The following paragraphs are reproduced from the opening pages of my new photo-book Walking in Woodlands1. I’ve copied the words here because they say exactly what I want to share in this blog:
When was the last time you walked through woodlands? Heard the sound of nature under your feet: the crack of dry twigs or the squelch of soft earth? Watched the sway of the canopy’s branches and leaves in the wind? Inhaled the sweet scents of woodland flora, or even just clean, fresh air?
Many of us have become trapped. Imprisoned within walls at work and home. Controlled by earning money at all costs. Managed by mobile apps, social-media and digital must-do lists. Deaf to the countryside’s call, drowned out by tv, internet videos, computer game gun battles and headphones preventing us from even hearing each other.
To re-connect with nature is to break free. Seek an alternative way of fulfilling, refreshing, and soothing our souls. To walk through woodlands is not just to follow a trail. It’s to immerse ourselves in an environment and along a path that can improve, even permanently change our physical and mental wellbeing.
In Japan, there’s a national pastime called shinrin-yoku, forest-bathing. When walkers open up all their senses to wooded environments and let their minds become calm and thoughtful, studies reveal positive effects, on stress levels and even blood pressure. Moreover, it has been scientifically shown that woodland air doesn’t just seem better, it is better. Plant-emitted oils and chemicals that we breathe in help, for example, the function of white blood cells, needed to fight viruses, and boost our immune systems to help ward off colds and flu.
What else can walking in woodlands give us? Well, if we treat it as more than just obligatory exercise and dare to give our selves over to it, connect with what the Chinese call qi (also known as chi), translated as ‘vital life force’ (believed to be strongly present in trees), then this force can provide us with life changing benefits. Help us realise certain truths that we might decide to incorporate into our daily lives:
Walking through woodlands can provide us with great personal gifts: stimulate our senses, set us challenges, re-unite us with peace, afford us sanctuary where we can feel a sense of freedom. All we have to do is decide to act. Stand at the start of a trail, look along it and then put one foot in front of the other. Perhaps getting us to do this is the greatest gift of all.
I curated Walking in Woodlands for a few reasons. First, while I love exploring all types of outdoor landscape environments, woodlands are my favourite. I wanted to share this love. Second, no other outdoor area, for me, provides quite the same level of peace, tranquillity and you-time. Woodlands are the best place for anyone seeking to find space away from ‘regular life’; to detach themselves from otherwise unavoidable distractions. Third, I wanted to encourage readers to act. Prompt them to stand at the start of a woodland trail near their homes and (re-)discover the benefits of walking in woodlands for themselves. To re-connect with nature and perhaps even let it help them unveil a new alternative path.
I hope this book goes a little way towards inspiring action.