30th March 2022
From walking the coast path to diving beneath the waves, being by the sea is being able to fully immerse your senses. We found out more about the sensory benefits…
Picture yourself on your favourite Cornish beach. The waves fizz over the sand. The sun warms your face. The pebbles you stash in your pocket feel smooth. The foraged seaweed you dare to nibble on tastes salty; the air smells briny.
Stir it all together, for a unique sensory experience. Sound, sight, touch, taste, smell – all five senses are enlivened: gathering information, grounding the body and soothing the mind.
Research repeatedly shows how contact with nature can improve mental health. According to the Forestry Research Institute in Japan, just being outside can lower our levels of the stress hormone cortisol by as much as 15%.
And yet the relentless pace of our increasingly two-dimensional, digitised lives is drawing our attention further and further from the natural world. Meanwhile, our highly-evolved senses become largely redundant if we spend too much time sitting in front of screens.
“Nature is our default setting but we have been trained to wander so far away from it,” chef Valentine Warner told Hole&Corner magazine recently. “We have depleted our senses and I find nature awakens mine. I wish we could all stop stroking our phones and look up.” In this virtual age, nature can bring us back to reality.
Writing over 150 years earlier – long before the dawn of the smartphone, the poet William Wordsworth expressed a similar sentiment. “How much more ought the feelings to prevail when we are in the midst of the realities of things; of the joy and happiness of birds and beasts, of hills and streams, and trees and flowers,” he reflected.
Gardening – an activity rooted in nature that engages all five senses – has been prescribed by the NHS since 2019. Scientists have even found that people who garden have measuredly better wellbeing.
For Kendra Wilson, author of Garden for the Senses: How Your Garden Can Soothe your Mind and Awaken Your Soul, gardening is “a way of embracing mindfulness by stealth.”
The first step to enjoying a sensory green space, writes Kendra, is to “make sure you leave your phone indoors,” and find plants that appeal to at least two senses. Aromatic herbs, flowering shrubs and fruit-bearing plants will lead you on a journey through taste, texture, scent and colour.
But you don’t have to tend a garden to access these tactile delights. Cornwall’s wild spaces present abundant sensory experiences – especially at this time of year, as spring breathes new life into the landscape. Edible rock samphire starts sprouting on cliffs; gorse turns the coastline golden; wild garlic scents woodland air; calmer seas invite morning swims.
Creative pursuits also allow us to tap into the calming benefits of sensory experience. Cooking, painting, carving, weaving, knitting, sculpting: any activity where we use our hands has a remarkable ability to relax us.
“In today’s society, many of us go through our whole lives without ever working with our hands: we live, we work, we eat, we buy, we repeat,” writes artist and professional textile repairer Molly Martin. “Everything is made and delivered at a blistering rate, from fast food to fast fashion and, although this may keep the economy buoyant, it’s not necessarily good for our mental health, or for our planet.”
When Martin uses her hands to mend textiles and create illustrations, she says she is left with “a sense of calm and balance.”
Getting hands-on with creativity has been shown to have quantifiable benefits from feeling happier and more relaxed to reducing anxiety.
Over the coming months, we’ll be uncovering the many sensory experiences, and the joy of tuning into your senses, by the sea, so you can make more of every beach retreat…