Sing as you go

Bluebells growing in forest with a person wearing boots hiking in the background

SongPath helps people reconnect to nature and aid their mental health - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

SongPath comes to Leeds this month, taking you on a feel-good journey to reconnect with nature and experience ‘a tasting menu of therapy’ 

Jess Dandy is a modern-day Pied Piper. She sings, you follow – and anyone can join in. 

In fact, on April 18, she hopes scores of people will join her SongPath to discover the spirit of music as they walk in nature, soak up the season and share moments of mindfulness. 

Jess is a singer – a contralto performing around the world, and she enjoys putting together programmes of poetry and song inspired by the landscapes around her. 

Jess turned to nature after her own mental health crisis and now passes the benefits on through SongPath

Jess turned to nature after her own mental health crisis and now passes the benefits on through SongPath - Credit: Philip Hatfield

In April she will bring SongPath to St Aidan’s RSPB nature reserve in Leeds in collaboration with the Leeds Lieder classical music festival.  

Two SongPath walks will take place and the aim is to connect the outdoors with music, talking and a slow pace of life around the stunning nature park.  

They will bring together professional and amateur musicians, experts on the natural world and mental health professionals in curated walking trails rooted in the local landscape. 

R25TH7 Silhouettes of a reed bed at RSPB St Aidan's in Leeds,West Yorkshire

Immerse yourself in nature: RSPB St Aidan's in Leeds - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

In the magnificent spring scenery of St Aidan’s, they’ll unearth a wealth of nourishing connections to the world around through music, art, poetry and science.  

Jess has been through her own mental health struggles and her recovery was helped by taking time out in nature. 

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‘I trained to be a classical singer and signed up to a life that basically uprooted me’, she says. ‘I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. On a really good day I could leave the house, maybe walk to walk around the block – and as I started to do this, these tiny little things started to solve things – simply putting one foot in front of another. As you walk you simply can’t help but be improving.  

‘To start seeing what is in front of you is a healing thing to do – I was terrible initially but as I was able to go out more, into nature I started to think ‘there is so much out here’. 

‘I wanted to explore and play and be creative and consume this in a personal way. I think that sometimes people go out in nature and they fear they don’t know enough, that they need to know the names of things and defer to an expert. 

‘That's fine – it can be an enchanted language, but what I want to encourage people to do on the SongPath is to see the nature around them and really explore it in an instinctive way.’ 

The SongPaths take a 2-3 mile route - ‘slow and steady wins the race’, says Jess.  

She explores the route beforehand to see the wildlife and people working on the route. On the day the walk is a mixture of walking, talking, meditation, some music, poetry, science. 

‘Everything is informed by the route,’ says Jess. 

‘All the way round there will be little stops, so it really is a kind of tasting menu of different forms of therapy. As soon as you connect to nature you connect to yourself.’ 

SongPath also grows roots in local communities by partnering with local branches of mental health charity Mind to provide free workshops and free places at our events for service users.  

Benefits of spending time in nature  

There is a wide and growing body of scientific evidence about the physiological and psychological benefits of spending time in nature:  

Reduces cortisol levels (stress) and lowers the risk of poor mental health, psychiatric morbidity, psychological distress, depression, clinical anxiety, and mood disorders  

Has physiological benefits including reducing blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity

Can reduce the experience of pain, lead to fewer GP visits, and aid recovery from illness  

Decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation (particularly in group activities) 

Benefits of music and creative activities:  

Can protect against mental health conditions, help manage mental ill-health and aid recovery 

Alleviates anxiety, depression, and stress  

Improves heart rate, motor skills, brain stimulation, and enhances immune system  

Increases social interactions, alleviates loneliness and isolation  

SongPath is an activity with therapeutic benefits and is based on psychotherapeutic principles. Jess worked closely with consultant psychotherapist, Rufus Harrington (Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at the University of Cumbria), to ensure that methods are scientific, and evidence based. 

To buy SongPath tickets please phone the Leeds Lieder office on 07425 233451