Healing power of nature – it was once the preserve of tree hugging hippies. Today, nature’s powerful potential to heal mind, body and spirit is recognised by science. Being in nature makes you feel good. And, surprisingly, nature’s powers extend beyond wellbeing to the healing of social and economic problems too.
Humans have long been deeply moved by a still expanse of water, a deep forest, a mountain peak. After all, nature is where we find our soul and come into contact with our spirituality. Yet, most of people today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than the populations of only a few generations ago.
Though I grew up in the countryside of Lancashire and DREADED living in a city, I ended up spending 20 years carving out a career in the centre of London, UK. It would take me a minimum hour by train or car to reach a rural environment. I had to be inventive and resourceful to replenish my soul with regular nature contact. Without it, I withered.
Did you know that studies show city dwellers have a higher risk of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centres? (Source: New York Times, July 2015)
There is also a significant body of research describing how green spaces help to better health and education, urban regeneration and crime reduction; and the potential savings that this has for the public budget. (Source: The Guardian, March 2013)
Therefore serious evidence supports the claim that – rather than being a luxury for the rich or a planning afterthought – nature should be at the heart of economic and social policy-making.
Physical healing aside, the natural world is where humans have always gone in times of celebration and grief. It’s a place to find peace, perspective and wisdom. For thousands of years, mankind has retreated into the natural environment to heal, to find answers to life’s questions and to gain spiritual wisdom.
An understanding of the healing power of nature goes back to when prophets would go into the desert for revelations, and solitary yogis would meditate in mountain caves and temples.
It is a tradition of the Native Americans’ to camp alone in nature on Vision Quests: sitting amidst the healing power of nature, fasting, for days. These rites of passages’ give access to unseen worlds and mystical dimensions. They purify, heal and awaken via a journey to the centre of your soul.
This article about the Healing Power of Nature includes:
- Healing Power of Nature: trees & woods;
- Healing Power of Nature: walking in nature;
- Healing Power of Nature: what is a Vision Quest;
- Healing Power of Nature: how I created my own vision quest;
PLUS: Below you can sign up for instant access to free Healing Power of Nature resources & links (including walking/rambling, camping, easy places to visit by train, the best of London parks, sweat lodge, how to DIY Vision Quest, etc) – all within easy reach of London, UK.
* All scientific research quoted is referenced at the foot of the page.
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1. Healing Power of Nature: trees & woods
Science now recognises that trees – and woods, in particular – have a restorative and therapeutic effect on the human mind. Research has shown that patient recovery rates improve if they can view trees from their hospital window.
Additionally, the health of patients, staff and local communities can be dramatically improved by providing opportunities to exercise outdoors and access green spaces, including woodlands. Unfortunately, less than 10% of the UK population have access to local woodland within 500m of their home. (Source: NHS Forest)
In response to scientific findings, NHS hospital gardens have sprung up across the UK to help patients recover faster. Typically these healing gardens provide the following benefits:
- Facilitate stress reduction which helps the body reach a more balanced state
- Help a patient summon up their own inner healing resources
- Help a patient come to terms with an incurable medical condition
- Provide a setting where staff can conduct physical therapy, horticultural therapy, with patients
- Provide staff with a needed retreat from the stress of work
- Provide a relaxed setting for patient/visitor interaction away from the hospital interior
Additionally, the value of horticultural therapy is now well recognised, particularly for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hyper-vigilance, anxiety and depression. For example, Gardening Leave is a charity supports military veterans to transition into civilian life by using gardening to heal mental health issues.
Healing Power of Nature: walking in nature
Walking in nature is food for the soul. It’s worth the effort to make excursions out of the City on a regular basis. The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron promotes the habit of a daily walk to help integrate the creative process.
Journalist and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter says: “Forget dieting, yoga, juicing or meditation. Just put one foot in front of the other — and keep up a steady pace — and you will be able to deal with anything life throws your way.”
Did you see the film Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon? It told the true story of Cheryl Strayed, a young woman whose beloved mother had unexpectedly died of cancer. Her life had hit rock bottom; she obliterated the pain with casual sex, her marriage collapsed and she became a heroin addict. Full with self-loathing, she had a flash of clarity.
She decided to break the cycle of misery and destruction by walking 1,100 miles along America’s challenging Pacific Crest Trail. Alone. At the end of her epic quest she was healed: a new woman, ready to face whatever life might bring.
Rambling is on the rise in the UK and there’s loads of country walks near London. The number of people booking caravan and camping holidays has risen in recent years too. According to the National Caravan Council, UK bookings were up almost 15 percent in the last year. Many UK holiday-makers favour ‘staycation’ breaks during the school holidays due to the higher price of travel at this time.
The organisation believes this growth was partially attributed to posh or luxury camping – ‘glamping’ – which is enticing city living comfort-dwellers away from their domestic conveniences.
The idea of glamping may be distasteful to purists, but it’s popularity has had the effect of making camping more appealing and fashionable across the board. Anything that helps people re-connect with the healing power of nature can only be a good thing, in my book.
As you can see, an isolated vision quest is not always practical, desirable or necessary.
So, if a nature retreat, camping or mountain hike sounds like an ordeal, a simple picnic or BBQ could be enough for you to return to your life feeling more refreshed and grounded. Even a few hours in the back garden or lying on the grass in an inner city park reaps moderate term benefits.
Healing Power of Nature: what is a Vision Quest?
Author Denise Linn, who is of Native American heritage, writes about the Vision Quest rite of passage in her excellent book Quest – Journeying to The Centre of Your Soul. She explains that when you go on a Vision Quest shifts of consciousness occur.
Old memories come to the surface to be resolved. Fear is confronted. Sometimes a sense of clarity or purpose emerges. Archetypal images appear. Visions, shapes and words can materialise. A message may come through the wind, as a feeling or thought. Your understanding of yourself and your life deepens.
Denise facilitated very successful Vision Quests in north America for many years. According to her, people choose to go on vision quests for the following reasons:
- to heal relationship issues
- to overcome fears and self-imposed limitations
- heal abuse, grief and anger issues
- to gain power and clarity
- to find their purpose and define life goals
- connect to their higher self
- to meet their (animal) guides, totems and allies
- to find their true (spiritual) name
- to connect more deeply to nature
- to discover who they are
People experienced the healing power of nature first hand. They saw how nature could transform these issues in the most gentle and subtle way.
“We are losing the ability to listen to the stirrings of our soul. In our urban communities, we have lost an immediate connection with nature, which is the most powerful purveyor of visions, signs and messages from the realm of Spirit.”
Denise Linn, author of
Quest – Journey to the Centre of Your Soul
Healing Power of Nature: how I created my own vision quest
In 2007, with Denise’s book in my mind, I set off to craft my own Vision Quest. I had the specific goal of overcoming my fear of camping alone in the dark. So I needed to choose an isolated location. I would do my quest while visiting a relative, who happened to be renovating an old cottage in the French Pyrenees.
Her humble stone dwelling clung to the side of a tree-shrouded valley. It was at the end of a long and winding dirt track, only accessible by foot or four-wheel drive. Just like the cottage in Red Riding Hood, I mused. The question was: would I be afraid of the big bad wolf?
Preparation: I walked around the hillside, looking for the best place to camp. I found a large, steeply sloping field surrounded by woods, with a view across the valley. I stood in the centre and absorbed the vista.
In seconds, the bullet-like silhouette became more defined. From a tiny speck against the blue, the bird pulled in its enormous wings and gained more speed. Faster and faster it approached me.
It. Was. Coming. Towards my head.
Seconds from impact, this majestic feathered missile swooped past my face. The wind on my cheeks made a whooshing sound. Within moments this mythical creature had ascended to the skies again and was gone. This had to be my sign, I thought. This was definitely where I would camp. This spot was a good distance from my aunt’s house and I would have total solitude.
Day 1: On the morning, I took a few litres of water, and said farewell. I traipsed through the trees and grasses along the valley slopes. The light fell through the leaves and branches. The outlines of two large shire horses could be seen in the far distance. Otherwise, there was no sign of mammalian life.
I just had my tent, water and the healing power of nature. I created a sacred circle around the tent. I would live within that circle. I expected to have some kind of spiritual experience. It was an uneventful day. I passed the time.
The sun went down and millions of stars appeared. I started to hear the roar of aeroplanes coming in to land. Waves of flashing lights from behind the mountain ridge began to light up the sky. A surreal scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind unfolded across the skies.
After hours of increasing winds and flickering light, a phenomenal electrical storm moved over the mountains. Thunder. Lightening. Rain. “How incredibly dramatic!” I smiled inwardly.
Over the next 5 hours (until 4am) branches were pulled off nearby trees by the wind. The resident horses galloped up and down the fields wildly. I could hear the heavy thud of their hooves getting alternately closer then further away. I shone my torchlight around my tent, hoping it would save me from being trampled. Eventually, the storm died and the horses retreated. I fell asleep.
Day 2: A lack of sleep and food contributed to a rather trance-like state next day. Again, not much seemed to be happening. I like my 8 hours sleep every night, so I felt sick with tiredness. When I’m tired I eat, but I had no food with me. The fasting made me grumpy.
A slate grey velvet sky wrapped around the mountains and darkened into the second night. I noticed my fear of camping in the dark was gone. I was too tired to be scared of the nearby woods’ shadowy gloom. I woke in the night to hear something shuffling just outside my tent. A badger.
Previously I would have been twitching about ‘mad axe murderers’ or similar ‘dark energies’ of the Hollywood blockbuster kind. But the sound of its tentative footsteps was rather wondrous.
DAY 3: By third morning I was almost too weak to stand. I knew I had to get food. I lurched back to base at 8.00am. My aunt had never been so glad to see me (– she was very worried about me during the storm). My craving for a cup fo tea was satiated. I demolished a pack of coconut macaroons. I began to feel my strength coming back.
What I gained from the Vision Quest:
- overcame a fear of the dark, the ‘bogey man’ and camping alone;
- new sense of achievement having survived a pretty impressive mountain storm;
- a reminder of the awe and magic of nature;
- a renewed appreciation and gratitude for home comforts.
What I learned from my Vision Quest:
- For a deeper experience, I should have stayed on my quest for more than 3 days.
- It would have felt more contained to work with an experienced guide.
- I was unprepared for how difficult the effects of fasting would be. After 48 hours I became physically weak. If you are planning to Vision Quest alone, think carefully about how food deprivation may affect your energy levels and plan accordingly with caution. For example, work with a guide, camp within easy reach of civilisation, take fruit to keep your energy levels high or have someone check on you at regular intervals.
I hope to do another Vision Quest in the future. In the meantime, I benefit from the healing power of nature by walking and hiking in nature as much as possible. (This is made easier for me since moving out of London and adopting a dog who needs regular exercise.)The Healing Power of Nature Copyright © Amy Garner 2015. Creative Commons.
Healing Power of Nature: article references:
- Studies of cholecystectomy patients in hospital found that they recovered more quickly with a view of trees and nature from their windows. Ulrich, R.S.,1984. View through a window may influence recovery from GP practice.Science 224, 420-421
- Cooper, M. C., 2005: Healing Gardens in Hospitals, The Interdisciplinary Design and Research e- Publication, 1(1), 1-27. cabeurl.com/6w.
- Trees and woods can have a restorative and therapeutic effect on the mind. Hartig, T., Evans G.W., Jamner L.D., Davis D.S., and Gärling T. (2003). ‘Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings.’ Journal of Environmental Psychology 23, 109-123.
- Environmental volunteering, including tree planting, can be as effective as aerobics in improving fitness. Independent evaluation of BTCV’s Green Gym concluded that overall the physical health status of volunteers significantly improved, with 99% of participants reporting enhanced health and confidence. Yerrell, P. 2008 ‘National Evaluation of BTCV’s Green Gym.’ Oxford Brookes University www2.btcv.org.uk/display/greengym_research