“The purpose of life is to live in agreement with nature.” Zeno, circa 520 BC
We have quickly become an indoor species. That is why such a simple thing as walking in nature can have such a profound effect on our bodies. The truth is we need nature; we need a calm space away from technology to let our eyes rest and mind wander. Nature-based therapy is not a new concept, but those words can be considered an umbrella term for a diverse range of psychotherapeutic and allied practices. Experiences and activities in nature are used to heal.
Pain, depression and anxiety isolate us inside our own heads. They make us lose touch, not only with our aliveness but the aliveness around us. Our awe in relation to simple existence contracts.
Ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy or green therapy, is the applied practice of ecopsychology, which was developed by Theodore Roszak. Ecotherapy stems from the belief that people are part of the web of life and that our psyches are not isolated or separate from our environment. Ecopsychology uses systems theory, systems thinking, or a systemic perspective is a multidisciplinary approach which believes it is impossible to truly understand a phenomenon by breaking it up into its basic components. Instead, a global perspective is necessary for comprehending the entire phenomenon. Ecopsychology suggests that individuals explore their relationship with nature, an area overlooked by many other types of psychotherapy.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Burroughs
Connection with Earth: Core of Ecotherapy
A quote from Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan. “Humans have evolved into what they are today after the passage of 6-7 million years. If we define the beginning of urbanization as the rise of the industrial revolution, less than 0.01% of our species’ history has been spent in modern surroundings. Humans have spent over 99.99% of their time living in the natural environment.”
Connection with the Earth and its systems are at the core of ecotherapy. Eco-therapists believe that the earth has complex systems of integrated balance and when we can harmonize with these systems, we may experience improved mental health. Personal well-being and planetary well-being, as proposed in many tenants of ecotherapy, are not separate from each other. People’s lives are therefore seen as part of a greater system of interaction.
“We do indeed belong here. The earth is more than just a home, it’s a living system and we are part of it.” James Lovelock
Humans walked, sat and slept on the ground, and worked with their bare hands in a naturally grounded state. Now we have become increasingly disconnected from nature by our modern lifestyle. Plastics replace leather-soled shoes. Toxic and man-made products block our natural connection to the earth. Additionally, our bodies have to deal with electronic radiation from household appliances, mobile phones, Wi-Fi, microwaves and cell towers, which bombard us continuously with excess free radical damage. The Earth’s frequency helps to block the damage so that your body can heal and repair naturally. Therefore, to remain in good health, it is imperative that we reconnect with our earth’s natural energy daily to counteract the damaging effects of our modern lifestyle. Many of us go days or even years without ever touching the earth, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can start receiving the benefits of earthing by going barefoot outside — the more time the better! This alone can be life-changing and it’s free. and if you love feeling great while earthing outdoors. It sounds strange but this is a life-changing discovery. It’s a no-brainer start earthing today to look, feel, and sleep better guaranteed.
Down to the Earth
Forest Bathing – Nature Therapy – Japanese Style
Shinrin Yoku is the Japanese phrase for forest bathing, which means spending time in nature and in the company of trees. Soothing, healing walks in the wild have been proven to help stress leave the body. The Japanese speak of a more Zen space, which is nature therapy at its most magical. Forest bathing is becoming a new global phenomenon due to people making an effort to soak up the benefits of taking in the forest atmosphere, which has been linked to promoting physiological and psychological health benefits.
Tree bathing for China
Sēnlínyù is Mandarin for “tree bathing.” Very similar to the Shinrin Yoku, the Chinese have long believed that tree bathing refers to the activity of visiting a green space, park or forest and walking or sitting in a relaxed way. This simple activity has been shown to boost the immune system, reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, promote restful sleep and increase energy levels. A simple 40-minute brisk walk through a green canopy landscape can help reduce the infamous hormone cortisol, the stress-inducing hormone. Many trees also release phytoncides which can bolster the human body’s autoimmune response to infection or sickness.
Free air life
Friluftsliv is a Norwegian word that exemplifies Norway’s cultural connection with nature. Norwegians work to live, don’t live to work. Working at a computer isn’t as stressful when you balance it out with a ton of one-on-one time with nature. Norwegian’s believe that in the forest there exists an underlying, often invisible coherence that provides a sense of harmony and wholeness present within. In fact, it may play a part in Norwegian’s overall happiness, as Norway is the second happiest country in the world according to UN rankings. Friluftsliv is a way to describe a lifestyle of exploring and appreciating nature.
“Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well.” Henry David Thoreau
Nature and Mental Health
Ecotherapy is based on the theory that nature heals. There is a growing body of research supporting this practice. In one study conducted by psychologist Terry Hartig, participants were asked to complete a 40-minute cognitive task designed to induce mental fatigue. Following the task, participants were randomly assigned spend 40 minutes in one of three conditions: walking in a nature preserve, walking in an urban area, or sitting quietly while reading magazines and listening to music. Participants who had walked in the nature preserve reported less anger and more positive emotions than those who engaged in the other activities. In a similar study conducted by Mind, a mental health charity organization, a nature walk reduced symptoms of depression in 71% of participants, compared to only 45% of those who took a walk through a shopping center.
The beneficial effects of nature result not only from what we see but from what we experience through our other senses as well. For example, in one recent study, participants recovered more quickly from psychological stress when they were exposed to nature sounds (from a fountain and tweeting birds) than when they were exposed to road traffic noise. In another study, food and fruit fragrances inhaled by hospital patients resulted in reduced self-reports of depressive mood.
While direct contact with nature has many benefits, individuals need not spend time in a green environment to experience the positive effects of nature. Several studies have found that a mere glimpse of nature from a window or even photographs of nature can improve people’s overall mood, mental health, and life satisfaction. An early study of heart surgery patients in intensive care units were able to reduce their anxiety and need for pain medication by viewing pictures depicting trees and water. Office workers in another study with a view of nature from a window reported higher job and life satisfaction than those who did not have such a view. The addition of flowers and plants to a workplace can positively affect creativity, productivity, and flexible problem-solving.
Researchers have demonstrated the positive effects of nature on both physical and mental health. Studies have shown, for example, that children who live in buildings with a nearby green space may have a greater capacity for paying attention, delaying gratification, and inhibiting impulses than children who live in buildings surrounded by concrete. Children who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) display fewer symptoms after spending time in a green environment than when they spend time indoors or in non-green outdoor environments. The presence of animals may reduce aggression and agitation among children and those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Ecotherapy Activities and Techniques
Since ecotherapy is an umbrella term for nature-based approaches to healing, the types of treatments used are many. Some activities take place with the guidance of a therapist while others are carried out individually. Some treatments are done in groups while others require a one-on-one setting. Additionally, while some ecotherapy sessions take place within the confines of an office, an effort is often made to conduct sessions in natural settings whenever possible.
Some of the more common ecotherapy activities are described below:
Nature Meditation: This takes place in a natural setting, such as a park, and is sometimes done as a group therapy. Members of the group may identify something in nature which attracts them and spend a few minutes contemplating how this aspect of nature relates to them and what they can learn from it. For example, an elderly person struggling with feelings of worthlessness might develop greater self-respect after meditating on how the older trees in a forest provide shelter for birds and shade for younger plants. The activity usually ends with group members sharing what they learn.
Horticultural Therapy: The use of plants and garden-related activities can be used to promote well-being. Activities may include digging soil, planting seedlings, weeding garden beds, and trimming leaves. This type of intervention is often recommended in cases of stress, burnout, and substance abuse, and to combat social isolation among the elderly. Research shows horticulture helps improve memory, cognition, language skills and socialization. It can help people relearn how to do things they used to know, and it’s used as part of both mental and physical therapy. There are regional groups of the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) that people can join. Programs such as Thresholds, a Chicago-based mental health agency, have also helped military veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress through horticultural and ecotherapies.
Wilderness Therapy: Similar to camping, this therapy is helpful when done in a group with a focus on trust-building exercises and a technology fast. Without technology, the brain and body has a chance to calm and ground. Exposure to nature, natural light patterns, and focusing on nature and socialization can drastically alter your mindset.
Animal-assisted therapy: In animal-assisted therapy, one or more animals is introduced into the healing process. Being allowed to pet or play with a dog, for example, has been shown to reduce aggression and agitation among some populations.
Physical exercise in a natural environment: This can include activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, or doing yoga in a park. These types of activities foster increased awareness of the natural world and are sometimes recommended for reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and anger.
‘Ecotherapy’ Suggests The Park Over Pills | NBC Nightly News
Conservation activities: Activities such as volunteering with The Conservation Volunteers, a group dedicated to exercise while working toward conservation can have therapeutic effects. The act of restoring or conserving the natural environment can assist in creating a sense of purpose and hopefulness. Since this activity is usually done in groups, it may also help foster a sense of belonging and connectedness while simultaneously improving one’s mood. One example is helping with Earth Day celebrations.
WWOOF When looking for a natural workout, everything from your local gardening club to community garden to volunteering worldwide on organic farms (WWOOFing) is an option. WWOOFing is a popular way to see the world on the cheap, connect with the natural world and build community.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”…..- Albert Einstein
Start with baby steps if you are an inside being. Just get outside, use your senses, slow down and notice nature. Calm yourself and joy is to be had. Happiness in nature is a human right. Empowered Self Healing starts with one small step.
For more info
Florence Williams The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative
Richard Louv Last Child in the Woods – saving our children from nature-deficit disorder
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MIND. (2007). Ecotherapy: The green agenda for mental health.
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