The wildflowers are in full bloom in the Big Woods State Park. I went for a walk in the park early in the morning today and was there alone before other visitors arrived. It was a calm feast for my senses: walking leisurely, listening to the chatter of birds and taking in the gentle greens of the landscape. My nervous system validated the research outcomes on the stress reducing qualities of forest bathing or just spending time in nature. I was walking alone, paying attention to the sounds, colors, and textures of the woods and felt the stress lifting off my shoulders. I’ve been experiencing the benefits of ecotherapy. Ecotherapy is based on the science that being in nature is good for us humans because we are part of nature. It has multiple benefits for our physical and psychological health. Ecotherapists might take you into nature and help you experience the outdoors with all of your senses. I had a sample session with such therapist last fall. We had a zoom session. The therapist sent me outside with a list of instructions. Basically, I was supposed to use my five senses mindfully to experience the nature that surrounded me. I went into my own back yard that is a wooded area. I listened and I looked attentively around, beneath my feet and above my head. I smelled, I touched, and I hugged a tree. I saw my backyard for the first time and my relationship with that tree has changed forever! I definitely felt more alive when I came back to the house to report my experiences to the therapist.

What are the benefits of eco-therapy?

Studies have demonstrated that spending time in nature decreases stress, depression and anxiety. It lowers blood pressure while it boosts our sense of wellbeing. It also improves concentration. As you might have noticed there is mindfulness involved in ecotherapy: we are instructed to use our five senses to fully experience nature.

Getting your hands dirty in the garden can increase your serotonin levels – contact with soil and a specific soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, triggers the release of serotonin in our brain according to research. Serotonin is a happy chemical, a natural anti-depressant and strengthens the immune system. Getting our hands in contact with the soil seems to be pretty important. If you don’t have a garden, maybe you can join a community garden and add the benefits of social interactions on top.

Ecotherapy can take a variety of forms from a prescription to visit a park , through forest bathing to a wilderness camp.

The most important thing is to spend time outdoors using your senses. Spend as much time in nature as you can. Hang up your hammock and read outside. But you don’t have to be alone. We still live in a pandemic and socializing outside is safe. Enjoy nature with your friends. The Wild is calling you, there is greening everywhere around you. Veriditas, veriditas, the greening of the world ( or soul) as Hildegaard of Bingen proclaimed. After all, ecotherapy has existed for millennia we just didn’t have a name for it.

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