“Running routes around Cardiff”
In a world dictated by iPhone screens and desk jobs, we have become a generation of over-worked, square eyed, slightly crazed adults (almost) who spend the majority of our lives sitting down indoors. Think about it, when was the last time you actually walked anywhere further than from your front door to a uni building? And no, swanning around a nightclub, or puffing on a treadmill in an overfilled gym lacking any sort of natural light does not count either.
In this day and age, work revolves around computer screens, and procrastination time is dictated by endless scrolling on Facebook feeds filled with puppy videos and memes. We read the news online, we speak to our loved ones online, we watch Netflix after a long hard day of email answering, typing and googling. Multitasking has become an autopilot activity, with thoughts jumbled, darting, flitting from one digital device to the next
“ when was the last time you actually walked anywhere further than from your front door to a uni building? ”
So entrenched has this reliance on technology become, that we no longer notice our inability to switch off and pay attention to the world around us.
This is where the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku comes in. Literally translating to ‘forest bathing’, the term was coined by the Japanese government in 1982 and refers to indulgence in nature for the benefit of our physical and psychological health. The therapeutic practice is about letting nature into your body and soul through use of all five senses.
Contrary to an invigorating hike whereby the final destination is often the focus, Shinrin-yoku encourages us frazzled over-thinkers to take a breath, slow down, and appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of nature. The journey itself becomes the focus. No technology and no materialistic thoughts, forest bathing requires you to simply pay attention to the beauty of the moment. Chill pills are no longer necessary as far as the Japanese are concerned; grab your hat and scarf, and take a nap on the blanket of fallen autumn leaves on the forest floor (maybe this is a bit too hippy-esque, but you get the gist).
“ Shinrin-yoku encourages us to take a breath, slow down, and appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of nature. ”
Can you get more Zen than that? Seriously though, it works. Cardiff is an especially green capital centre. Bute park spans for miles across the city, and the River Taff rushes and weaves through the trees towards quiet pockets of greenery. In the North, where I grew up, the Wenallt Woods boasts 44 hectares of ancient woodland which blooms in the summer light, and weeps golden amber leaves as as the air cools. With an abundance of open space at your doorsteps, excuses of being a broke student without a car, fall on deaf ears.
Living next to the forest, I hike at least once a week. Silence usually scares me, for ugly thoughts and feelings of self-doubt crawl out of well hidden shadows with each deafeningly quiet minute. In the Bluebell Woods, as we call her in the summertime, the silence is kinder. It heals, rather than wounds, and invites you to relish in its silence, rather than drown in its uncertainties.
“ Studies have shown that fresh air and brisk walks in mountainous or woodland areas improve our levels of calmness and increase our sense of happiness ”
Yet even while knowing the healing powers of nature very well, I treat this activity as something that I should ‘fit’ into my life every so often.
When I do make time to hike, I’m in a rush, only ever able to spare an hour to race through the trees and tick that box for the day: cardio done. And I know I’m not the only one.
Enjoying the great outdoors has become a luxury the majority of us don’t have time for. That recommended daily dose of fresh air is now gulped sparingly as we scurry from uni building to uni building, before the dash home in the dark is replaced seamlessly by drawn curtains, essays and BBC iPlayer (if we’re feeling really wild).
Yet studies have shown that fresh air and brisk walks in mountainous or woodland areas improve our levels of calmness and increase our sense of happiness, making it a powerful anti-stress buster. Next time you feel you may crack from societal pressure pushing you to succeed at all costs, don’t hide away in that dingy uni room nursing a Dominoes. Get out of the house. Gulp that cold air, find some trees, wander through a local park; take notice of everything you see, and listen.
I want to see the changing colour of the leaves, and the cascades of burnt orange that now replace the sea of blue petals and wild garlic.
This week, I’m swapping my rushed stomp around the forest for a more relaxing bathe in the trees, with mindfulness, and not cardio in mind.
Though I’m not about to rub bark on my face and take up residence in one of the wooden wigwams dotted around out here, I’ll be doing my best to stop scrolling, and start strolling on these freezing winter mornings in search of that feral woodsy scent. Maybe I’ll return with clearer, wilder eyes, or maybe I’ll upload that snapchat photo to Instagram, so that everyone knows how in touch I am with nature (guilty).
Written by Emily Jones, 11 months ago