Sarah’s Health Notes: Why We All Need Vitamin N For Nature
It seems fitting with Chelsea Flower Show coming into full bloom this week to think about one of my favourite poems simply called The Garden by 17th century English poet Andrew Marvell. He wrote about the ‘wondrous life’ he found in a garden – and about the mind withdrawing into happiness: ‘Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade’. (Do look it up, it’s a joy to mull.)
Team Beauty Bible is mad about gardens – working in them, sitting and dreaming in them, pricking out seedlings/planting up, cutting roses and the rest – but the reason the Marvell poem drifted into my mind a few days back was a walk – well, sometimes a scramble - through the wonderful Lydford Gorge, the deepest ravine in the South West with a spectacular 30 metre waterfall.
The water takes on different characters: still, pellucid, tranquil rock pools where you can paddle; dancing, sparkling, frolicking streams; fiercer, wilder surges, scudding geyser like over the rocks. And all around, tall trees – their tops like green steeples reaching up to the sky.
As Marvell alluded to, walking through the forest down to the gorge and then tracing its journey back beside the water really did sweep my mind clear and clean. Which made me think of the concept of ‘forest bathing’, a Japanese practice of relaxation and meditation. According to Forestry England, ‘The simple method of being calm and quiet among the trees, observing nature around you while breathing deeply can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and wellbeing in a natural way’. (There are simple tips for beginners on the website here.)
Immersion in Nature has been recognised for decades as vital for our mind and body health. NHS England says ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of being outdoors to people’s mental and physical health’ but, as they add, not everyone has access to green space. The Government is working on more green social prescribing and increasing access for all but meanwhile most of us can find our way to a green space.
Many inner city councils are regenerating urban parks for city dwellers and, often, there is public transport to larger areas. Google is a huge asset here: I discovered Fields In Trust, for instance, which offers an option to ‘Find your local Fields in Trust space’ by putting in your postcode. I live in Dorset and found all sorts of information on opportunities for all ages and stages.
Not for nothing is Nature known as vitamin N. But access to Nature should be more than the equivalent of a supplement. It’s vital for our wellbeing. As Reading GP Dr William Bird, who pioneered ‘green prescriptions’ in the 1990s, says: ‘Our whole body’s system – perfect for being a hunter gatherer – thrives on being active in the natural environment but is hopelessly unsuited for today’s lifestyle. We have changed lifestyles in an evolutionary blink of the eye but the body will taken many thousands to years to adapt.’
So be kind to yourself, find a green space near you and allow green thoughts in a green shade to calm your mind and balance your body.
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