The crunch of leaves beneath your feet and the distinctive aroma of dank woodland… a trip to a forest in the autumn is likely to get your senses working overtime.
That is why a new initiative wants us to immerse ourselves in the nearest woodland to help boost our wellbeing away from the madding crowd and the relelentless hum of our hi-tech daily lives.
Feel Good Autumn, a joint campaign by the Forestry Commission and mental health charity Mind, is helping people adopt the practice of mindfulness deep in the woods by taking on board a range of fun activities.
From tree hugging and yoga to nordic walking, green woodworking and bike rides, the accent is on outdoors exercise and meditation to spark energy and lighten our moods.
It comes after 94 per cent of respondents in a Mind survey admitted ‘green exercise’ benefited their mental health.
Mental health experts believe the strong visual and olfactory (smell) cues that are present in forests are ideal to practice mindfulness, a form of therapeutic meditation that has grown in popularity in recent years.
It relies heavily on people paying more attention to their immediate environment and their thoughts and feelings with many studies showing it is effective in tackling a range of ills such as depression, anxiety and stress.
Mindfulness does not require specialist knowledge and encourages people to take notice of what is going on in the present and make an effort to give full attention to what is happening to their body, mind and surroundings in a non-judgemental way.
Shotton-based hypnotherapist Marc Johnson believes the idea of combining a trip to the forest with mindful exercise is a sound one. He says he often uses woodland imagery to hypnotise his clients during treatment sessions.
“It helps people to create a scene in their mind by themselves,” explains Marc. “Most people, around 60 per cent of us, react to visual cues, but the rest of us are audiological – we always hear the birds singing. Others are kinesthetic and they can feel the lawn beneath their feet most strongly and others react to smell – the grass and the dampness of the undergrowth make a big impression on them.
“These sensatons can just as much can be planted as memories and help take people into an internal state of hypnosis from there they are open to suggestion.”
The campaign is focusing on a number of woodlands, including Delamere Forest near Chester, where an energetic ‘Zombie Run’ is being held on Sunday, October 29 (4pm).
Elsewhere, self-led walking trails and sensory mindful activities are being organised, such as rainbow walks and forest sketching. Ten secret spots have been chosen where people can make the most of the vibrant autumn colours and even develop a mindful mantra, including Delamere’s 2.7 mile-long Blakemere Trail which takes in Blakemere Moss Lake.
Bridgette Hall, recreation manager for the Forestry Commission says: “It’s great to be working with Mind to highlight how spending time outdoors benefits our mental and physical health. The nation’s woods and forests are the perfect place to enjoy a gentle walk, get back on your bike, or just take in the wonderful scenery and spend some time in nature.
“Feel Good Autumn is about giving everyone the opportunity to feel the health benefits from time in the forest.”
Hayley Jarvis, community programmes manager for Mind points out: “Doing physical activity in the fresh air, be it walking or conservation work, is natural, free and accessible and it has been proven to boost mental wellbeing as well as improving physical health.
“Our research found that after a single walk in the countryside, 90 per cent of participants had increased levels of self-esteem, with nearly three quarters reporting decreased levels of depression. We hope this campaign will encourage more people to take up green exercise as a way of improving and maintaining mental wellbeing.”