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By Dr. Mark Bellamy, PhD Cpsychol AFBPsS, Performance & Sport Psychologist

What if we had at our disposal two things almost guaranteed to put us in a better mood and be healthier? Would we take it? Almost certainly. Living in Herefordshire, we are blessed with countryside as beautiful as any in the world. Many of my clients wish to develop skills to calm the mind; we live in a world where we are always ‘on’ and our daily information load would seem incredible to our near ancestors. A combination of exercise and nature is a major tool in calming the brain and assisting with relaxation.

Natural Mindfulness

Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) termed calming through nature as ‘soft fascination’, referring to a gentle involvement through the senses of nature, where hard attention is not required, and the mind becomes conducive to alternatives to high arousal. Soft fascination may be natural mindfulness − our brains are captivated by the patterns of nature with our ‘observing mind’ fully engaged, thus allowing our ‘thinking mind’ to rest.

Nature’s structure supports this idea, in that much of nature is fractal in its makeup. The describes fractals as ‘infinitely complex patterns that are self similar across different scales… repeating a simple process over and over…’ When we look at nature, we see these repeating patterns in trees and plants, in their branches and leaves, within trunks of trees and also within grassland. The patterned fractal composition of nature may provide us with the target of soft fascination and the mindful experience often felt in a natural environment. 

Shinrin-Yoku: Forest Bathing

Forest walking in Japan has been given the title Shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing’.  A study by Li et al. (2007) found that exercising in natural settings increased the activity of the natural killer cells (NK), deemed important in fighting cancer, with a secondary impact of boosting stress resistance. Li suggests the mechanism may be partly down to the phytoncides (antimicrobial compounds which give trees protection from rotting and insects).

Enhancing a calm state is supported through low level rhythmic exercise as it provides a partial antidote to negative emotional states. Using the combination of exercise and the benefits of being in a ‘green’ or natural environment may add or even multiply the positive effect.

We know that matching exercise type to mental or emotional requirement can be very useful, for example rhythmic exercise with a moderately raised heart rate can be good for depression and anxiety. To increase enervation, something a little harder, and perhaps resistance work, may help, and for real calm Yoga and Pilates can be great. 

By matching mood, environment and exercise type we may be able to get a multiplicative impact whilst also creating a great habit for exercise, mood enhancement, recovery and general wellbeing. 

Please get in touch for further information and to discuss the potential for further work. Consultations are available via Skype or in person, at a Hereford location of your choice, or at your workplace. 


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