harnessing the wellness benefits of the outdoors through nature therapy
Being in tune with the world around us and harnessing the power of the outdoors has countless wellness benefits. So why not make the most of this natural resource to support your mental health? Here we explore nature therapy, and exactly what you can expect from it.
When you imagine a therapy session, what do you see? A quiet office interior or a quiet consulting room? While this is indeed the typical setup for counseling, many therapists now offer alternative environments to support their clients. And breaking out of these traditional expectations allows professionals to bring the human/nature connection into the present.
Nature therapy – also known as walking therapy, wilderness therapy, and eco-therapy – is the practice of being outdoors surrounded by nature. This can be in any open space, be it a garden, park or countryside, and is usually facilitated by a therapist who will be there to support and assist the client’s growth.
Of course, this concept is not new, although it is now gaining popularity. Nature and the natural world is a wonderful resource, which has always been available to us, and it offers us the possibility of connection to allow us to gain clarity, create perspective, feel inner calm and promote growth and healing.
Trees, plants, animals, birds, the elements, not to mention the cycle of the seasons – all of these can be our masters. They can reflect our feelings and offer us the opportunity to increase our self-awareness.
Try nature therapy yourself
Take a moment today to get outside – if you have a garden, you can go there, or go to a local park if there is one nearby. Even if that’s not possible, just being outside in the fresh air can be a good start. Once outside, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
Focus on listening to the sounds around you and feel your body relax and respond to your breath.
By stepping away from the confines and brick confines of a building, and transporting ourselves outside into an open space and filling our lungs with fresh air, we can immediately experience the benefits and a sense of well-being. .
With various activities available such as walking, observing and meditating, we are able to engage all of our senses, which in turn helps us develop our connection to the natural world around us – of which we are an integral part. Often it’s something we overlook, or in fact, we think our busy lifestyles don’t allow for.
The next time you go out, perhaps for a walk or just to sit on a bench, you can make a conscious effort to notice nature’s beauty as you listen to a bird sing, or perhaps touch the trunk of a old tree; both of these experiences connect our emotional attachment to what surrounds us in nature.
This connection experience can be further explained by studies that have been done using fMRI to measure brain activity. When participants viewed various nature scenes, parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up, but when participants next viewed urban scenes, parts of the brain associated with anxiety and to fear have been activated. This suggests that nature does indeed inspire feelings that connect us not only to each other, but also to our surroundings.
It is in this environment that we are able to solve our problems and find our own unique potential and sense of well-being; the outdoors provides us with a safe and inspiring space in which to do just that.
How does nature therapy differ from traditional indoor therapy?
There are many scientific studies that have looked into the benefits of nature, with benefits such as improved mood, motivation, focus and creativity, as well as our ability to solve problems. . There is even evidence from a 2016 study in Environmental Health Perspectives suggesting that exposure to green spaces may help you live longer!
In addition, our physical health also benefits because, among other things, our heart rate and blood pressure are reduced, with research published in the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Journal discover that spending time in a horticultural therapy program following a cardiac event even helped patients recover.
Just by being outdoors, and perhaps walking at a gentle pace, this informal, less intense approach may seem less intimidating to the client, and they may often find it easier to start talking about their feelings and concerns. experiences.
In fact, the act of walking itself can be meditative – and for some people the conversational element and opening can be much easier when done side-by-side, rather than face-to-face. If talking face to face is something that might worry or intimidate you, nature therapy might be a good avenue to explore to help you feel more comfortable.
Outdoor therapy also encourages natural and social interactions and a sense of “connection” with the rest of the world. This reconnection reminds us humans that we are all truly part of the ecosystems around us, rather than separate from them.
Moreover, in a very literal sense, standing tall and putting one foot in front of the other is the most positive and primal way to embark on the path of self-discovery and fulfillment.
Body and mind are inextricably linked, so moving forward physically can also metaphorically help mentally. Being able to combine these two processes can help get things done. This is particularly the case when we feel “stuck”, or that we have little control over our personal situation. In these cases, this form of therapy can often provide an additional sense of freedom compared to conventional therapy in an indoor space.
How can nature therapy surprise you?
Many surprising experiences can arise when you are in nature with the therapist.
When we find ourselves surrounded by something amazing, beautiful, wonderful and/or profound, or see it, we can find that this experience becomes “awesome”. Additionally, the natural world has the ability to help us connect more deeply to our true selves and can become an important third partner in the shared therapeutic relationship.
These surprising benefits were seen in research by Jonathan Haidt and Dacher Keltner, who found that when people experienced “fear,” they had an increased sense of connection and felt more willing to help others. They wrote, “Awesome events can be one of the fastest and most powerful methods of personal change and growth.”
I hope after reading this you can begin to consider a different type of therapy session – one that combines mind, body, soul and nature, to soothe, heal and grow.
Consult the advice directory to learn more about other types of therapies.