I don’t like cities. Leave me on my own, and I would stay in a cottage in the woods somewhere that’s cold, filled with trees and is fragrant with the aromas of the earth and plants. Maybe with a couple of glaciers thrown in for added measure?
But till that happens, I have to content myself with seeking out pockets of green in the middle of concrete jungles. Whether that’s Central Park in NYC (or the New York Botanical Garden when I really need to get away from it all!), the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, Isabella Plantation in London or the Japanese Gardens in Singapore, I can tell you where to escape the clutter and the chaos in almost any city in the world.
Being amidst nature makes me feel better. It makes me feel relaxed, boosts my energy and focus, silences the anxious voices in my head, helps me get a good night’s sleep… therapy at its best.
And it’s not just me. Researchers the world over have proven the importance of nature for physical and mental health. The Japanese are known to medically prescribe shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, which is all about spending time in a forest. There’s no jogging, no hiking (and no bathing)… only immersing yourself in nature and connecting with it through all five senses.
Science establishes that this simple practise has very real benefits, including stress reduction, decrease in chronic inflammation, protection against diabetes, drop in blood pressure, increased feelings of positivity, heightened immunity, better sleep. And better skin.
And you can forest bathe literally anywhere there’s greenery – a park, a woodland or even your local garden.
Unfortunately though, this is becoming increasingly impossible in the current climate of social distancing and shelter-in-place norms.
So, what’s one to do? While connecting with nature and being able to go outdoors is vital at any point of time, right now it’s feeling even more important as claustrophobia and the longing for something as simple as going for a walk or getting some fresh flowers is setting in.
And it’s time, say the experts, that we start looking for long term solutions considering that the average American is already spending 93% of his or her time indoors (before the COVID-19 threat), staying and working in high-rise buildings and hooked to electronic devices. And it’s not just America – 66% of the world’s population is projected to live in dense cities by 2050.
This is creating a “nature deficit disorder”. And everyone from hospitals to the hospitality industry are busy working on solutions. Solutions that range from immersive video games like Walden, which is an adaptation of David Thoreau’s nature-focussed lifestyle to dressing the walls with nature-related imagery or scenting our rooms with aromatherapy.
Yes, having a house filled with plants is another very obvious solution but too many of us can’t afford that luxury. You may be travelling too much to keep one alive (me!), don’t have an apartment that’s filled with light and air, or just lack a green thumb.
So, I’ve been working on rituals that are simpler and help on several levels, including skincare and self-care. Because we could all do with a bit of nature in our lives just now. Right?
Here is my solution and it’s naturopath approved. Of course, there can be no substitute for actually going out and being amidst the trees, feeling the sun on your face and the breeze on your skin, but these will help bridge the gap till you get there. Right now and when we return back to our hectic lifestyles. Because that will happen one day as well. Again.
Aromatherapy Associates Forest Therapy Bath & Shower Oil
Inspired by the practise of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing, as we discussed earlier!), this bath and shower oil is literally the next best thing to walking in a tree-lined forest. Essential oils mimic the effects of nature in more ways than one. There is, of course, the fragrance – in this case a blend of pink peppers, juniper berries, bitter orange, pine leaves, vetiver, oak moss, Mediterranean cypress and Sicilian lemons that evokes lush green canopies.
But more importantly, there are the phytoncides. These are aromatic compounds emitted by trees and plants, which, when inhaled, are both physically and emotionally healing.
For maximum effect, pour a cupful of the oil in your hands, bring them to your face and inhale deeply for a few seconds before starting your own forest bath by massaging it onto your body. The scent lingers through the day and my husband has been known to steal some for his own bath… which is the one part I am not at all happy about!
Otherland Mountain Lace Candle
Talking about aromatherapy, one the best parts of nature is how it smells in the raw – fresh, earthy and calming. So, trick your nose into thinking you’re outside by using scented candles. The best I’ve found is Mountain Lace by Otherland, which is clean-burning, non-toxic and laced through with apple blossom, Anjou pear and elderflower fizz. The vibes are pure mountaintop solitude, with log fires and winter snows rolled into one fragrant burn.
Surround yourself with sounds of nature
Did you know that there is a field of study called psychoacoustics? It’s based on understanding how out minds respond to particular sounds. And it says that the sounds of nature (think babbling brooks, chirping birds, crashing waves, breeze blowing through the leaves… !) are intensely calming and help us to de-stress.
So, go ahead and download them on your computer or try an app – my favorites are Relax Melodies and Calmsound. This won’t actually teleport you to the countryside… but it can help you feel as if you’re there.
Decorate with fruits and vegetables
It’s an actual design trend – decorating with uncut fruits, herbs and even vegetables. And it’s perfect replacement for fresh flowers. Set out a pretty bowl stacked with oranges, put some mint in a glass filled with water, fill a transparent vase with lemons, arrange lettuce leave like a flower centrepiece… it will look enticing and smell great!
Kypris Deep Forest Clay Mask
A clay mask that smells of the forest, is full of the cleanest botanicals and leaves skin softer, smoother, glow-y and blemish free? Yes, please.
Kypris is one of my favourite skincare brands and with good reason. They use only the most authentic natural ingredients and have super-effective results. The Deep Forest Clay Mask is an all-round sensorial journey, starting with the aromas of petrichor (the fragrance of rain falling on wet soil) and a pine-and-eucalyptus forest rolled into one.
The texture itself reminds me of playing in my family’s country garden just after the soil was raked post-monsoons… slightly creamy, just a bit gritty and very, very sensorial.
The ingredients add to the true nature-based ritual, with mineral clays, oceanic salt, sea algae, and a potpourri of medicinal trees, roots, leaves and flowers – think hibiscus, thyme, vetiver, chamomile, fir and butterfly bush.
It’s a gentle exfoliator that purges pores, brightens the skin, hydrates and calms down inflammation. I have been using it twice a week and it leaves my skin feeling soft and smooth. I was getting quite a bit of redness and hormonal breakouts but this soothed them significantly. Have almost gone through the whole jar and placing the next order as I write this!
Lumene Nutri-recharging Purifying Peat Mask
If the Kypris mask is all about a rainforest, Lumene will bring home the Arctic landscape. A landscape where plants, berries, trees and mushrooms have flourished in the wild for millions of years – surviving and thriving in a unique climate where eight months of darkness are followed by continuous summer light.
The Nutri-recharging Putrifying Peat Mask is replete with the scents and textures of Nordic peat, chaga mushrooms, kaolin clay, black crowberry juice, blackcurrant seed oil, rosemary leaves and pure Arctic spring water to purify, decongest and re-balance the skin. The thick brown paste feels you are playing in freshly turned soil and smells exactly like a Finnish sauna – earthy, comforting and replete with skin balancing minerals. A complete sensorial experience, if there was one to be had outside of the Arctic zone!