This page introduces the three key principles that form the foundation of the Roots Out project.
Permaculture is a system of design that harmonises with natural forces to sustainably promote biodiversity, resilience and abundance.
Energy can change form but can’t be created nor destroyed.
Permaculture encourages us to consider energy inputs and outputs for every element in a system. Energy from the sun is stored by plants that animals consume and convert into movement, waste and heat- some of which may return to the soil to be reabsorbed by roots.
Energy changes from ordered forms into disordered/ chaotic ones. A fresh apple contains energy in a single form (sugars) but if left out, its intrinsic energy will be converted by the air into multiple byproducts such as heat and gasses. Life defies entropy, it converts energy from multiple chaotic forms into fewer ordered ones.
All life captures energy in some form (light, nutrients, water)- a well designed system will be saturated with energy capturing life forms. Technologies such as solar panels, hydropower and wind turbines can also be used to capture energy. Well-designed structures such as buildings, polytunnels and greenhouses can capture heat energy very effectively.
Energy captured by living organisms is converted into different storable forms (sugars, compounds, muscle, fat). This intrinsic energy can be repurposed into useful resources such as wooden planks, or may be stored for millions of years as is the case for oil. Energy captured by technologies can be usefully stored for later use by batteries. Often however, as is the case for heat-capturing structures, energy is only briefly stored and so must be used creatively and quickly. Soil is able to store huge quantities of intrinsic energy in forms such as water, sediment and minerals.
Energy changes form continuously. The more we are aware of these exchanges, the better we are able to guide them towards forms that are useful to us. For example energy from the sun’s radiation is captured by solar panels and exchanged for chemical potential energy in batteries. If capacity is exceeded, chemical potential could be exchanged for gravitational potential by pumping water up a hill, ready to turn a hydropower turbine within which the gravitational potential is exchanged for kintetic energy.
Ultimately, a central goal of permaculture design is create systems that collect and store more energy than they use. Therfore, systems should aim to slow down the release of energy, keeping it stored in useable forms for as long as possible. They should also aim for minimal use and should strive to reuse energy as many times as possiblle before it leaves the system.
Water is the most important component of any living system
Rain water can be easily collected from any slanted surfaces using guttering. It can also be collected by digging swales along contour on any hill. Well placed earthworks can collect water from hard surfaces such as roads- directing the flow towards storage systems.
Rain water collected from surfaces can be stored in a series of connected barrels or concrete chambers. On a larger scale, swale systems can feed into ponds and dams with overflow channels directing excess water towards additional storage structures further downhill.
Stored water can be distributed through pipes to any downhill growing system using gravity. Porous pipe feeds water directly to plant roots. Swales passively distribute water throughout a system by collecting surface run-off. It reaches the on contour, levelled ditch where it stops and slowly seeps into the ground.
Soil is a living, breathing, diverse ecosystem that cultivates all life.
Soil is usually composed of around 45% minerals, 25% air, 25% water and 5% organic matter. Soil texture is determined by the distribution of sand, clay and silt particles. Ideally you want an uncompacted, even balance of all three to ensure sufficient absorbtion of water and air.
Soil is generated by natural systems through the accumulation of organic matter on the surface (leaves, rotting fruit, manure). Organisms in the top soil layer break down this matter making nutrients accessible to plant roots. We can emulate nature by not digging over soil (perhaps once at the start to reduce compaction) and periodically adding layers of organic matter as sheet mulch– also supressing unwanted growth.
A teaspoon of soil generally contains over 100 million bacteria. Most of these bacteria play an essential role in decomposition, breaking down organic matter and storing nutrients in a form that is accessible to other soil life. When these bacteria die, the nutrients are released and absorbed by roots. Other bacteria form partnerships with legumes, trading nitrogen collected from the air for carbon compounds formed during photosynthesis.
A single teaspoon of soil can contain 100 meters of fungi if they were all lined up in a single row. They play a similar role to bacteria, predominantly breaking down organic material, making nutrients accessible to plants. Fungi form symbiotic relationships with plants by extending the reach of root systems, helping to collect nutrients and water, again in return for carbon compounds created by the plants. They also produce useful humic acids which help transport nutrients to the roots.
There are over a million species of worms. They are able to eat their body weight every day and double their population every 40 days. Worms play an essential role cycling soil nutrients, breaking down organic and inorganic matter into compounds that plant roots are able to absorb. They particularly love cardboard, paper, manure, veggie scraps and undisturbed soil.
Humus is dark organic material formed through the decomposition of animal and plant matter- created through composting. Humus contains essential nutrients and slowly crumbles, loosening the soil and allowing air and water to penetrate. Humus is the primary source of food for most soil life.
The three key nutrients found in soil and needed by plants are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). N is a key element in plant growth, P helps covert energy from sunlight into useful forms, K boosts disease resistance and helps form energy storing compounds. Sulfur (S), Calcium (Ca) & Magnesium (Mg) are three additional important macronutrients found in soil. There are 14 micronutrients also needed by plants but in much smaller quantities: Iron, Molybdenum, Boron, Copper, Manganese, Sodium, Zinc, Nicket, Chlorine, Cobalt, Aluminum, Silicon, Vanadium and Selenium.
All living organisms occupy an ecological niche- the specific habitat within which they operate/ survive and the unique way they interact with other components in their local environement.
Spatial stacking encourages us to place plants in a guild so that every possible niche is occupied. A fully stacked system would include a root layer of vegetables below the surface, a ground cover crop beneath a layer of herbaceous plants, a layer of shrubs, of understory fruit trees and a canopy layer of trees climbed by vines.
Most life cycles are determined by the earth’s rotation around the sun. These continous and predictable changes in climatic factors create niches in time. Permaculture encourages us to consider cycles, and fill temporal gaps. For example, spinach grows year round and likes moderate sunlight- under a fruit tree, maximal winter sun is able to reach through the bare branches whilst leaves provide some shade in the heat of summer.
Microclimates/ Sectors =
Aspect is the compass direction that a slope faces, it is a very important factor determining how much sunlight reaches an area, and therefore also how hot it gets. In our northern hemisphere, south-facing slopes are ideal as they receive sunlight throughout the day. East-facing slopes receive good sunlight in the morning but remain relatively cold in comparison to west-facing slopes as they receive sun in the afternoon when air temperatures are warmer. North-facing slopes remain relatively shady and cold, limiting the number of plants that can be grown there.
Shade is largely determined by aspect, but is also created by larger plants and structures. Whilst many plants prefer good sunlight, there are plenty that thrive in shade so it is important to select species carefully when making use of this microcimate. For example bluebells and wild garlic both naturally grow under canopies so are a good choice when sunlight is limited.
Water content in the soil can vary dramatically. Usually, the further down a slope you go the higher the soil’s water content as the closer you are to the water table. Organic material holds water well and so is also often wetter, as is the soil adjacent to water storage and distribution features such as ponds and swales. As with shade, there are many plants that thrive in wet soils and others that are able to tollerate drought- select species carefully.
A southern aspect creates a warmer microclimate, as does shelter from wind and as do structures. Polytunnels and greenhouses are specifically designed to trap heat making them ideal sites for young plants and those that prefer lots of sun. Brick is a material particularly good at absorbing and slowly releasing heat. A brick wall absorbs heat from the sun during the day and releases it over night creating a relatively warmer microclimate- fruit trees do particularly well grown up against a south-facing brick wall.
Shelter from winds can occur naturally for example under a forest canopy or at the bottom of a valley. It can also be created by placing structures such as buildings and windbreaks to protect a growing site from prevailing winds. Windbreaks are most effective when they are partially permeable (e.g. hedges) as this slows speeds rather than just redirecting them. Their height should be around a sixth of the distance they need to protect and they should extend beyond the width of the growing site. Shelter prevents damage from winds, improves water retention, slows soil erosion, protects pollinators, can support a wider range of wildlife and reduces heat loss.
Symbiotic relationships are where seperate components interact in a mutually beneficial way, sharing resources and providing support.
Permaculture encourages us to consider all the outputs provided by every component in a system. If any of these outputs are not being used, then they are going to waste or polluting the system. It is also important to consider how yields/ outputs change with the seasons over the course of a year and across the organism’s life cycle.
By growing a mixture of species in close proximity, we can maximise yields, efficiently use space and promote symbioticism. When planting in guilds, select species from different families, with similar water/ pH/ shelter requirements and varying root depths/ final heights. Consider life cycles and how they may effect each others access to sunlight. Legumes are ideal companions as they fix nitrogen in the soil whilst many herbs and other pungent crops act as a pest deterrant.
Intelligent assembly connects outputs and intrinsic features of certain components with the input needs of others. For example, by allowing chickens to roam in an orchard, grass can be kept in check whilst manure is applied directly to the soil.
Every site will have unique characteristics, microclimates and potential niches. It is critical that we become aware of the intricate web of interactions already in place before we consider our own goals and ideas. This can be done by walking around and exploring a site in depth, considering energy, water, soil, microclimates and ecology one at a time. It is also important to Speak with members of the local community and, ideally, to observe the site in every season.
A basic site map provides only a single snapshot but can nonetheless be a useful point of reference. It is important to ignore your initial design ideas, and instead simply and factually record the current layout. Round about measurements can be taken by counting paces or using a tape measure. An overlay of the base map should include details regarding the various microclimate factors and record other general observations.
On a larger scale specialist diggers may be required to move earth but often hand tools will still be needed for the finer details. A garden fork can be used to loosen soil, systematically turning over each quadrant of your growing space. A rake can be used lighty over the surface to expose weeds and roots ready to be removed by hand. Swales, dams and ponds can be dug with spades, ensuring the bases are compact and flat- a laser level or level meter attatched to a string is ideal for this.
Elevation is extremely imporatant when working with water. An A-frame is a great tool for marking out points on contour. Place the frame on near level ground, let the weight come to rest and temporarily mark where the string meets the cross bar. Switch the two feet and repeat, permenantly marking the mid-point between the two temporary ones. Keeping one foot on the ground, pivot the other until the string comes to rest on your mid-point. Place a stake in the ground by each foot then repeat, pivoting the previously stationary foot.
Good desing starts with careful observation. Using the practical listening and mapping skills described above, explore your site or space in rigorous detail with an open and inquisitive mind.
This stage is where an overlay of your basemap can be useful. Record details regarding microclimatic factors such as aspect, shade, frost pockets, water runoff, wind shelter and all other external energies that may interact with the site (e.g. wildlife).
This stage is where we first consider how humans will interact with the space. Zone 0 requires the most maintainence and is where the most energy exchange takes place (e.g. the house). Zone 1 requires less but regular attention (e.g. greenhouse/ compost) whilst zones 2-4 require less and less human energy input moving from orchards and livestock to water storage and timber forests. Zone 5 is the wild zone where nature is left to reach its own equilibrium of minimal energy exchange.
This stage is where we note down all the components of our system (current & desired) before creatively mapping out all their needs and potential yields/ outputs. When every component has been fully analysed we can begin creatively associating the outputs of some with the needs of others. The overall goal here is to minimise the amount of human energy requried to maintain the system, efficiently producing using and recycling resources.
It is crucial to be aware that this design process is cyclical. Our initial observations will be of very little use once the system starts to develop and the components we put in place will dramatically distort microclimates. Furthermore, we are unlikely to perfectly place our zones first time and likely to overlook some potential yields. It is important to receive feedback from experience and willingly adjust component placement accordingly.
References/ Further Reading =
- The Earth Care Manual – Patrick Whitefield
- The Permaculture Handbook – Bill Mollison
- Permaculture Online – Geoff Lawton
- Permaculture: Principles & Pathways – David Holmgren
- The Permaculture Institute – www.permaculture.org.uk
- Happen Films – Jordan Osmond
Incorporating the principles of permaculture design into all avenues of our lives is a crucial step towards caring for the earth. Primarily, this means minimising the energy we consume, maximising the energy we capture and promoting ecological diversity. We need to redesign and regenerate the spaces we currently inhabit, whilst leaving nature alone in the ones we don’t.
This section describes a few of the important creatures that share our habitat, highlighting what we can do to support them.
Bees are essential pollinators and so support all living things. They can see in ultraviolet, communicate directions with a ‘waggle dance’ and a strong colony flies the distance to the moon every day. Bees particularly love foxglove, comfrey, clover, honeysuckle, bluebells and other flowering plants. If space is available consider investing in and learning how to manage beehives.
There are over a million species of worms, they can eat their body weight every day and double their population every 40 days but are currently scarce or absent in 40% of UK fields. They play an essential role in cycling soil nutrients and feeding plants. They particularly love cardboard, manure, food scraps, compost piles and undisturbed soil.
Butterflies start life as a catepillar before making their transformation in a cacoon. Each stage of these three stages lasts between 2 and 4 weeks. They are gorgeous and great pollinators. They like long grass, plenty of wildflowers/ herbs, warmth and shelter. Attractive and pungent flowers planted under the shelter of trees are ideal.
Hedgehogs are small mammals that eat beetles, catepillars, worms and slugs. They have a great sense of smell and hearing but poor sight- making them well suited to nightime hunting. They are great for gardens as they keep slugs in check. They love wild space, ponds, holes in fences and compost piles. Always be careful turning over piles of garden debris- particularly during winter hibernation.
Frogs are loved by gardeners because they eat slugs and many harmful insects. They absorb water through their skin, can smell it from miles away and can jump up to 20 times their body length. Installing ponds is the best thing we can do to support them, but even leaving out buckets of water is very beneficial as it gives them a placec to lay their eggs.
Ladybirds hibernate over winter and are loved by gardeners because they are a major predator of aphids (harmful to plants). Ladybirds are particularly fond of fennel, marigold, chives and plants with bright flowers and flat, wide landing pads. Also consider building bug hotels (small towers of densely stacked sticks) for them to lay eggs in.
Trees are the lungs of the earth and forest is the UK’s climax ecosystem. It is essentail that we protect all trees currently standing, and plant new sapplings everywhere possible.
If a piece of land is left to nature, grasses may grow first before giving way to larger shrubs and eventually trees. This process of succession stops with trees because they harmonise extremely well with their environment, collecting and storing more energy than they consume. They provide habitat for a diverse range animals and plants, they generate and protect soil, and they efficiently cycle water. They perform all these essential functions whilst also absorbing masses of carbon– imagine if they were able to feed us?
Trees protect and generate soil. Their root systems break up compact earth allowing water and air to infiltrate. They provide shelter from wind erosion and heavy rains, locking the soil nutrients in place. When deciduous trees shed their leaves, a nutritious layer of organic matter is added to the surface and incorporated into the soil ecology by decomposers. This cycling of nutrients supports a diverse ecosystem above and below ground.
Trees can be considered sponges that play an essential role propelling and amplifying the water cycle. Beyond increasing infiltration by loosening soil, they also absorb water from deep underground and release it into the air by evapotranspiration. This creates clouds and eventually rain further down wind. Leaves are usually cooler than the air surrounding them and so also capture water vapour through condensation. Branches direct condensed water and fallen rain towards roots, ready to be absorbed and recycled alongside ground runoff.
Caring for the earth requires minmising our energy footprint in all its forms, particularly when it comes to fossil fuels.
Heating our homes can be a major factor contributing to our energy footprint. Good design will orient windows towards the winter sun, incorporate well placed windbreaks and thick insulation to trap heat. Well-placed wood-burning stoves are often the most efficient ways to heat a house and hot water pipes under slate flooring can also be very effective. As for lighting, where natural light is not possible, LEDs are more efficient than regular bulbs. Investment in solar panels can be another good way to reduce our energy footprint, but note that they cannot be recycled so look for longer lifespans.
The collection, purification and distribution of water requires huge amounts of energy and so reducing our useage can go a long way. Around 9000 litres of water is used to flush toilets per person per year. A composting toilet does not require any flushing water and will provide nutritious compost. Good design will recycle grey water (from washing up and showers) by passing it through a silt trap and reed bed and will collect rainwater. The production of meat requires huge amounts of water and so we can also reduce our footprint by adopting a plant-based diet.
Fossil fuels are a non-renewable energy source that produce masses of carbon dioxide when burnt. Fossil fuel-powered transport is the most severe way we currently damage our environment. Whilst airplane travel does the most damage, petrol and diesel powered cars are a close second considering how often they are used. Cycling or taking public transport is a great way to minimise our energy footprint- particularly in the case of trams and electric busses. Alternatively we can invest in electric cars or even better, can take steps to reduce the distances we need to travel.
It is the consumer’s responsibility to research alternatives and make informed decisions. Corporations are motivated by income and will not behave sustainably until we stop buying their products.
‘Fast fashion’ describes the move towards cheap and poor quality clothes by retailers such as Primark. These clothes are particularly bad for the environment because they are produced from synthetic fibers such which depend on fossil fuels. They are also short-lasting and difficult to decompose. Clothes made from natural fibres such as cotten are better, but growers of these crops often depend on pesticides and fertilizers which destroy soil ecology. In both cases, one of the main costs is in the transport of these clothes. Wherever possible, buy from sustainable local producers or charity shops and repair clothes that are damaged.
The transport of food accounts for a huge volume of carbon emmissions. The most effective way to combat this is by growing as much of your own food as possible, buying in-season produce from local producers and adopting a predominantly plant-based diet. As consumers, it is important to consider and research where our food comes from- an avacado has to travel half way across the world to reach our plate and even locally-sourced beef requires a huge amount of energy to produce.
Plastic is produced using fossil fuels and is extremely difficult to decompose. It therefore makes great storage containers but if thrown away, microfibers will eventually enter the water stream and then the ocean. These microfibers are consumed by sea creatures but cannot be digested, so instead fill up their stomachs and cause them to starve. Whilst the problem of plastic pollution is colossal, the first and most important step is to completely cut out and boycott single-use plastics. There are always sustainable alternatives, it is up to us to find and support them.
Our first task is to regenerate the spaces we have access to– gardens, parks, workplaces schools, churches, abandoned sites etc. We then also need to petition governments, unions and corporations to transform landscapes on a larger scale to make them sustainable.
Current practices in agriculture destroy soil ecology with regular tilling, monocultures and chemical sprays. We need to research, invest in and promote large scale organic farming, polycultures and perennial systems that do not disturb the soil. Large farms should also ensure to leave interconnected ‘tunnels’ of wildspace to ensure local wildlife is able to move freely. At the same time, we need to grow as much food in urban environments as possible, investing in, promoting and supporting communal growing spaces and communal composting schemes.
Settlements are in need of large-scale, government-led redevelopment if they are to sustainably meet the energy needs of their inhabitants. This should involve investment in renewable energy sources, energy efficient building rennovation/ design, green spaces, carbon-neutral transport and local production of resources such as timber. It also should involve the investment in large scale water storage systems able to capture rain that runs off roofs/ roads and feed into growing systems.
Tree planting is the most effective way to regenerate landscapes and care for the earth. Species can be selected to provide fruit for us and forage for wildlife. Leaving nature alone is very important, but we can help speed up the process by throwing seed bombs everywhere there is soil (a mixture of wildflowers, herbs and legumes would be ideal). To ensure plants are adapted to your local environment, collect seeds from nearby. Best to wait until seed heads/ pods have browned and dried out (likely in autumn)- they should snap or crumble off easily.
The recycling bin should be a last ditch option- creatively reuse resources and re-cycle energy locally, wherever possible.
Much of a households waste can go in the compost bin- food scraps, cardboard, teabags, leaves and grass clippings. It is important to make sure there is sufficient air flow, water and a balance of greens (organic- high nitrogen) and browns (inorganic- high carbon). A compost pile should be at least one meter cubed in size and the hotter the better, but above 65 degrees celcius can kill bacteria. Turn the compost to integrate air if it cools below 40 degrees, and once it cools to around 25 it should look like soil- leave for a few weeks before adding to the garden.
Cardboard can be very useful in the garden, either added to the compost or used as sheet mulch to prepare a growing space. Glass bottles and jars make great storage containers once washed or can be used to grow small plants in- make sure to drill drainage holes in the base. Plastic cartons and bottles can also be used to store or grow food in and plastic bags can easily replace clingfilm. Clothes can be bought from or donated to charity shops, and almost anything can be given away or found on sites such as freecycle, freegle and gumtree.
Guttering can be easily modified so that water collected by roofs is fed into storage systems (tanks, ponds, dams, swales) rather than the drain. Make sure to include an overflow pipe leading to additional storage further down hill, or back to the drain. With good design, grey water from showers and the sink can be recycled through gravel-filled reed beds (reeds are able to purify the water that passes through their root systems). An overflow pipe at the top of the gravel bed can direct the cleaned water to storage and irrigation systems. Note that these systems do need periodic cleaning every 5 years or so.
Whilst it is of course better to recycle than send resources to landfill, it is important to be aware of the environmental costs. Recycling requires a huge amount of fossil fuel to power the collection trucks and sorting factories. The resources are then often sold and transported overseas burning even more fuel with no gaurantee as to how they are eventually used. If the recycling bin is unavoidable, then make sure to wash the glass and plastic as otherwise whole truck loads can be rejected and end up in landfill.
Mental and physical health are profoundly intertwined. Whilst one does not guaranty the other, a healthy body catapults us towards a healthy mind and an unhealthy body makes negative attitudes, emotions and behaviours much more likely. Human bodies are very much like plants. We need air, nutrition, sunlight, space and water. Beyond these, we need plenty of exercise, good-quality sleep, social stimulation and a sense of purpose.
Nutrients are needed by the body to keep it healthy and functioning properly. Inadequate nutrition can be difficult to detect, but has a serious impact on long term mental and physical health. Vitamins are organic nutrients needed by the body, whilst minerals are inorganic ones.
The key foods that contain the vitamins and minerals we need are: leafy greens, dairy products, oily fish, brown rice, wholegrain bread, nuts, cereals, oats, fruits, vegetables and eggs. One of the most important and often overlooked sources of nutrition is sunlight– make sure to get outdoors when the sun is shining!
Vitamin A is essential to the immune system and so protects us against diseases. It can be found in dairy, eggs, oily fish, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, red peppers and carrots.
Vitamin B assists in the conversion of food into energy, the function of the nervous system and helps make red blood cells. It can be found in milk, meat, wholegrain bread, chickpeas, brown rice, potatoes, brocolli, peanuts, soya beans and eggs.
Vitamin C protects & repairs skin cells, bone tissue and blood vessels. It can be found in many fruits and vegetables including oranges, lemons, peppers, limes, strawberries, brocolli and potatoes.
Vitamin D plays a role in muscle contraction and the absorbtion of other nutrients, indirectly benefiting teeth and bones. It can be found in oily fish, red meat, eggs, mushrooms and some cereals but the main source is from sunlight.
Vitamin E is an essential component of healthy skin, healthy eyes and assists in immune system function. It can be found in fish, octopus, nuts, seeds, avacado, mango, kiwi, brocolli, blackberry, pepper and leafy greens.
Vitamin K assists in wound healing by encouraging blood to clot. It can be found in meat, liver, cheese, leafy greens, cashew nuts and blackberries.
Iron is a crucial component of red blood cells, and so assists in the transport of oxygen around the body. It can be found in shellfish, liver, red meat, turkey, tofu, spinach, pumpkin seeds, legumes and brocolli.
Calcium is essential to bones, teeth, muscle contraction and wound healing. It can be found in many food products including milk, cheese, anchovies, sardines, tofu, yoghurt, leafy greens, nuts and lentils.
Iodine makes a hormone called thyroid which is essential to metabolism. It can be found in most seafood, seaweed, dairy, grains and cereals.
Phosphorus builds bones, teeth and helps release energy from food. It can be found in red meat, dairy, fish, poultry, bread, brown rice and oats.
Magnesium helps convert food into energy and plays a role in producing important hormones. It can be found in fish, meat, dairy, leafy greens, nuts, wholegrain bread and brown rice.
Other nutrients the body needs are beta-carotene, chromium, cobalt, copper, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium chloride (salt) and zinc. Requirements for these minerals are likely to be met if regularly eating the key foods outlined under ‘sources’ above.
Excercise improves our mental health, physical strength, immune system, sleep quality, body image and quality of life. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stress, diabetes and cancer. ‘Heat shock proteins’ are responsible for many of these benefits and are produced when our body temperature raises and muscles are stressed during exercise.
The NHS reccomends a minimum of 3 hours gentle exercise per day for children below the age of 5. A minimum of 1 hour per day of moderate exercise is reccomended from age 5 to 18 and 4 hours of vigorous exercise per week is reccomended for adults. It is improtant to note these are bare minimums, realistically there is no upper limit and the more we move the better we will feel.
Example Moderate Exercises:
Example Vigorous Exercises:
Sleep is as important to our survival as food and water. It allows us to form memories, digest food, destroy toxins, repair muscles, process information, fight infections, solve problems and learn skills.
Our bodies have an internal, biological clock, or ‘circadian rhythm‘ which tells us when to go to sleep. It tries to synchronise with the sun but if we look at bright screens in the evening, we disrupt it. Sleep is composed of four stages. During the first three, our breathing and heartbeat gets slower and slower as our muslces relax and we fall deeper asleep. The fourth stage is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where we dream the most and our body behaves as if it is awake but paralysed.
One of the best ways to improve your quality of sleep is to stick to a strict schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. It can also be useful to practice a relaxing bedtime ritual like yoga, reading or a warm shower. Avoid intoxicants such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol as these will keep you awake. Avoid looking at screens for a few hours before going to bed- if you absolutely have to, then use a night light filter that removes blue colours so as not to disrupt your circadian rhythm.
Infants below the age of 1 need between 12 and 17 hours sleep per day and up to the age of 5 they need between 11 and 14 hours a day. Chilren aged between 6 and 17 need between 8 and 11 hours per day whilst adults need between 7 and 9. These are of course only reccomendations, it is best to try out different amounts of sleep and listen to your body. Some people are able to function perfectly well on 6 hours and less, whereas others may need over 11 to wake up feeling fresh and well rested.
A basic human need is to belong. Whether this is to a family, friendship group, community, society or culture, belonging is crucial to mental health. Whilst we consider ourselves individuals, our sense our identity is grounded in the social groups we associate with. With the current scale of global communication, the basic human need for genuine, face to face interaction can be forgotten, severely diminishing our sense of identity.
Our primary social group is usually our immediate and extended families. Dedicating time to spend with close members or catch up with estranged ones can be healing and refreshing. Traditionally, religion has played an important role in our wider social identity, as football fan clubs often do today. A shared interest or activity is ideal because it provides an excuse to regularly interact- for example book/ film clubs, social eating, volunteer work, festivals and sports participation.
Group membership provides us with love and a sense of security and potential. It provides us with emotional support, an opportunity to communicate, share ideas, play, laugh and above all else provides us with a sense of purpose. If our efforts will only benefit our self, our motivation will quickly run dry, but when we are working to benefit our families, communities and wider world, we are part of something greater.
Mindfulness is a focused, complete and prolonged awareness of and attention to the present experience. This mental focus is easiest to achieve when targeted on a particular activity such as breathing.
It is somewhat surprising how rarely we are conscious of the our sensory experience. More often we are scrolling through social media, thinking about the past or daydreaming about the future. Mindfulness encourages us to bring our attention back to the sights, sounds and smells of the present moment. The feeling of our lungs expanding, our feet against the ground, our muscles extending and the sun on our face.
Mindfulness is a skill that can be practiced and improved. Yoga is a great place to begin as it takes a lot of focus to fully stretch a muscle and maintain balance. During meditation, the mind may wander more- gently bring your attention back to the breathing. With daily practice, you will notice that you are able to maintain focus for longer and longer. Some people are eventually able to fully empty their minds of thoughts and simpy exist with no object of focus.
We have an innate desire for direction
When we orient ourselves towards the highest immaginable good, our lifes become meaningful. Without an overarching goal, we have no direction and will quickly become nialistic. However far away the end goal, if it has been properly thought through and articulated, it gives us somewhere to aim and our inbuilt motivational system will reward us for every step forward.
Progress gives us positive emotion, not completion. End goals should not be realistically achievable- world peace & happiness for example.
Once we have an overarching end goal, it is crucial to break this down into much more Specific, Measurable, Attainable Realistic and Time-constrained (SMART) goals. These help plot a route towards the unattainable end goal and allow us to be aware of progress we are making. Achieving them provides postive emotion without removing our overarching sense of purpose.
This motivational framework flexibly ensures we are confronting a manageable but significant amount of challenge. SMART goals should be attainable but not too easy, the right level of difficulty provides us with a healthy and controlled amount of stress. Stress builds character, self-awareness and resilience. By slowly exposing ourselves to pressure, we become more aware of our capabilities and more able to deal with the unavoidable stresses of life such as bereavement, heartbreak, illness.
Wim Hof Method =
One great, simple and effective way to build our resistance to stress is encouraged by Wim Hof, ‘the ice man.’ A daily ice bath or cold shower puts the body under a lot of physcial stress. With meditative breathing, perseverance and gradual exposure, we can train ourselves to resist and withstand the cold.
Refernces/ Further Support =
- Nutrition & Exercise – www.nhs.uk
- Understanding Sleep – www.ninds.nih.gov
- Mindfulness Basics – www.mindful.org
- Samaritains – www.samaritains.org.uk / Call: 116 123
- Mind – www.mind.org.uk / Call: 0300 123 3393