when it rains. With a good waterproof jacket, good footwear, and ideally a pair of waterproof trousers, you’ll be all set. There are many benefits, and rain creates a whole different experience if you’re there to enjoy it, rather than get your head down and get through it to get from A to B. You can even listen to the rain on the hood of your raincoat – does it remind you of camping trips?!
Warming to the colder weather
Hot chocolate held in gloved hands, snow melting from boots by a fire, tingling fingers, warming up. Think of how many happy memories involve getting bundled up warm and heading outside. Crisp cold air and warming drinks and snacks are a key element of those outdoor events that people are missing this year. We may not be able to gather at the moment, but how about heading out for a chilly walk or a winter picnic with your household, and comparing notes with others on-screen when you get back?
So, what do you need to consider for your own Autumn or Winter nature trip?
Layering is a must – our general rule of thumb is that you will usually need at least one more layer than you think! You can find some pointers here on our pages, or here from Forestry England.
Do be cautious of high winds. While listening to the breeze through the trees as the leaves begin to fall can be deeply relaxing, your safety always comes first.
If you are planning to spend some time quietly sitting and waiting to see what wildlife will show itself (and we highly recommend doing this), then you may appreciate a flask of hot drink.
If we haven’t quite persuaded you to slow down on your next trip outdoors, we still encourage you to spend time outside and enjoy the beauty of nature, however you do that and whoever with (or by yourself). In fact, getting moving can also be a great way to warm yourself up! If you’re heading into nature specifically to relax and mindfully connect, and if you’re up for trying some Forest Bathing, here’s a few pointers:
Slowing Down is at the heart of Forest Bathing
Forest Bathing is about slowing right down. At this time of year, that means extra preparation for the resulting drop in temperature.
Your body temperature will drop as you move from your sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system, and the one thing we find is people not wearing enough layers. Please, please layer up!
If you decide to head in to the woods, good footwear is pretty essential to protect your feet, keep you warm and dry, and provide grip. Mud and loose leaf litter may get slippery, even when the weather is dry. A good thick pair of socks will also help keep you warm and enable you to stay for longer.
While Forest Bathing is at it’s best in silence, getting out into nature is also going to be a good way to have some human connection, as a socially distanced walk can be a great way to reconnect with a friend (and currently the law allows one person from outside your household, when properly distanced), especially if you’re feeling in need of a break from the screen.
If it feels safe and secluded enough to do so, explore textures with your fingertips, or the back of your hand. If not, try exploring those different textures just with your eyes instead; how are they different, what are their qualities, how does the texture effect the way the light is caught.
At the other end of the scale, for many people it may be a way of making space and spending some time in solitude, quietly in the company of yourself and the wildlife around you.
A warm welcome back home
If you know you’re going to be cooling down, preparing to warm up again when you get home gives you something extra to look forward to! A warming bowl of soup and crusty roll when you get back, a pair of cosy socks, warming on the radiator perhaps. What can you do to welcome yourself back home after an outdoors adventure?
Tell us about your wild walks, forest wanderings and Forest Bathing experiences, and what they mean to you.
This is the first of four articles designed to inspire your own nature connection journeys – next week we go for exploring nature on an urban walk, then into our gardens, and finally exploring nature connection indoors when you can’t go out. We’ll also be talking more about the joys of a rainy day, and how to bring mindfulness in to your daily routine.