Benefiting from nature - Sidmouth Arboretum offers healthy remedies

PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:59 12 June 2018

The Byes in the spring. Picture: Diana East

The Byes in the spring. Picture: Diana East

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The natural world offers some great remedies to the stresses of modern life, writes Diana East, of Sidmouth Arboretum.

Salcombe Hill.Salcombe Hill.

Normally Sidmouth Arboretum steers clear of being labelled ‘tree huggers’ a somewhat derogatory term, originating from the days when protesters hugged trees threatened by developers.

These days terms such as ‘forest bathing’ are being used by organisations including the National Trust, Forestry Commission, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and just this month, the house newspaper of Waitrose.

They were reporting on research from Kings College, London, on the benefits of spending time out in the woods, how there is an atmosphere of calm and peace and quiet, not to mention song birds to listen to, cool from the heat, shelter from the wind.

So why ‘bathing’? I would suggest a sort of submerging yourself in the trees, letting the forest atmosphere flow over you. It comes from Japanese Shinrin-yoku.

Keble's Seat. Picture: Diana EastKeble's Seat. Picture: Diana East

Graham Cooper, a Sidmouth-based architectural designer who knows Japan well, says “The country’s most sacred Shinto site, the wooden Ise shrine, is located deep in a large dense forest.

“So I guess they have a much more profound historical connection with nature and the spirits of the trees than we do.”

Graham is the author of Art and Nature: Healing. Design for Health in the UK and Japan, which features the design of healing spaces around hospitals.

The benefits of green environment are well known whether viewed from a hospital bed or visited for a short time by in patients and visitors.

A helping hand. Picture: Diana EastA helping hand. Picture: Diana East

As long ago as 1984, research in Pennsylvania by Roger Ulrich ‘demonstrated that even as little as 15 minutes spent among trees can lower cortisol levels, boost the immune system and reduce anxiety’.

The clinical benefits of a greater connection to the natural environment include reduced stress, faster recovery time and less use of strong painkillers.

The benefits of the open air, the outside, putting away the intrusion and competitive aspects of the phone, are increasingly being seen as an antidote to mental health problems in the young.

Steve Potter, a Sidmouth-based, widely-read voluntary mentor, gives an example of his approach.

A summer walk. Picture Diana EastA summer walk. Picture Diana East

He said: “I took a guy with low self-esteem on a forest walk recently. I mentioned wood ants.

“Wood ants?

“Yes, like the garden variety but big. Friendly so long as you don’t mess with them!

“We ventured off the path a little until I spotted a mound about a metre in circumference, busy with ant-traffic.

“He was amazed, and like my dog, he seemed visibly revitalised in the peace, fragrance and freedom - no cars, few people, nothing to trigger even a memory of stress.

“He was moved: ‘Beauty, I never knew was here, so close, and I’m a part of it, while the world outside is light-years away; thank you for bringing me here, you’re right, it’s amazing - and it’s free’.”

So perhaps that is ‘forest bathing’ – using the healing power of nature.

Just sit.

Listen.

Look.

Too simple?

Try it!

Links:

www.forestholidays.co.uk/things-to-do/forest-bathing

www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/may/06/japanese-art-of-forest-bathing

www.nhsforest.org/evidence

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