Believe it or not, but that’s what happened……

There is an increased awareness that being in nature has a powerful positive effect on the mind, body and spirit. Researchers are increasingly identifying a direct connection between health and nature, with some of the most interesting studies coming from Japan, where walking and spending time in forests, known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, has become a popular form of preventive health care.

Scientists are now recognising the health benefits of spending time in forests. Yoshifumi Miyazaki from Chiba University, Japan, has discovered that going for a 40-minute walk in a cedar forest lowers the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as lowering blood pressure and supporting the immune system compared to a similar 40-minute walk indoors in a lab. Qing Li from Nippon Medical School in Tokyo has shown that trees and plants emit compounds known as phytoncides that when inhaled give us therapeutic benefits akin to aromatherapy. Phytoncides also change the blood composition, which impacts on our protection against cancer, which boost our immune system and lower our blood pressure.

Walking in nature also has other healing powers. The opportunity to be away from the stresses of our personal lives gives our body the serenity it needs to heal itself naturally. Taking the time to be with the trees, to hear the birds, to witness the vegetation, insects and animals provides a natural mirror for our own priorities and challenges. Being in nature rejuvenates the spirit and gives us an appreciation for how life is constantly flowing around us, this really helps if we are feeling stuck in our day-to-day lives. Going for a walk takes us into a different world, a place where the trees have grown silently for centuries surrounded by the glorious cacophony of the vegetation and wildlife as they live in the present.

Scientists can research the impact of being in nature on the human body but for those of us fortunate enough to regularly spend time in the forests and by the rivers, we know intuitively how important this is. Obviously regular exercise is good for the body but it goes deeper than that. At times of my life when things have been difficult, and I haven’t been clear about the direction I should be going in, then walking in the woods has had a profound effect on me.

My decision to live in Croatia was made after such a walk. I was in the position of having to write a three-year business plan and I was struggling. I had been sitting looking at a blank computer screen for months with no inspiration. I was going to have an important meeting the next day to present my business plan and I had written nothing! So that morning I walked to work through a chilly park and asked the trees where I should be in three years time. They didn’t say Croatia but they did say you won’t be in Liverpool. Armed with this knowledge I went into work and said I haven’t done a business plan because I will be leaving. And I did!

I think I got clarity on that walk with something that my heart already knew but my mind was struggling to accept. I will also say that it was an excellent decision!

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