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Time in nature is essential for keeping us healthy and happy, whatever the season. Katie Mills, founder of a London-based forest school, explores some of the key reasons why and invites you to venture out for some nature therapy with this specially developed magical mystery nature tour.
The self-led walk and activities can be used in any park or green space for a wellbeing boost. Rejuvenate your body and mind and discover the life-changing magic and wonder of nature.
Time in nature is essential. It calms and helps our bodies in amazing ways. We feel energised, sleep better and become more creative and focused. But connecting with nature goes deeper still, affecting our organs, immune system and even our cells in positive ways.
The impact of nature on our bodies and minds stems from evolution. Have you heard of biophilia? It's the theory that because humans evolved for millions of years surrounded by nature, we have an unshakable need to connect with natural things.
Our body is adapted to be outdoors. Our eyes are meant to scan a horizon, and their vast colour range evolved from our need to find ripe fruits within a green canopy. When birds sing, we tend to relax - birdsong is an excellent signal that no threats lurk behind us.
Our nervous system's 'fight or flight' response would once have saved us from a sabre-toothed cat. Nowadays, nature is one of the best ways to shift us into 'rest and recovery' mode.
If the natural world is our true home, then it's no surprise that nature is where we feel happiest and most at ease, and where our bodies and minds best recover from the stresses and strains of modern living. In today's world, connecting with nature has never been more important.
Connecting with nature is about engaging all your senses and taking time to slow down, to be in the moment. It's a journey, not a destination. Put away your phone, be led by a child or inner child. Use each stopping point as an invitation to reflect upon and share with others what you discover and feel along the way.
Let's get started!
You can either follow the magical mystery nature tour instructions below or download the tour guide PDF.
1. First, choose your outdoor space - a local park, green space or even a quiet, tree-lined street. Nature is all around, so you don't need to look too far.
When you are ready to begin, remember to slow down, be mindful and take time between stop points to share and reflect.
2. Now look for a tree and head towards it.
As you get closer, look carefully at your tree. Take it all in: its branches, trunk and bark. What can you see? What do you notice? How does it feel and smell?
Now let's really look. Find the tip of a high branch and follow it down slowly with your eyes, each twist and turn down to its trunk, then down further, imagining the branch reaching down and out deep within the soil beneath you. Repeat with other branches.
3. Now head towards a little spot that looks safe and quiet.
It's time to tune in to the sounds of nature. First, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Be still and just listen silently for as long as you can to the layers of sound around you.
4. Find a bird and follow its direction or call until you reach an open space.
Imagine being a bird and seeing as it does. What is the farthest thing you can see? Spend time gazing into the distance at clouds, treetops, hills, the sky.
After a few minutes, change your focus to something very near - the earth beneath you, a plant, a leaf, a tiny ant. Focus on its smallest details and take your time.
5. Now look around. What is the brightest thing you can see? Walk towards it.
You are now on a treasure hunt. Your challenge is to find three nature treasures, things that catch your eye and are safe to pick up. Take your time to wander until you find your treasures. Place them together on the ground.
What have you found? Can you combine them to create something new - a picture, a pattern, a creature with magical powers?
6. We're at the end of the mystery tour but not your journey to connect with nature. Every day is a chance to reconnect with nature, whether you are outdoors or just looking through a window.
Before you leave, choose one of your treasures to take home and place it where you can see it as a reminder of this magical nature wander.
Katie Mills is a pioneering London-based nature connector. For information on Forest & Family and their nature connection programmes, visit www.katiemills.co.uk.