John Muir once said: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
There is no doubt how relaxing and healing spending time in nature can be. The fresh air you breathe in the morning on a hike, the warm sunlight on your skin, or the smell and the sound of the ocean on the beach during a summer day…even though nature’s healing power of homeostasis (ie. stability) for the mind, body and soul are well-known, our persistent love affair with technology continues to interrupt our connection with Mother Earth.
Ecotherapy refers to a method of restoring optimal health and well-being through routine exposure to the natural world (Seaward, 2018). There are many physiological and psychological benefits of ecotherapy. For example, exposing yourself to nature can improve mental cognition, including attention span, memory, and concentration abilities.
There are multiple studies exemplifying the benefits of ecotherapy. In a study conducted by Eva Selhub and Alan Logan, the data gathered demonstrated that when people were shown images of nature, there was a rise of alpha waves in the brain with corresponding serotonin levels as well as a reduced sense of anger. Moreover, patients who had plants in their hospital rooms reported a greater sense of joy and happiness than those patients without plants in their rooms. Further studies showed that sleep quality had also seemed to improve after a two-hour walk in the forest (Morita et al., 2011).
Other physiological effects of spending time in nature include decreased cortisol levels by 12.4 percent, considerably decreased resting heart rate, and decreased blood pressure (Park, 2010; Miyazaki, 2011). Exposure to aromatic scents (ie. phytoncides) secreted by evergreen trees is connected with increased natural killer cells and reduced stress levels (Li et al., 2019).
With all the stress that we’re experiencing in the world right now, and with all the addictive on-demand technology we have, spending time in nature is more important than ever. It is so easy to lose our inherent connection to the natural world.
Here are some simple tips to practice ecotherapy and deepen your connection to nature in your daily life:
When out in nature, be mindful of your surroundings, taking in the different smells, sensations, and sights around you
Skip the treadmill and go for a walk or run out in nature instead
Meditate and practice yoga in a park
Make time to socialize outdoors (ex. picnic with friends!)
Take time to watch the sunrise and/or the sunset
If you’re a moon child like me, become familiar with the phases of the moon
And remember, nature can be found anywhere, at any time. Get to know your Mother!