I had a revelation last weekend. You really can help people connect to nature inside, even in a windowless room. Of course, I already knew the theory, there's even research about it, but I hadn't really experimented on anyone other than close family.
When I agreed to run a nature connection workshop at the Carluke Climate Festival, I originally hoped we'd have the opportunity to go outside, but then when that turned out not to be possible, I just automatically assumed we'd at least be able to look out of the window. We couldn't, but it didn't matter. As it happens, in the last week I've talked to a couple of people who aren't currently able to get outside, and so I'm hoping that some of these ideas might help.
There were two really easy things that grabbed people's attention at the workshop. Firstly everyone who came over to our table commented on how nice it smelled. Trying to invoke the smell of the forest I'd brought my tiny essential oil diffuser with me, filled with a forest blend of essential oils. One of the best gadgets I own is my white noise machine, which I use to play the sounds of waves breaking on the beach as I fall asleep, so I took it along to try and evoke being out in nature. As well as waves, I'm partial to listening to the sound of falling rain as I work, and I'm clearly not the only one as there are hundreds of varieties of rain based tracks on YouTube. Listening to the sounds of the natural world, including rain, has a range of benefits from lowering blood pressure to relaxing your mind. Of course often in the west of Scotland, no gadget is required to listen to the rain! I found it interesting that these two things, that I almost take for granted were surprising to others. In Japan, research into forest bathing (that's hanging out in a forest, not wallowing in the mud) has shown that the phytoncides, the essential oils from trees, which are inhaled when walking amongst trees, help boost the natural killer cells, supporting the immune system in the body, and what's more, this occurs even when the phytoncides come via essential oils in a diffuser.
I'd divided the workshop up into the 5 pathways to nature connection and these two both came under the first pathway, contact: using your senses to connect to nature. For indoor nature connection one of the most obvious ideas is to surround yourself with houseplants; I suggest that you can't beat ensuring you always have a mint plant in the house, and then treating yourself to a cup of fresh mint tea. I took one along to the workshop with my trusty thermos and encouraged people to help themselves to a cup, having sourced some tiny Japanese sake cups via a forest bathing friend. Forest bathing sessions often end with a cup of tea, perhaps a nod to the reverence with which Japan treats the tea ceremony, but certainly as an opportunity to round off the session and reflect on the experience.
Back in 2019 we held a large green health event at Chatelherault Country Park, as an opportunity for staff from health and social care to come and experience the wide range of activities that are available under the banner of green health. There were practical conservation activities, e-bikes available to ride, seed bomb making, planting and pond-dipping, but the most popular by far was the tea ceremony in the woods with the Wild Ways Well group from Cumbernauld Living Landscape. I don't think I'll ever forget how excited people were to experience a cup of tea in the woods, and I'll never again take for granted the cups of tea I have in woods or on beaches
Finally, as an indication that it's possible to bring nature connection into any conversation, at the East Kilbride & Strathaven Locality Network meeting last week, I managed to get people talking about their favourite birds. A study from the University of Derby discovered that watching birds can decrease anxiety levels, but that rating those birds in terms of how much joy they bring, decreases anxiety even further. It didn't take much of a prompt to get people talking about the joy of birds and how happy a robin can make you feel.
What I have noticed as a result of both these encounters, is that discussing these effects with people has increased their effects for me. In Carluke we talked about dandelions and rainbows, amongst other things, and I'm sure I'm not the only one looking out for dandelions even more now. It helps that there seems to be a magnificent display around at the moment. Side note, if you know someone who can't get outdoors just now, bring them a dandelion and let them experience it change gradually - and then suddenly - into a seedhead, as long as they're ok with getting dandelion seeds in their house! For a less messy version, take a look at this video about the dandelion's life cycle. Since Thursday, I've been noticing robins wherever I go, but I also had a glorious encounter with some long tailed tits - which came out on top as the bird evoking the most joy in the Derby study. When you start paying attention to specific things it's amazing what you see.