We’re deep into Lockdown Tokyo Drift. The longest months of the year are feeling that little bit longer. But don’t despair, nature is the universal resource that can help you through. To find out how, we spoke to Flock Together member Jolly La Barbera - a wellness and wellbeing professional who founded the men’s mental health group Bruh Can We Talk - about the calming influence of greenery, why your body needs nature, and how the outdoors are a birthright for all.
People say that every day you should ground yourself by placing your feet on the earth. That’s easy if you have the time and wealth to access nature, but what if you’ve grown up in the city and have never set foot in a green field?
I grew up in a council estate in Ladbroke Grove, West London. In my everyday life I’m a carer, whether that’s for friends, clients at the yoga studio where I work, or my mum at home who needs full time care. But when I’m in nature I don’t have those responsibilities. I can wander around freely and not think so heavily about things.
Being in nature provides a calmness like nothing else. There are reasons why hospital waiting rooms and TV green rooms have copied the colours of the natural world. Just looking at an image of a tree can reduce blood pressure and stress hormones, and if you live near a park or green space you will statistically live longer and suffer fewer diseases - even if you don’t visit it.
Sadly, so much of the wellness and the wellbeing industry is tied to wealth and privilege. Our capitalist society has broken up and commodified the idea of “health” and sold it back to us at a price that not everyone can afford. We’ve become detached from ourselves – from our bodies, our minds, and from the greatest self-care resource we have: nature.
There is no single pathway to health. I set up Bruh Can We Talk, the men’s mental health support group, so that men from all backgrounds can find a place to have conversations about what health should look like for them. We hold our meetings in parks to help create a calming safe space.
Nature should play a part in everyone’s self-care practice. The only debate is how much is enough? A 2019 study suggested that a weekly 120-minute dose of green space is the crucial threshold you need to hit to feel the benefits. This raises more questions about accessibility. The UK Government released nearly £6 million in December last year to fund seven new sights exploring how connecting with nature can improve mental wellbeing.
That’s a positive step, but not exactly world beating compared to places like Japan, which has had shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) in its national health programme since the 1980s or South Korea’s network of 37 state-run “healing forests”, with free forest therapy sessions for visitors. We have to demand better.
I hope 2021 will be all about finding and nurturing connections: to yourself, to community and to the natural world. Humans are social creatures. That’s what these lockdowns have taught us. There’s only so much a Zoom call can do; we need real interaction.
However, just like discovering your own self-care practice, finding your community relies on self-knowledge. What interests you? What gives you joy? If you love to dance, join a local dance class. If you want to try birdwatching, you’ve already found a group to explore.
We all need to look inward and develop a better sense of self, to understand where we fit in this new world. One thing is certain, we can’t carry on as we used to, otherwise what the hell was 2020 for?
Special thanks to Jolly. You can find out more about Bruh Can We Talk on Instagram.
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