Last summer, the Mental Health Foundation, in conjunction with WWF, launched their Thriving with Nature Guidebook, a practical guide offering ideas for activities to engage in each season, allowing readers to connect with nature and reap the associated physical and mental health benefits. Nature seems to have regained a foothold in our collective awareness as we’ve been forced to slow down and stay put this past year – and I’d say it’s about time!

While I’ve always unintentionally used nature to support my mental health (like going to the beach to watch sunsets when things felt overwhelming), it’s only been recently that I’ve awakened to the full health benefits that nature has to offer.

It all started when I signed up for a yoga class about seven years ago. At that time, I was out of balance and stressed and was looking for better ways to manage my life. Yoga was something I had tried – and enjoyed – in the past, so I thought I’d give it another go. As the classes – and my yoga teacher – evolved, she started bringing seasonal elements into the class. Slowly, gently, subtly, this seasonal knowledge started to sink in. The bits I connected with most were the ‘easier’ aspects of the seasons: that seasons had elements (eg wood, earth, fire, etc); that they had colours and scents. My attention was being directed outside. ‘Look at what’s happening outside,’ my yoga teacher would say. ‘The same is happening in you,’ she’d suggest.

I listened and learned; I gathered evidence in my own life about how I was affected by the seasons. I became more intentional about living seasonally. I found ways to offer myself small kindnesses in each season. I allowed myself to let go of what no longer served me in the autumn or slow down during the winter. I got excited with new growth – in the ground and in me – in the spring. I understood better that I might feel agitated through seasonal transitions.

I chose easy (and fun!) ways of incorporating the seasons into my everyday life. In spring, I’d look for five green things when I was out and about; I’d eat more green food. In summer, I’d eat red berries. I bought my favourite scented lotions or shower gels and matched these to the season (eg grapefruit in the spring; rose in the summer). I didn’t berate myself when I couldn’t get outside each day to connect with nature. Instead, I let nature infiltrate my life by learning how to live more in sync with the seasons.

In doing so, I’ve become more aware of the cycles of nature and of the seasons. I now understand my own life as a cycle and I nurture myself in different ways at different times, just like Mother Earth. As I set my life – and others’ – in this wider, seasonal context, I’ve never felt better.