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What’s “Ecotherapy” and Why You Should Know About It

Ecotherapy encompasses much more than the joy of capturing a picturesque sunset photo–it includes how green spaces, public parks, and the COVID-19 pandemic is revolutionizing health and well-being.

We can all agree that Mother Nature has a way of healing the soul. A walk on the beach, a hike to the summit, a swim in a crystal clear lake–each of these experiences encapsulates some sense of freedom and rejuvenation. Writers, poets, and artists have been in awe of nature’s beauty for centuries, from the budding blossoms of Georgia O’Keefe to Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Attempting to capture nature’s beauty is an inevitable part of this human experience.

We are reminded of this as indigenous cultures are deeply rooted in the rituals that require tending to the Earth as well as living off of the land. Innately inside ourselves (and our cells) lies our connection to nature. Ecotherapy is all of these things. Simply put, ecotherapy is embracing nature and the outdoors as a means to improve well-being.

The Science Behind Ecotherapy

Anecdotally, it is widely agreed that a walk in nature is stress-buster, and now research in ecotherapy is growing to support mind-body benefits. “Green spaces” is a growing buzzword that encapsulates any designated area like public parks or gardens that contain elements of nature. A recent study led by the University of Geneva showed that public parks play a crucial role in the well-being of individuals, regardless of socioeconomic status. These researchers found that public parks are green spaces that promote biodiversity as well as promote three essential needs of well-being– living in a pleasant environment, growing as a person, and being part of a community. While in the age of COVID-19, having a sense of community amidst socially distant standards is an undeniable challenge. Green spaces combat this and allow for community to continue in a safe, accessible, and pleasant environment.

Do our bodies really benefit from nature?

According to science, yes! In a study examining cortisol, a marker for stress in the body

results indicated that people living in neighborhoods with tree canopy, gardens, and

parks had less saliva than those who did not, which remained significant with controls

for socioeconomic conditions. This goes to show that no matter who you are or what your paycheck is, being around nature is impactful on a physiological level.

If you’re looking to get more intentional about your ecotherapy forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, could be for you. It is the practice of immersing yourself in a wooded or forest area and allowing yourself to truly be present for this sensory experience. Studies that have examined benefits of this practice all point to similar findings–a reduction of stress, resulted from mindfully tuning into nature and likely, turning off digital devices.

Ways to connect with The Great Outdoors today, no matter where you live.

  • Take advantage of your local parks, lay in the grass with a book, or plan a BYO picnic with friends.

  • Follow a guided meditation that includes nature imagery, allowing your mind to find nature within you.

  • Forest Bathe. Get out into your local woods and soak up all the green foliage you can get.

  • Garden, even if it means a few herb plants on your windowsill. Tending to nature in this way takes time and patience but the outcome is well-worth the nurturing.

  • Plan a trip around nature. Whether you’re taking a day trip for a hike or plan an entire cross-country road trip, choose to make witnessing the beauty of nature the main attraction.

  • Create a green space inside your home or backyard. Inside, you can load up on potted plants that clean the air and look good while they do it. In your backyard, you can dig deep and plant whatever flowers, trees, and shrubs that make your space feel like an oasis.

Ecotherapy is gaining traction as the COVID-19 pandemic has limited traditional social outings, like shopping malls, restaurants, and bars, which has in some sense forced our world to turn to nature as an escape. This pandemic has been a reminder of what's truly essential for our health and well-being, beyond material things. With our new normal in place, how are you connecting with nature?

Let’s continue this conversation by letting me know in the comments below, or on my Instagram, @SeededSoul

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