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  • Writer's pictureAngela Belcher

Nature Therapy




The Healing Power of Nature: Embracing Shinrin-Yoku and Ecotherapy

The Japanese have a name for it: shinrin-yoku, meaning “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere” (Fitzgerald, 2019). Nature therapy, or ecotherapy, is not a new concept. Followers believe immersing ourselves in nature is therapeutic and can even reverse disease. A 2020 study by Kyung et al. found that “the nature-based therapy process did not consist of just a single element or step, but involved an integrated way of healing with emotional and cognitive changes.” Researchers are now learning that almost any immersion into nature benefits a person’s well-being, causing them “to feel new again” (Summers & Vivian, 2018).


Nature provides us with every single thing we need to survive: air to breathe, fiber for clothing, lumber for building homes and businesses, trees, caves, and formations for shelter, plants and animals for nourishment and enjoyment, water to cleanse our bodies inside and out, and terrain for exercise. No matter where a person is, nature is sure to be nearby, yet it is often forgotten in the rush to be unwell and unhealthy.


The Decline of Outdoor Time

Did you know American and European children spend less than one hour each day outside? That’s less than prison inmates (Seaward, 2021). As Seaward said, “we are losing the realization of our inherent connection to the natural world.” Humans have been connected with nature since the beginning. In the last half-century, we’ve seen an almost sudden shift from spending most of our time outdoors to spending most of our time indoors. We need to get outdoors again. We can start now by going outside more often, interacting with nature when possible, and creating opportunities to share nature with others.


Benefits of Nature Exposure

Humans need nature; it enhances our cognitive abilities, emotional and spiritual development, and can help with chronic pain (Summers & Vivian, 2018). Nature enhances our positive emotions and helps us feel connected. In a 2020 article, Jim Robbins found that people who spent more than two hours each week in nature were “substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.” Robbins also reported that these benefits didn’t exist for people who did not spend more than two hours outdoors. This means those who spent time outdoors actually felt better than those who stayed inside.


Combining Therapies for Maximum Benefit

Ecotherapy, art therapy, and humor are some of the methods used to combat stress; when combined, they can pack a powerhouse punch that sends stress running for the hills. According to Soo-Ji et al. (2021), group art therapy and nature therapy combined significantly facilitated stress reduction, had a positive effect on self-esteem, improved working memory and concentration, and showed a positive influence on the digestive system. A combined-therapy activity can look like taking a walk in the park, picking up leaves and twigs to arrange into a design on the ground; bringing some pieces home (observing park rules) and creating a centerpiece or focal point.


Practical Steps to Incorporate Nature into Your Life


  1. Daily Nature Walks: Incorporate a walk in a natural setting into your daily routine. Whether it’s a park, forest, or even a garden, the key is to immerse yourself in the natural surroundings.

  2. Outdoor Activities: Engage in outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, or even picnicking. These activities can help you reconnect with nature and reap its benefits.

  3. Nature Art Projects: Collect natural materials like leaves, twigs, and stones to create art projects. This can be a therapeutic activity that combines the benefits of both nature and creativity.

  4. Mindful Observation: Spend time mindfully observing nature. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells around you. This can help reduce stress and increase your sense of well-being.

  5. Gardening: If possible, start a garden. Gardening can be a deeply satisfying way to connect with nature and nurture living things.


Conclusion

Nature therapy, or shinrin-yoku, offers a myriad of benefits for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. By making a conscious effort to incorporate more nature into our lives, we can enhance our cognitive abilities, reduce stress, and improve our overall health. Whether through daily walks, outdoor activities, or nature-inspired art projects, embracing the healing power of nature can lead to a healthier and more balanced life.

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