Nature’s Medicine

For the last 25-days, I’ve been in the north woods of Minnesota, leading a wilderness course for at-risk and adjudicated teenage girls. On course, life was not easy. As an instructor, I dealt with tough situations—being caught on a high ridge, with a lightning striking within a  ¼ mile overhead, the risk of hypothermia after hiking for hours in the rain, enough mosquito bites to be confused with chicken pox, and of course a never-ending rollercoaster of teenage mental health issues. However, somehow, miles away from civilization, I felt safer than ever. I knew that I could face any challenge that came my way. To be honest, it was the best I’ve felt in the last year, since leaving the Yoga Teacher Training at Pavones Yoga Center. With all of the extreme stressors, I kept wondering why I didn’t FEEL more stressed. Even coming home, things that used to bother me now seem to roll of my shoulders. Thinking back to an eco-psychology course I took in college, I did a bit of mucking around, to see why this might be the case. Turns out, nature is the best medicine!

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A 2009 study by F. Stephan Mayer, a professor of psychology at Oberlin College, has shown that exposure to nature actually aides an individual’s ability to reflect on life’s troubles. After exposure to nature, participants in the clinical trial were more able to solve minor personal problems, than those who had remained in urban settings. (Mayer, Frantz, Bruehlman-Senecal, & Dolliver, 2009). Partly, this might be due to the fact that nature restores our ability to put direct attention onto a subject—our memory is better after a short stroll through the trees! (Berman,  Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008). It also might be due to the fact that time in the wild has been proven as effective as psycho-pharmaceuticals in treating anxiety and depression. Lastly, a meta-analysis from the UK, which analyzed 1200 people involved in 10 separate studies, found that a five-minute “dose” of nature was enough to improve self-esteem! The list goes on, to include quicker recovery times in hospital rooms with views of nature, to less aggression in low-income tenants living within sight of green space.  While there is already ample studies, the field of Ecopsychology is really just beginning to explore and understand all of the benefits that connection with nature can have!

Thinking back to my time at PYC, living in sync with the sun, and practicing in a studio without walls, where the monkeys, parrots,  and tropical afternoon thunderstorms became the soundtrack to each yoga session, I have no doubt that the ‘goodness’ I felt after leaving was strongly connected to power of the nature around. PYC’s yoga teacher training uniquely focuses on ‘nature-informed’ yoga, which may sound a bit too hippy-dippy for some, but through furthering our connection to the natural world, is really a scientifically-proven approach to helping us feel better in mind, body and spirit. So while the summer sun is out, I encourage you to move your yoga practice outside, and start reaping the benefits of nature’s powerful medicine!

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