Shinrin-Yoku and Ecotherapy: Peace Amid Nature
Finding wellness in Nature is easy here in West Quebec
Ecotherapy is a highly regarded wellness therapy where being out and about amid Nature is recognized as having many positive health benefits.
The term was coined in 1992 by Theodore Roszak, author of The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology. In it, the writer (who also coined the term “counter-culture”) explores how the natural world affects the human psyche and our sense of wellbeing.
A website, ecotherapyheals.com, explains ecotherapy, which “... reveals the critical fact that people are intimately connected with, embedded in, and inseparable from the rest of nature. Grasping this fact deeply shifts our understanding of how to heal the human psyche and the currently dysfunctional and even lethal human-nature relationship. It becomes clear that what happens to nature for good or ill impacts people and vice versa, leading to the development of new methods of individual and community psychotherapeutic diagnosis and treatment.”
Japanese and South Korean Shinrin-Yoku
Although I’ve known of ecotherapy for years, it took a Facebook conversation to introduce me to Shinrin-Yoku, also known as “taking in the forest atmosphere” or, more poetically, “forest bathing”.
Like ecotherapy, Shinrin-Yoku recognizes our human connectedness to Nature. The site shinrin-yoku.org explains, “The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.”
Following links on that site, we learn that benefits include reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, and increased ability to focus – “even in children with ADHD” (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
However, we don’t simply need to check Internet websites and Facebook feeds to discover such treatment programmes as ecotherapy. In the Pontiac, Dr Wendy Ryan of Waterfront Wellness in Luskville, practices it with her clients (waterfrontwellness.ca).
To explain ecotherapy to me, Dr Ryan invited me on a hike a few years ago. Among other things, we strolled through her forested property, taking time to pause, listen to the wind stir trees’ leaves, while also discussing and observing how Nature heals. (As an extra bonus showing how we can directly assist wild creatures sometimes, we had the unique opportunity of being able to rescue a Painted Turtle which otherwise would have drowned because it was entangled in fishing line.)
Opportunities abound right here
In Pontiac, Aylmer, Gatineau, Wakefield, Chelsea, Poltimore and, indeed, throughout our Outaouais region, we are fortunate to have abundant if not spectacular natural landscapes. Whether it’s Gatineau Park trails and lakes; Ottawa, Gatineau, Dumoine, Coulonge or other rivers; or specific destinations such as the magnificent Chutes Coulonge, Ski Pontiac trail network, Routes des Zingues trails of Duhamel, or Kenauk in Montebello, our region offers us dozens of ecotherapy opportunities.
Gifts: Support local operators
Many of us advocate shopping locally to support our entrepreneurs, particularly during the Christmas season.
However, there’s something more we can do. You know how medical doctors tell us, “Use it or lose it” in terms of continuing to be physically active throughout our lives? Well, these words directly apply to Nature. If we don’t enjoy (i.e., use) our natural spaces by snowshoeing, skiing, fat biking, hiking, paddling and skating, governments at all levels can suggest that woodlands and natural spaces are “waste lands” – useless land – that are prime for development.
This holiday season, balance your life. Balance all those goodies we love to eat at this festive time, with outdoor activity. Rediscover the calm in the snow-clad woods. Get a gang together and visit Chutes Coulonge, which is celebrating its annual Festival of Lights during this season.
When we do this, we not only feel good with friends as we ski or snowshoe through natural habitats, we are supporting local entrepreneurs, supporting our parks, supporting the biodiversity which allows native species to flourish – or at least continue to exist.
This Christmas, take family and friends and go “bathe” in our regions’ forested hills.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, columnist, author and visual artist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org