January 10, 2013 Features & Images » Feature Story

The power of nature 

Ecotherapy challenges us to explore the inner landscape of our minds through the rekindling of our connection with the earth

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He points to a growing body of scientific literature about the positive effects of ecotherapy. And although a tad sceptical about its popularity — "It's critical to the future of humans on earth, if we don't learn to live in harmony, we're cooked, literally," he chuckles — Scull concedes that ecotherapy is part of a larger movement which is marching forward.

Martin Jones agrees.

The UK-based counselling psychologist says he believes the practice is becoming more and more widespread.

"I think given the increasing complexity of urban living, species extinction, extreme weather, etc. people are seeing both the value of nature and getting distressed about its destruction," Jones wrote in an email. "Alongside this I think there is lots of anecdotal and scientific evidence to articulate the healing and psychological benefits of nature and people want to explore this more.

"At times of personal crisis and struggle I have used nature as a co-therapist. Spending time in nature has helped to centre and ground me, giving me the space and support to deal with my issues. I believe that deep within us there is a stored memory of our ancestors' intimacy with nature."

While ecotherapy itself is based on specific nature-based exercises to promote well-being, there is a growing body of evidence extolling the benefits of simply relishing time in nature. This cry of the wild comes from scholars and locals alike. Whistler resident Michel Beaudry writes wise words on the value of nature and the growing need for resort towns such as Whistler to avoid getting ensnared in attempts to create the "Disney" experience for visitors. Instead, he says, let nature do the entertaining.

"Getting outside in the winter isn't just about skiing or snowboarding. It's about getting a little mountain air in your lungs. A lick of sun on your face. A bit of exercise in your legs. You see, urban lifestyles — being what they are — offer the city denizen little in the form of outdoors activities from November 'till April. And that leads directly to depression and anxiety. Just think about it. This could lead to a whole new promotion: 'Forget Prozac, my friends. Try Whistler Mountain instead ... The planet's natural anti-depressant.'"

Back in the rain-laden forest in the Sea to Sky corridor, we traipse back to the pavilion; a small squat wooden building perched under the canopy of trees and our gathering point at the retreat centre. Once inside its round and warm interior, we sit on cushions in a circle, still nurturing a closeness to nature due to its expansive windows and we converse about the outing. Laughs are uttered as light-hearted moments are recalled, smiles and nods of understanding and agreement pass between us. I take off my journalist hat and allow myself to feel a part of the group's synergy, as soft meditative music plays in the background. A few more compelling poems are read and then there is quiet time to write in our journals on our revelations from the day. The room feels pregnant with possibilities as we intently focus on our writing.

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