Health & Beauty

100 Things To Do In The Forest

Magic fairytale forest with fireflies lights and mysterious road

Whether you’ve always been an outdoorsy type, or the confines of the recent pandemic has led you to embrace new al fresco activities, there has never been a better time to connect with nature. For starters, it’s now proven to have positive effects on your mental wellbeing. We say now because it’s a relatively new concept. Professor Miles Richardson who led a recent study undertaken by the University of Derby’s Nature Connectedness Research Group revealed that in 2001 there wasn’t a single research paper on ‘nature connectedness’ but that over the past decade, research in this area has blossomed due to the focus on the mental health crisis. Indeed, their study over four years has found that simply ‘noticing nature’ significantly improves quality of life. Similarly, Japanese studies have reported that just by looking at plants you can alter the electrical activity (pumping) of the heart, reduce pulse rate, muscle tension and blood pressure as well as boosting your mood.

It’s no coincidence that the activity known as Forest Bathing originated in Japan. Also known as Shinrin-Yoku, it was developed in 1982 as part of a national health programme designed to reduce the population’s stress levels. A practice that aims to open the senses to the forest surroundings, it teaches participants to inhale the forest air, listen to the sounds around them, feel the breeze on their skin and take a moment to connect with their environment. Gaining traction in the western world over the past couple of years, you can easily go forest bathing of your own accord or if you could sign up to some Forest Therapy where you will be assigned a guide to help get you in the swing of things.

Shirley Gleeson set up the Forest Therapy Institute last year which is an international training organisation for Certified Forest Bathing Guides and Forest Therapy Practitioners. “It’s a ten-day intensive course with a six-month mentored practice. Guides are trained choosing the best forest trails in terms of restorative elements (natural soundscape, flowing water, rich in biodiversity, wide variety of tree types etc) and also trained in designing sensory nature-based invitations to deepen your relationship with nature, enhance vitality and reduce stress levels,” explains Shirley.

You can find a list of certified guides and practitioners on their website but it’s becoming more commonplace than you might think so don’t be surprised to see it pop up on a spa menu. At Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa in the Lake District, they’ve recently introduced a two-hour immersive Forest Therapy session. “We were running a forest bathing package without a guide which was proving popular, but we felt participants were missing an important element and with a specialist, it’s a much more fulfilling experience in helping participants connect more fully with nature,” explains owner Carolyn Graves. Led through the hotel’s 400 acres, the experience ends with a tea ritual in the woodland gazebo. Bliss.

If you go down to the woods today

While the idea is to immerse yourself in the outdoors without technology or distractions, there are some apps that provide some virtual hand holding. Go Jauntly, a walking app, has a new function called Nature Notes that encourages users to record three things they’ve noticed in nature every day. Birdsong, the smell of wild flowers, an unusually shaped tree – it all counts. And if you’re getting more inquisitive by the day, there are also apps like Chrirp! that helps to identify birdsong and Plant Snap where you can upload a picture of a plant that’s caught your eye and it will report back with its vital statistics. Nature Finder is another good shout as it contains maps, events and listings of over 2000 nature reserves in the UK.

There are even festivals dedicated to the forest – Timber, held at Feanedock, a woodland site on the Leicestershire/Derbyshire border is far more than tree hugging and combines music, workshops, dance, gong baths, forest bathing and campfire stories for a nature-immersive experience like no other. And while it’s been postponed until next July, they are encouraging people to submit 60 second soundbites of the forest around them to create a soundmap that brings together tones and textures from the world’s woodlands. An ongoing project, it’s possibly the most relaxing thing you’ll hear if you’re stuck inside.

On The To-do List

Another excellent resource is forest educator Jennifer Davis’ book, 100 Things To Do In A Forest, out in August. Suitable for solo explorers or families, it does what it says on the tin and throws up original and unusual ideas of how you can spend your time outdoors. “We live in a world where we’ve become so accustomed to having goals, intentions or ticking off items on to-do lists. This book makes several suggestions for gentle activities that you can do to enable the process of letting go and just doing not very much,” says Jennifer.

Forest bathing is just one of her suggestions. Others include Nature Framing, Pond Dwelling, Urban Cooking, Fish Tickling, Green Exercise, Insect Management and Dadirri – another ancient method of reflection that utilises nature. “It’s an aboriginal practice in which people employ stillness, deep listening and a willingness to look within,” explains Jennifer. “It is far more self-focused than forest bathing which is about taking in everything around you and heightening the senses. It’s about becoming part of the natural world, rather than an observer of it. Many people find that they are uncomfortable with the level of inner-reflection that dadirri indicates as again, it’s the opposite of our fast-paced solutions-focussed society but by practising it you will become more tuned in to the energy of the world around you.”

Not all of Jennifer’s suggestions might resonate with you but even if you simply use some of them as a starting point you might notice you start to feel better in mind, body and soul. You might also subconsciously start to switch your habits. “Several years ago I read some research that said that people who spend regular time in a particular outdoor space are more likely to become environmental advocates for that space when it is threatened. I loved the idea that just being in the woods would naturally turn you into an eco-warrior and that it really was as simple as just going to the same green space regularly,” she says.

Does exercising outside count?

According to these latest studies, it’s what you notice when you’re outside that counts and will impact how you feel rather than how long you’re in the open air although the University of Exeter has found that 120 minutes a week in nature is the sweet spot. A bootcamp in the park won’t cut it though. You’ll still get the endorphins and fresh air, but your focus will naturally be elsewhere – “it’s more a form of green exercise than forest bathing,” explains Shirley. It’s also proven that the more you do your chosen activity – eg go for a walk in the woods, the more benefits so choose something that you can do almost every day rather than a once a week, weather-dependant activity.

How you’ll know if it’s working

Feeling calmer, more positive and less anxious are all wellbeing benefits that are said to come from spending time in nature. Carolyn Graves also flags up that it has been shown to accelerate recovery from illness while Jennifer says that alongside rosy cheeks and a feeling of cheerfulness, people report better sleep and is often one of the first things they notice. Then there’s the desire to share the good vibes. “If you find yourself asking other people to join you on your next woodland exploit, you’re probably reaping the rewards and subconsciously hoping to share that joy with others,” she points out.

Regardless of whether you remain working from home or the busier pace of life is returning, if there’s one thing you take from this slow-moving start to the year, make it an affiliation with the outdoors. Once you’ve found that natural high, you’ll be hooked.

Timewasters Inc

3d model of an hour glass icon with a nearly complete ring around it in pink on blue background

Apparently Shakespeare banged out Macbeth, King Lear and Anthony and Cleopatra during a bubonic plague lockdown. Well bully for him. Since I self-isolated, I’ve managed a few cursory paragraphs of the book I’d apparently been waiting for this opportunity not to write, a couple of short articles and made a feeble, unsatisfactory attempt at finishing Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and The Light on Audible for God’s sake!

Is it just me or has this pandemic radically shortened our attention spans? I’d like to blame the news, but I have imposed a black-out, because it made me too angry.  I’d blame box-set bingeing if I could find anything I liked enough to devote more than about 30 minutes to. And what about the menopause and mental health?  Candidly, I had made inroads into both of those afflictions in one way or another before this whole thing began, and I’ll still have them when it ends. So I guess I’m going to have to go with the trite: unprecedented times.

In light of the aforementioned, I have developed a range of displacement and time wasting activities, so honed that they would surely qualify as an art form. And so my fellow time fritterers and challenged attention spanners, I present them to you, in the hope that they might reinforce VH’s sentiment that we are all in this together. I should add that that management and I take no responsibility for you damaging yourselves or your furniture in any way.

  1. Hair cutting. Number one on the list of top time wasters:  A hairdresser would tell you not to, but unless you are trying to cut yourself an entirely new style, or a plumb line straight fringe, I say go ahead. There’s serious satisfaction to be had from snipping away at irritating layers and split ends. Make sure your scissors are sharp. On short hair or fringes, take a piece and pull upwards above your scalp and then snip down into it, rather than straight across. Pull long hair in towards your nose, chin or chest before you snip and constantly check each side as you go, measuring against where the other side falls. Position a hand mirror if you can so that you can see the back view too.   Snip gradually. Or you could do what I did last week during my brief 10 minute yoga session, keep your scissors close and chop away at the ends as your hair falls over your head towards your feet. Very satisfying.
  2. Oiling. Not the car, you. A friend who sailed around the world endorses the use of any form of domestic oil before or after a shower to keep things in good order. Try it. It’s inexpensive – I like Olive or Almond but you can as she says use literally anything – canola anyone? Don’t forget nails and hair, both benefit from an oiling up before showering or bathing. You can of course go the whole hog with your hair and crack an egg on the top and massage in (or whisk it up beforehand for less dramatic effect). It works.
  3. Makeup kit clearance. Top displacement therapy. I don’t wear much makeup, but I have recently discovered that much of what I do possess is ancient. Surely you too have a few dried mascara brushes, hollowed out blushers and crumbling lipsticks to attend to? The key is their appearance and their smell. If your mascara pongs then chuck it out immediately, if your eyeshadows are crumbly like old Christmas cake icing then do the same. Wash your brushes, sponges and that makeup bag in warm water with a drop of washing up liquid. If you’ve got stuff you have never used then try it out (see 15 minute attention span) but be prepared to jettison.  Just because Beyonce can wear gold eye shimmer, doesn’t mean you can.
  4. Un-Kondo. I’ve read the book. I’ve sorted through and given away. And I regret it bitterly. Nostalgia is sometimes the thing that ‘gives me joy’ . This has led to my buying back items I’ve given to charity shops and lamenting the things that have already been sold by the time I’ve rushed there. If you have passionately loved something, but haven’t worn it in years , now’s the moment to  get it out again and flaunt it (who’s going to see you in those sequinned hot pants?) or pack it up and store it – under the bed, in the garden shed (damp proof box naturally) or if you are fortunate in ‘the spare’ wardrobe. Do not under any circumstances waste time by putting it into your ‘charity bag’. That’s for things that you never want to see again, either because they bring back bad memories, or they don’t fit. These are, I believe, the only reasons for you to cleanse yourself of your clothes. Now and in the future.
  5. Exercise Ambush. I used to be a manic exerciser. These days not so much, in fact these days often not at all. To keep myself somewhat fit I’ve had to develop a kind of exercise via stealth approach. This means that I spring exercise upon myself when I least expect it: star jumps whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, toe touching and sit ups whilst waiting for the washing machine to finish, I’ll often seize my weights whilst on hold via speakerphone, something I seem to do endlessly these days. My neighbour does the same thing with his daughter, suddenly breaking into a jog or sit ups with her, making a competition out of it. What I’m saying here is that if exercise has become a chore (and I know that for some people it’s still the saving grace it used to be for me) then you need to go full Cato. If you don’t know who Cato is, then watching the Pink Panther movies starring Peter Sellars and Herbert Tsangtse Kwouk, will most certainly be a valuable waste of your time.
  6. Housework. Don’t do it. Kidding, sort of. When the world is falling apart do we really need to care about the dust and debris of everyday living? Far better to develop one particular time wasting mania, on the basis that doing one thing is better (marginally) than doing nothing. My own current fascination is for taps and how best to shine them. Next week it might be for wooden floors and how to clean them. This is what the internet is for people – my taps will never go grubby again. I’m adding that to my CV.
  7. Children’s TV shows. The stuff of your youth, not your youth’s youth. Think back to what you loved and look it up on what my gran calls ‘The YouTube’. This is also a valuable displacement activity, the satisfaction for which is not to be underestimated – I’ve been humming the theme tune to Flambards for weeks and Pogles’ Wood- well, I want to move there. Speaking of which…
  8. Property porn.  Both you and I know that we are not going anywhere, well certainly not for the foreseeable. But why let that stop us?  Think of the place you most fantasise about living, plug it into a property portal and pore over the delicious results. There are still lots of houses out there to fritter away time salivating over. I know this because I check daily. Sometimes twice daily…..

Working From Home

tina-guadoin

‘I had a very interesting dream last night’, says my partner provocatively, by way of a morning greeting. I glance at the clock. 7.30 am.  Bloody hell. What’s he still doing here?  It used to be that there was no time in the A.M for discussing anything, let alone dreams. He was off on his bike for a 9 am, or an 8 am meeting if I was really lucky. This left me, in my freelance world, to make my own way peacefully into the morning – Radio 3, Darjeeling tea, and a dog walk, before starting work.

Now, in this new world of 24/7 partnerships, I have to at least feign interest. I half-heartedly prompt him for more: ‘It was about how to solve our data collection problem and it involved Plato – but the annoying thing is,  I’ve forgotten the vital bit’, he says slurping the dregs of his tea and banging the mug down on the side table.

I want to scream, but even I realise that might be a bit of an over-reaction. In any case it’s not even 8 am and the whole, sorry day, riven with angst over whether the internet can handle Zoom and simultaneous downloading , arguments over which of us speaks the loudest on the phone (him) and who left coffee grounds left in the sink (him), stretches ahead of us. Read More…

Periods – A Hot Topic

Period Products with "that time" written in red on a sanitary pad.

It seems like one of the hottest topics of last year was female menstruation. It was much discussed throughout the world and the trend looks set to continue.

But in reality will the open conversations, press coverage, documentaries and government intervention really do much to change the stigma associated with our monthly periods?

2019 saw menstruation reach giddy heights, taking centre stage at the Oscars when a group of female (obviously) filmmakers took home Best Documentary (short) entitled Period. End of Sentence, about a group of women who use a machine to make low-cost sanitary pads in a village in central India’s Hapur district. Read More…

Scalp Respect

A curled hair snippet tied on yellow background

Why you should start treating your scalp with the same respect you treat your face.

Adequately covered but never blessed with an abundance of hair I was always conscious of what should have been my crowning glory. In my 20s others would blame my ‘over’ washing as I whinged about my thin and limp locks. In my 30s they blamed the kids instead.

But five days after my 36th birthday the thinning had become thinned and the attention was totally focused on one patch. As I got out the shower and combed through my hair, I felt that unexpected chill of air touching skin.

The size of a 20 pence piece it took centre stage about two inches back from my hairline. All I can say is thank the Lord alice bands were in fashion and I could be bald and stylish!

Once the drama had taken a back seat, I was able to think logically and booked an appointment to see a trichologist I’d been recommended by a male friend.

Whilst I do enjoy telling the story of how I came to own 30 hair bands and one wig (just in case) what’s more interesting are the three facts I uncovered.

Scalp care is set to take over from skin care and not before time. For too long now we have been fed with simple information whilst the professionals try to give us a one size fits all answer to that age-old question…How frequently should I wash my hair? It’s at this point I’m thankful I haven’t got much!

So, whilst many of you pride yourselves on the length of time you can stretch out a hair wash and revel in the magic of the latest advances in dry shampoo, are you doing yourselves a disservice?

Just as we understand the detriment clogged pores have on our complexion, the same is true of our scalp. An extension of our face, if left unwashed bacteria can grow. Where bacteria grows, healthy hair cannot.

Washing your hair and massaging your scalp at least every two to three days ensures the 100,000 or so hair follicles found on the average human head are kept clean and clear.

With the market flooded with shampoos and conditioners making larger than life claims it’s never been harder to commit. But I took the plunge and went for it landing on a range that has exceeded all expectations – The Fulvic Acid Hair Trio.

As the name would suggest each product contains Fulvic Acid – a mineral compound found in the earth’s soil which activates the nutrients that feed the plants. Hailed as natures ‘miracle molecule’ it was definitely worth a try and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Not only has my hair never looked or felt better but the smell of the conditioner actually turned what was once a chore into something I look forward to – relishing those seven minutes in the morning the family generously allow me to shower alone, I blissfully prepare for the day ahead as I breath in the relaxing manly scent.

So back to my seat opposite the trichologist, this was number one ticked off the checklist. To say I was relieved to hear I could continue the daily hair washing obsession is an understatement! Balding and greasy felt like a far worse fate than just bald.

Number two were my blood results. With one in five of us in the UK deficient in Vitamin D there was no surprise this would be my fate. With vitamin D being responsible for stimulating hair follicles I immediately prescribed myself a week away to sunnier climbs. My trichologist had other ideas and suggested a high strength vitamin D3 supplement.

My iron levels were next on her list of things I was lacking in. As a meat eater and keen green veg consumer, we looked elsewhere for my iron demons. Menstruation and heavy exercise looked to be behind this one. Unable and unprepared to give up either of these, another supplement was recommended. Iron supplements are notoriously difficult to stomach. Curing one ailment whilst creating another is a bitter pill so to avoid constipation I did my research and found Florisene  – an effective supplement without the usual associated problems.

Lastly, we discussed hormones. As we age our hormones levels begin to fall, alongside other things, and this imbalance is largely responsible for our thinning hair. I see my mother with her “I told you so face” when I sniggered at her pill box but alas another supplement had been added to my loot and this one’s a good ’un. Superior Hair is an all-round hair hero multivitamin, also containing my daily dose of biotin and zinc – two more minerals my blood work showed I was lacking in and crucial for optimal scalp health.

So…I have been following the good advice received; washing my hair, taking my daily supplements and throwing in the odd scalp mask for good measure when I find time on my self-care Sundays. I count myself lucky that the wig I purchased was never needed. As I try and take a more optimistic approach to life (apparently stress is a big contributor to hair loss) I imagine my patch was sent to me as an early warning sign to take better care of myself both internally and externally and suggest you do the same too. Perhaps it’s time we stopped wearing our 5-day dry shampoo hair as a badge of honour and start treating our scalp with the same respect we treat our face.

How To Tune Into Your Intuition

balancing scale with heart on right side and brain left side

It is clear to see that the popularity of spiritual practices is on the rise. We’re seeing crystals lined up on desks, energy healers on speed dial and more of us are choosing to swap out post-work drinks for breath work. Whether you’re engaging in these practices or not, there’s one word that’s always mentioned and written about, but seems to escape many of us, and that’s intuition. Read More…