Updated: Jun 26, 2020
There are so many ways in which time spent in nature is good for our health. Studies show that spending time in nature lowers our blood pressure, as well as levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, and helps us to restore our attention. In a time of increased isolation where many of us are forced to stay at home, the question I've been carrying this week is:
How do we enjoy the health benefits of nature, if we cannot get to nature?
The reality of our modern society is, unfortunately, that access to green spaces is often a privilege that not everyone gets to enjoy. Maybe you live somewhere where there just isn't a lot of nature around. Maybe you can get to nature, but that would require taking crowded public transport, defeating the purpose of social distancing. Perhaps you just don't feel safe being out at all right now. If you find yourself mostly inside these days, here are a few ideas to support you in enjoying some of the health benefits of nature time, while staying indoors:
Look at pictures. There are many studies which show that merely looking at nature scenery can help us access the benefits of nature time. See, for example, this article by Brown, Barton & Gladwell (2013) which finds that simply viewing nature scenes helped people recover from mental stress. If you have any nature pictures around the house: in old magazines or photo albums - spend some time really looking at them. Notice what you're noticing as you look. If you have Internet access, there are also amazing live webcams such as Africam, which make it possible for us to view nature scenery in our own homes by broadcasting live from within beautiful reserves such as Kwa-Maritane.
Sit spot by the window. Sit spot is a lovely practice within forest bathing. The invitation for sit spot is: "Find somewhere you'd like to be for the next 20 minutes, and just be there. Allow yourself to do nothing." You can do this indoors by sitting at a window for a while and letting go of all expectation that you need to be doing/thinking anything in the time that you'll be there. Simply notice what you're noticing outside of your window: Some clouds gathering in the sky? A bird you've never paid much attention to before? Cars and people?
Sniff around. Our sense of smell can be a powerful tool in aiding relaxation. Do you have a lovely scented candle or essential oils at home? Spend some time really paying attention to the scent that your candle or oils give off. You can invite in your sense of smell without any candles or oils by simply noticing what it is that you can smell around you: Maybe there is a breeze blowing through your window and it's carrying in a scent that you find pleasing? Try to refrain from going into an intellectual exercise with this invitation. In other words, its not about trying to identify what it is you are smelling: Stick to the sense of smell and simply notice what you're noticing. You can even get creative with this and take a tour of your spice cabinet at home. Do you really know what cumin smells like? Have you ever paid particular attention to the sensation that arises in your body when you smell cinnamon, or curry powder, or turmeric?
Get to know an indoor plant. If you have a potted plant at home, spend some time getting to know this plant in ways you might not have considered before. Sit with the plant and set the intention to really take in this plant with your senses for about 20 minutes (or longer, if you feel called to do so.) Introduce yourself to the plant in any manner that feels comfortable for you. Really look at the plant, touch it and notice its different textures, listen to it, smell it. Don't taste the plant unless you are absolutely certain that it is safe to do so. Notice what you're noticing as you are sitting with the plant in this manner. Finally, acknowledge the relationship that exists between you and that plant. This is one of my favourite elements of forest bathing: We set a real intention to connect with and build relationships with other beings. Our aim is not merely to continue extracting from the natural world, but to offer some reciprocity. In a guided forest bathing walk, the guide will facilitate opportunities for this reciprocity. At home with your plant, I invite you to find some way to acknowledge and thank the plant. For example, you can quietly (or speaking out loud, whatever is comfortable for you) acknowledge: "Here is a flower, which has provided beauty and a lovely fragrance." Perhaps you can water the plant as a form of acknowledgement, or move it to a more sunny area if it seems to be needing more sunlight - anything you can do to reciprocate what the plant has done for you.
In essence, forest bathing is an invitation to notice the world through our senses. I'm sure that there are many other ways in which to accomplish this at home - let me know which ways you come up with!