Nature is Therapy

There is a spot on the Old Growth Trail heading up to Island Lake Lodge where the cedars make a perfect circle. If you connect your body to the pine needles on the ground and quiet your mind you can lose yourself in the sound of a nearby creek and sight of swaying trees towering over you. It is a magical place and living proof that nature is therapy. 

The peacefulness of nature has long been a place where humans go to relax and unwind from the stress of daily life. A drive in the mountains, a walk through the forest, or time spent contemplating life by a river can increase our overall sense of well-being. We know that there are physical and psychological benefits from exposure to nature and yet I often hear people say that they are so busy they often forget to stop and truly take in this amazing valley. In his book Wisdom Sits in Places, Keith Basso (1996) wrote about how important it is for us to “step back from the flow of everyday experience and attend self-consciously to places” in order to richly feel and live the gifts of nature. He believes that our connection to landscapes leads to self-reflection, which in turn leads to contemplation about other aspects of our lives including relationships, problems, and experiences. 

How do you connect to the landscape that is Fernie? What does this place we call home, or visit regularly, mean to you and how does that meaning impact your life and well-being? How, outside of sport, are you connecting to the mountains and nature that surrounds you? There are healing aspects to our activities in the mountains and yes, exercise is important to our well-being, but we also must appreciate how these landscapes influence our lives in mental, emotional, and spiritual ways. If you find yourself having a difficult time answering these questions, or if you have never considered them, it may be time to reconnect to the natural world that surrounds you. 

I encourage you to go outside, take a deep breath in and draw awareness to your senses. No need to clear your mind, simply allow thoughts to come and go. Next, take a look around and name five things you see, five things you hear, five things you feel (ex. wind on my skin), five things to smell, and when possible five things you taste. This practice brings you out of whatever you fixated on or worried about and back into the moment. Repeat with four items, then three, and so on. The grounding exercise can be used when you need a break from hectic everyday life when you feel anxious, or anytime you find yourself disconnected from the important aspects of your life. 

John Muir said, “In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Have you ever walked a bike trail and taken in the beauty that normally flies by you so quickly? Slow it down, take a walk every once in a while, and truly drink in the therapy that nature has to offer you. The sights, sounds, and smells are guaranteed to be a mood lifter and perhaps may even provoke a little reflection about your life. 

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.