Ecotheraphy In Nature
5th April 2022
There’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in nature. Taking a break from the concrete jungle and finding yourself at peace with yourself and the world around you? That’s priceless.
In fact, it’s well documented that spending time in nature can alleviate stress and help with feelings of anxiety and depression. It can even boost memory and cognitive function as well as improving physical fitness, such as stamina, dexterity and mobility.
That’s why The Hike Society joined together for a retreat into the Malvern Hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty, where they were invited to let themselves become extremely present while wandering through forests and relearning how to connect with nature.
This is called ecotherapy, a therapy technique that utilises nature to help bring people back to the present. The term ecotherapy ecnompasses a whole host of activities, from more adventurous ones, like rock climbing, to creating arts and crafts from natural resources, like wood or leaves. What these activities have in common is that they promote oneness with the world around you, and a break from the busy chatter of your mind.
On their retreat, led by Fleur and Pete of Nature Escapes, The Hike Society experienced the benefits of forest bathing – a Japanese ecotherapy technique originating in the 1980s – and a traditional tea ceremony.
“In the 1980s, during Japan’s tech boom, people began moving from the rural areas and into the cities,” explains Fleur. “But the government noticed an increase in autoimmune diseases and cancer among the population, so they paid scientists to get to the bottom of it.”
What they found was, trees and plants release Phytoncides, which are essentially chemicals that help plants fight diseases. As it turned out, they also help humans to fight diseases by building up our white blood cells and boosting our immune system, and without the presence of this chemical compound in urban areas, humans were becoming unhealthy – so formal ecotherapy was born.
Forest bathing itself refers to simply being in nature, whether it’s a forest, the mountains or simply a green landscape. After a 20-minute guided meditation which helps to open up your senses, connecting with nature and connecting with exactly where you are, revellers wandered through the woods for around three hours. They were invited to dip their toes into streams, comb their hands through the soil and watch the clouds as they drifted by.
“Nature is good for your emotional health, and your mental health and spiritual health,” says Fleur. “It puts us back in that place where we’re no longer superior to nature, because we are nature, and that’s a beautiful thing to feel.”
“You feel very present in nature,” Fleur says. “Often, when you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it's because you’re worried about what's happened in the past or things that are going to happen in the future. But actually, when we're in nature, it reminds us that the moment that we have is right now. Because everything in nature is happening in the moment, and you’re able to move away from those busy thoughts.”
She adds that being in nature helps to combat feelings of anxiety, stress, anger and depression.
The reason ecotherapy is so powerful is that, when you think about it, nature is where we are supposed to be – it’s where we’ve always been. The term Biophilia was coined in 1964 and was developed in the 1970s by Edward O. Wilson. It refers to humanities innate need to bond with, and be immersed in, nature.
“When we go into nature, there’s a feeling of remembrance,” says Fluer. “Some people, when they find themselves in nature, like at the beach or on a mountain, they’ll feel like they’re home. That’s because our ancestors were living outdoors, so, on a genetic level, the need to be in nature is ingrained in us.”
That’s why ecotherapy works: “Our body knows that nature's good for you on a kind of cellular level,” Fleur adds.“So, when we allow ourselves the time to be in nature, we will receive the benefits of nature.”
And that’s the beauty of it: the oneness, the presentness and the relaxation we can draw from ecotherapy is completely natural and, importantly, real. Nature is healing, because nature is home.
Discover more on The Hike Society here.