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We enter 2021 carrying all of the extremes of 2020 with us – the worry of increasing Covid numbers once more, the hope of vaccinations offering the chance of a return to some sort of normal again, the uncertainty of disrupted education, work and finances, the lived experience we all now already have of having been through this before and finding strategies to help us cope with it.
In the same way as we have all adapted and learned new ways during the pandemic so have the support organisations which offer help with mental health and wellbeing.
So many services have found really effective ways of moving online, working remotely and delivering help in new and innovative ways.
During the first lockdown many of us reconnected with the natural world and we have seen a huge increase in the numbers of people spending time outside, wildlife watching, wild swimming and getting to know the area where they live.
Popular counsel for self care generally includes practices such as meditation and mindfulness and an increasingly popular form of combining both being-present-in-the-moment and aware-of-our-natural-surroundings is forest bathing (or Shinrin Yoku, to give it its Japanese name, where the idea originates from).
I attended a virtual introduction to forest bathing course last year and have even been on a guided session in a woodland but confess that despite all my best intentions, regular forest bathing has yet to make it into my general day-to-day life routine.
I tend to resist new year resolutions or January challenges. I know myself well enough to suspect I will have both stopped and pretended I never started by the time the date has reached double figures.
However, I have signed up for a Sit Spot Challenge, very specifically because it promises there is no actual challenge involved and if you don’t do it every day then no one will mind.
The challenge is being run by Hugh Asher, of Darach Croft near Acharacle, who is training to become a certified forest therapist and forest bathing guide with the Forest Therapy Institute, whose mission is to promote the concept of ‘healthy people, healthy planet’.
Hugh explained: “The idea of ‘sit spot’ is to find a place in nature, where you can comfortably sit for 20-30 minutes and fully immerse yourself, connecting all your senses with the world around you.
‘I will be sending out daily suggestions to help you find those connections. There is also an opportunity – with no obligation – to connect with others taking part in the challenge through an online group.
‘You don’t need to do it every day though, the challenge is in getting started and giving it a try.’
That certainly sounds like a not-too-challenging challenge! Hugh continued: ‘Ideally, to get the greatest benefit you will actually manage to find an outside spot, but you could participate sitting next to a window, or maybe from your car, parked somewhere with a view of the natural world.
‘The only kit you will need is to be sure you are wearing something comfortable and maybe if you are heading outside, something waterproof to sit on may be useful.’
So, 20 minutes at a time, a gentle daily reminder email from Hugh to keep prompting me, no need to give up or deny myself anything during these difficult times, no equipment required or need to travel and plenty of evidence to suggest that these activities will help reduce anxiety and stress and improve mental and emotional wellbeing.
Plus, thanks to a Think Health, Think Nature grant that Hugh has secured there is no cost at all for taking part in the challenge.
I am hoping this will be the kickstart I need to make forest bathing a more regular part of my day-to-day routine.
I’ll report back at the end of the challenge, which is running for the 28 days of February to share how I got on.
I’ve persuaded my family to all sign up too and if you would like to join in as well go to https://darachcroft.com/28-day-sit-spot-challenge for more information and to register.