What is Green Therapy?
Green therapy? Ever heard of it? Maybe eco-therapy? No, it is not the idea of using fewer tissues during a therapy session to save the trees. Eco-therapy, also known as green therapy or green exercise, is the powerful notion that being out in nature, connecting with it, has healing elements for your mind, body, and spirit. Current forms of therapy are often cognitive heavy and rarely target the emotions that get trapped in the body.
Frequently, you will hear therapists say, “feel your feelings.” But what does this mean? How do you go from thinking about your feelings to actually feeling them? The notion of feeling begins when you ground yourself in your body and the sensations that exist within it. Nature, you guessed it, is one of the best environments to foster a sense of being present and to work on releasing your body of toxic feelings that you have been carrying around every day.
Why do I feel this way?
We as humans inhabit a very busy world, 24/7. Nothing ever really closes. No one is ever really offline. Accessibility and immediacy are a way of life. We bask under fluorescent lights and the ever glow of blue light for more than twelve hours a day. We use mass-produced essential oils to remind us of the scent of trees and flowers. We even stick stars to our ceilings to remind us that there is something bigger than us.
We try to bring nature indoors, and it is good and all, but we cannot forget the powerful effect that being out in nature has on our happiness. Recent research has shown that life satisfaction and well-being improved with greater levels of nature-connectedness (Capaldi et al., 2014). There is something very magical about watching life happen around you. For a moment, it is almost as if nature makes you feel like a bystander to its magnitude and liveness. It transforms the feeling of “doing life” into living it.
How do I connect with nature?
Don’t worry, it does not involve going on a 10-mile hike! The intensity of your outdoor activity does not matter as much as the consistency of connecting with nature. Even 5 minutes of watching the leaves dance in the wind, listening to the rain against your window, or watching the snowfall from the sky will do. There is something hypnotic about coming into tune with nature. It is a tool of emotional regulation that is greatly underused, even though it exists all around us.
Here are some simple yet effective ways you can connect with nature, by yourself or with friends.
Picnic Outdoors: Next time you grab a coffee, take a lunch break, or simply want to eat a snack, challenge yourself to go outside to refuel. The change of scenery can affect the pace at which you feel you have to refuel, allowing you to slow down and savor the moment.
Forest Bathing: This is a mindfulness practice originating in Japan and centering around the notion that nature ought to be a full sensory experience. Being out in nature grounds us physically and mentally, boosts our immune system through the inhalation of phytoncides (Fitzgerald, 2021; Franco et al.,2017), also known as nature’s essential oils, and allows our sensory system to reboot. The next time you are outdoors, try this sensory exercise. Taking slow and deep breaths, acknowledge five things you can see around you, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
Sketch an outdoor scene: This one is not just for the artists out there. This activity is for everyone. Take a pen, pencil, or colored markers, and try to focus on one element in nature. It can be a leaf, a tree, a flower, a rock. Hone in on the details. This exercise is a form of active mindfulness.
Snowshoe, Go Sledding, Skiing, Snowboarding, Skating: This is self-explanatory, but get out there and move your body! Do not let winter scare you away from spending time in nature. Get creative! This may mean getting up and going for a brisk walk around your apartment or having an unplanned snowball fight when walking with friends.
Plant a tree: Trees are incredibly essential in our daily life. So, pay it forward and plant a tree! Not only is it a tangible way to address climate change, but playing around in dirt has immune-boosting aspects!
Nature Sound Bath: Next time you are outdoors, try practicing active listening. Pick a repetitive sound. It could be a bird call, water trickling, or trees rustling. Then concentrate on the rhythm of this sound. See if you can notice any slight changes in tone, rhyme, or tempo. A good technique for focusing is counting. See how many times you can count the occurrence of your chosen sound before your mind begins to drift.
Meditate Outside: This can be as easy as sitting by the lake, on a bench in a park, or sitting on the grass in your backyard. Set a timer for 2 minutes, to start, and practice breathing in for 5 seconds, holding your breath for 5 seconds, and exhaling for 5 seconds. This method is called triangle breath. It is an easy way to calm the mind and body, while adding in the calming aspects of being out in nature.
Star Gaze: When was the last time you looked up and admired the sky? When was the last time you saw the stars? Take a couple of minutes at the end of each day and try to find the constellations you learned about in elementary school. This activity is yet another form of structured mindfulness activity.
Some of you may think these options are cheesy. It is because these activities tug at your inner child. Yup, that one. The kid that used to spend countless hours outdoors, jumping in puddles, digging in the dirt, playing sports, or picking flowers. That inner kid is smiling, huh? So, get out there and connect with nature! It is a cost-effective coping tool that targets both the mind and the body.
Capaldi, C. A., Dopko, R. L., & Zelenski, J. M. (2014). The relationship between nature
connectedness and happiness: A meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00976
Fitzgerald, S. (2021, May 4). Travel. The secret to mindful travel? A walk in the woods. National Geographic.
Franco, L. S., Shanahan, D. F., & Fuller, R. A. (2017). A review of the benefits of
nature experiences: More than meets the eye. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(8), 864. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14080864