Unyoked is a new word in my vocabulary. It means to free from a harness or yoke, and can be interpreted as a way to liberate yourself from the pressure of doing, and the prison of productivity.
It’s also the name of Australian nature startup Unyoked who kindly invited me to spend two nights in their first UK off-grid cabin — dubbed Rex — which is housed in a stunning spot in rural Norfolk, next to a pond in a vast, flourishing estate.
I was apprehensive and excited at the same time, knowing that I would benefit greatly from a space dedicated to solitude and quietness. I was also curious to see how it would be to sleep in a mini and minimal house, beautifully designed to make you feel immersed in the forest with huge corner glass windows by the bed.
I thought it was a good opportunity to not only connect with nature, but also to disconnect from technology, which is where the apprehension kicks in, since I haven’t spent a full day without my laptop since I went on a meditation retreat in 2019. I take it with me on holidays, use it to study during the weekends and even took it to the hospital when looking after my mum.
In addition, there is also the mobile addiction — one that I justify as part of my work involves social media strategy. Technology can be helpful or harmful and the fine line between them is balance — a word and practice that I am definitely not an expert in.
So let’s get real, did I spend 48 hours without my phone? No. Was I liberated from the urge to check emails, Slack, IG, etc? Yes, and the best part is the fact that I didn’t have to do anything for it to happen. It just happened naturally; thanks to nature (and an off-grid cabin in the middle of a forest).
Here then are five lessons I’ve learned during my Unyoked adventure that might motivate you to immerse yourself in nature more regularly too — whether that be an off-grid retreat, or just a long walk through the woods at the weekend.
Nature fosters connection
The very informative and detailed digital manual the Unyoked team has put together specifies where you should park your car as you’re not allowed to have your vehicle right next to the cabin (don’t worry, it’s only a 300m walk).
Initially I thought it was an annoying request, but as soon as I read the instructions “Park here. Continue on foot. Leave worries behind” and started walking to my cabin I experienced a sense of safety and belonging within taking a few first steps into the woods.
It’s a magical warming feeling that I compare to the power music has to immediately shift our mood, but the frequency and magnitude of nature is even more transformative.
If my poetic description sounds a bit woo woo for you, several studies show that ‘frequent nature immersion is scientifically proven to physically reduce stress and anxiety, improve creative problem solving and unlock feelings of awe and perspective’.
It is even recommended by the NHS.
Simplicity brings us contentment
Removing the noise, distractions and our everyday luxuries — food delivered to your door within 20 minutes say — show us what is really essential to living and how to truly appreciate what is right in front of us.
It was nice to re-discover the simple pleasure of cooking a comforting meal and enjoying it outdoors instead of inhaling it in a rush in front of a screen. I made a mushroom pasta I normally cook in my flat and it was the best one I ever tasted.
Curiosity is a great antidote for apprehension
I am not going to lie, there are certain aspects of the adventure that made me slightly nervous. Will I be bored? Is it safe? How will I cope with a composting toilet? Yes, I was worried about the non-flushing loo situation. It might be the trauma from my repulsive bathroom experiences in Nepal during Everest base camp track, which definitely prepared me for the worst.
I postponed the toilet visit for as long as I could hold, until I realised how silly the apprehension was and that the threat of a bug becoming intimate with my privates was simply a fear I constructed in my mind. On realising this I approached the situation with openness to see what would actually happen.
It turns out that compostable toilets are a much more civilised way to dispense your waste as it magically disappears into the compost box without leaving a smelly trace.
Talking to strangers brings us together
One of my favourite things about the experience was going for long walks. The cabin is situated in the stunning Houghton Hall estate, so I was able to walk on the grounds.
On one walk I was greeted by a lovely gentleman, Thomas, who lives in one of the properties’ cottages and kindly offered refreshments in his manicured garden. It was refreshing to get to know him, hear his fascinating stories as a retired helicopter pilot and have a private guided tour of the wonderful walled garden in Houghton Hall.
In the city we build walls around ourselves, finding it awkward to smile and look into people’s eyes. I found that the spaciousness of the countryside actually brings people together.
A three minute shower consumes 30 bottles of water
I do like a long shower before bed, it helps me relax. However, after reading in Unyoked’s bathroom leaflet that a three minutes shower consumes 30 bottles of water, I became uncomfortable with the water waste.
The dissociation from nature blinds us to the fact that natural resources are not convenient commodities, but rare and precious gifts of nature we must use wisely.
The cabins use solar power, rain water, wood fire and composting loos to leave a minimal impact on the environment. Which is not the case in my flat, but after my time at Rex, I am more conscious of my habits and trying to improve my actions wherever I go.
Unyoked promises to be “your remedy for modern life” and by facilitating our integration with the outdoors, Unyoked is driving cultural change and hopefully a shift in consciousness, as the sense of awe only nature delivers reminds us of interdependence and interconnectedness.
The requirement to be always on impacts our wellbeing and relationships as the body and mind have limited time to recover from the demands and deadlines we power through. It can be ever harder to switch off, which is why it is important to rethink the myth of productivity and remind ourselves that resilience requires energy, and resting is how we recharge.
Immersing myself in nature for a short period of time provided the headspace for clearing my mind and getting the creative juices flowing. I am grateful for the opportunity and dare you to get Unyoked!