(22) BeautifulPlanet: Healing Power of Nature

– Photo by Tim Swaan on Unsplash

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INTRO: Hello deep thinkers, this is your host Agrita, and welcome to Mind Full of Everything, the podcast that questions the deeper and bigger things in life, from intersectional environmentalism to self-development and everything else in between. 

Today, we continue on the Beautiful Planet series, which was paused because of the Black Lives Matter movement. This episode discusses the different elements of the “healing powers of nature” in terms of the social, economic, medicinal and mental wellbeing benefits, and how natural remedies and practices should be given more importance, despite the fact many of these services and products are free of cost, with an emphasis on protecting the planet that we so have taken for granted for, and how conservation of nature will bring many benefits, including mental health ones.

Nature is extremely powerful. Nature is something that I totally love, which is why I talk about the environment, intersectional environmentalism, it’s why I do Environmental Science as a degree. Nature is just amazing, magical, powerful, and then when we talk about the healing powers of nature and the different elements to that, it just depicts how important the environment, conservation of the environment, preservation of natural resources is not just for economic benefits, but also for the social wellbeing of society. 

Natural sources have always been used when it comes to creation of medicines. Nearly half of all medicines that currently exist were derived from natural sources, whether it’s plants or whether it’s organisms like animals. However, many people believe, including scientists, that natural medicines will never be as powerful as conventional medicines, even though half of these do have some form of natural product in them. Many people believe that these natural medicines cannot be used for chronic diseases or severe conditions, and that it can only be used for a short amount of time. What we don’t know is that nearly 90% of human diseases that exist to this date can be treated with prescribed drugs that are derived from a natural source. In 2010 alone, a total of $259.1 billion were spent in the US alone on prescription drugs and nature-based drugs formed a major part of this cost. If we talk about the economic and social benefits, in terms of the jobs that will be created from natural medicines, a lot of jobs can be created to just cultivate and market natural medicine. Therefore, this healing power of nature doesn’t just hold medicinal benefits, but also social and economic. 

There are many common medicines that we rely on that have been derived from plants. For example, aspirin originates from salicylic acid found in willow bark and leaves. Aspirin is particularly important because it has anti-clotting properties as well as it being a pain killer, a medicine that is still used today, and many patients require it. Taxol is used to fight cancer and it’s derived from a Pacific yew tree. Digoxin or Digitals as some people call it, is derived from the Foxglove plant, and this medicine is used for curing arrythmia, as well as managing heart failure symptoms when this medicine is coupled with other medicine. 

Rainforests across the world are known as a treasure chest for medicinal discoveries, with many simple plants that may look very ordinary, having very powerful medicinal properties that we can use for new medicine. One example is Aggrastat, which is an anti-coagulant derived from the venom of the saw-scaled viper that is found in tropical forests in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The viper’s venom is very good at lowering blood pressure, so this medicine helps chronic high blood pressure, aka hypertension. The island of Madagascar is actually teeming with these plants and organisms, in general, that have amazing medicinal properties. One such plant is the Madagascar/rosy periwinkle flower, which has anticancer compounds. It is endemic to Madagascar, which makes it so important because it has very specific chemical compounds that treat leukaemia, which has already saved more than 100,000 child deaths in the US alone, Hodgkin’s disease, small cell lung cancer, and Wilms’ tumour, along with many other cancerous or chronic diseases. The Madagascar periwinkle flower has the compounds Vincristine and Vinblastine and these very complex chemical compounds are able to be extracted and then used in medicine to treat these dangerous diseases. Additionally, because these compounds are so complex, the Madagascar periwinkle is still needed to be cultivated so that these compounds can be directly extracted rather than created in the lab. Again, showing how important this species of flower is, adding to the fact that it’s endemic to Madagascar. Madagascar is so important for pharmaceuticals and for the medical industry in general, because it’s known to be a hotspot for biodiversity. More than 250 species are found there, and three quarters of them are endemic to Madagascar, for example the Madagascar periwinkle. But because this habitat is so precious and so full of diversity, it’s faced a lot of demand, especially by pharmaceuticals. A lot of the habitat has already been destroyed by humans, for example 90% of the forests have been felled, fertile soils have been washed off the island, which majorly threatens the biodiversity that you find in Madagascar. But despite these anthropogenic changes, Madagascar is still very highly diverse. So communities in Madagascar, and pharmaceuticals and scientists going into Madagascar for medical research, really need to understand that this island needs to be protected for the health of humans and for the health of the planet and the communities and ecosystems that are found in Madagascar. 

We need to now imagine, if the periwinkle for example, the Madagascar periwinkle, if that was wiped out because of the destructive nature in which these plants and organisms are extracted for the benefit of everyone, if that periwinkle didn’t even exist, then many children would have died. Many people with leukaemia and Wilms tumour and all of these other conditions that can be treated by this periwinkle would have died. These deaths were prevented just by a single species, so protection of the planet, protection of communities is very, very important because medical research is still going on. A lot of organisms and plants haven’t been found yet that contain these very special medicinal properties. Research is still going on so if you continue to deforest, if you continue to drain soils, if we continue to use toxic chemicals in the form of fertilizers, then we are going to be losing these opportunities, these breakthroughs for medicine. 

This has already happened in the past. For example, the Calophyllum lanigerum tree in Borneo is a very extremely rare tree species, that when you expose it to the AIDS virus it shows very good antiviral activity. But because of the extensive deforestation that has occurred and is occurring in Borneo and in the entire region of Indonesia, nearly all of these trees were cut down. When the search for this tree began by scientists back in 1987, when scientists finally found that this tree has all these properties that can help in the AIDS virus and HIV, when they went to check where this location of the tree is, they found that the tree that they wanted to find had been cut down already. Because again, when you see a tree, it doesn’t have “stamped all over it” that it has medicinal properties. It just looks like a normal tree, and the farmers, the people that would cut down the trees, they just cut it down. Once they found that this tree could not be accessed in the location that they wished to access, they had to do a very intense search for the tree, And then they were able to find a few in the Singapore Botanic garden. Now we have a good number of specimens for this tree. Calanolide A is a complex compound that is found in the bark of this tree and is shown to be effective for treating HIV-1. so this first strain of the HIV virus, but because research is still going on, this has not become available just yet, but scientists are constantly looking at how this can be released into the market, and people can use this to combat the HIV virus, which is so amazing. It’s a very big major breakthrough. And if all of these trees had been chopped down, we wouldn’t have even gotten this opportunity to try to solve the issue of HIV and AIDS that we still haven’t been able to solve. 

We are talking about natural medicine so I just have to talk about Ayurved, as an Indian of course! Ayurved, or Ayurveda which is what people say in English, is the ancient Hindu system of medicine, as well as a general kind of philosophy, which is built around the “natural way of living”. So that would be things like exercise, sleep, having good diet, hygiene, skincare, etc. and Ayurved is still so important for Indians. I mean, I use products that are of natural origin, and that are found in India that originated from India and Indians in general have either used it at some point or continue to use it. It’s a very dominant form of medicine and way of living really, throughout India and for Indians as well. Ayurved literally means “knowledge of life” and this system is at least 5000 years old, as old as the Hindu religion itself, Hinduism itself. It’s written within the holy books which are called the Ved or the Vedas, and since then it’s evolved massively, especially because the emergence of science and other practices has allowed it to evolve and to meet the needs of modern society. But like I said, it’s still very prominent within India, around 90%+ Indians have used or continue to use Ayurvedic medicine. It’s definitely gained popularity in Western countries, but many still are very sceptical about it, especially those that rely on conventional medicines. For example, the NHS and Cancer Research UK have mentioned it, but they stay more risks than benefits, which is pretty sad to see. Again, people just don’t find nature, nature-based medicines and nature-based practices as that strong. They think it is just a short-term thing, it really can’t help you in the long term, it’s just a weak alternative, it’s just a romanticised form of medicine and wellbeing practices. 

But for those, I think that it’s [Ayurved] a risky system, you need not worry because in the 1970s, WHO tested the effectiveness of Ayurvedic treatments for arthritis patients and found that it wasn’t just safe, it also was very effective in relieving symptoms for arthritis patients. But because this scepticism has kind of spread across western countries, no clinical trials have actually taken place to finally prove that these practices and medicine can be given to patients with chronic diseases and conditions. What’s different about Ayurved and what is different about nature-based medicines and practices in general, is it puts a focus on the patient and their personal and individual needs, rather than just focusing on the disease itself. If you look at the conventional medicines, they will always say that, okay, you have this condition or you have this disease take this medicine. It will never be subjective. It will never look at who is taking it, what their personal needs will be, see how their body is, what their body can tolerate. And that’s why they [pharmaceuticals] always state side effects. So essentially Ayurved is personalized treatment compared to allopathy. The aim is to maintain a patient’s health whilst they have a condition, while they have a disease, something that is extremely important, of course, because you can’t keep treating for example a cancer patient, whilst their health is deteriorating. So, Ayurved and other natural forms of medicine and practice really focuses on maintaining a patient’s health depending on what they can tolerate and what they require personal needs. 

There are many lovely Ayurvedic medicine and substances that you can find in nature, the most common and the strongest one being Turmeric, which is derived from the turmeric plant Curcuma longa. It is one of the most common types of Ayurvedic spice; Indians use in their food, it is a must-have in food, I put it all the time in food. It’s not Indian food if you don’t have the yellow kind of look to the food! It’s also prescribed by practitioners. I’m pretty sure all Indians will be aware of haldi (Turmeric in Hindi) being in practically everything; if you have a cold then your parents would be like “mix haldi into milk into warm water”, “it will help you”. It’s not just a placebo effect that “oh, you know, it’s an Indian spice it’ll work”, it has very, very strong medicinal properties, in fact, it has multivitamins in it. For example, flavonoids, iron, potassium, zinc, many other elements are found in turmeric. Turmeric is very effective in treating ulcers, some forms of cancer; it has essentially anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also being shown to be effective in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms; in fact, it’s shown to be as effective as relieving these arthritis symptoms as Trexall, the conventional alternative. 

For those are still think it’s harmful, if that was the case, then the whole of India would have faced major poisoning or some sort of an epidemic would have occurred in India because so many Indians, especially in India, use Ayurved, but this hasn’t happened. Although, we do need to be really careful because a lot of bogus medicines purchased online do contain really high levels of lead for example, or arsenic, mercury. A lot of companies can say that this is natural medicine, this is traditional Ayurvedic medicine, but it can turn out to be complete trash. It can just be full of a lot of harmful chemicals, basically not being natural in the slightest. So, the best thing to do is not just buy any random Ayurvedic treatment, no matter how natural it may look, it’s best to seek out to practitioners, certified practitioners. So, you do need to do your research, find a reputed organization that allows you to find certified practitioners. For example, in the UK, there is the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association, you can find the link to that on my website. If you’re living in the UK, then you can literally find the closest practitioners to you, you can get a consultation and find out if you perhaps have a persisting condition that you really want to treat, but allopathy is not really helping you. For example, I have this condition that my nose is basically blocked for four years counting and I went to the hospital for it, I got loads of tests done, but the doctors couldn’t find a single thing wrong, even though my nose is always blocked. Sometimes I wake up and I literally can’t breathe because my nose is fully blocked with mucus, sorry for the details (laughs). It’s really annoying, you know, everything should be able to be treated, especially a blocked nose. So, I’m now thinking of going to one of these practitioners and trying to find a treatment because my mum said that she also had a similar thing, kind of blocked sinuses, and she would take Ayurvedic medicine, of course she lived for long and she would take those medicine, and she became better within a year! I haven’t been able to become better AT ALL with conventional medicine that I was given, nothing has worked. So I think considering a practitioner for my case is really important. Again, if you have a condition and you have treatment going on, it’s best to talk to your doctor about it. See if you can use Ayurvedic medicine or any natural form of medicine to relieve your symptoms, because in the end you need to maintain your health, and this could be a really good alternative. 

As I mentioned before, the research for finding these natural products and then using this for medicine throughout the world is still going on. But this research in pinpointing the specific species that can really help in creating these amazing medicines really relies on connection with indigenous peoples. If you can imagine, going into a forest and then trying to find a particular tree or a plant that can help you in making a new medicine will be extremely difficult, especially for scientists that don’t live in that area, don’t really know much about the area. But indigenous people can really, really help in not only finding medicine, but also sharing their knowledge about different species that they use when it comes to creating medicine for themselves and for their communities. Conservation International has said that plants are located by locals, by indigenous peoples are up to 60% more likely to be of medicinal benefit, strong medicinal benefit, than those that are randomly selected by scientific bodies. The power of indigenous people when it comes to finding new medicinal opportunities is really, really important. 

However, just like in Madagascar where the demand for medicines is so high, this demand has really, really worried indigenous people and raised many ethical questions. For example, do we have a right to go into these communities and take the supply from these communities that so depend on these natural sources for medicine as well? Do we have a right to go in there and take that supply? And of course, the demand will be so high that a lot will need to be taken. This is already caused a problem in places like Brazil, where plant smuggling has now occurred because the demand is so high that a lot of crime is now occurring to sell these natural products at a higher price, and to sell them on the black market. So, indigenous communities throughout the world are really concerned about these issues and this patenting of natural resources and plants and organisms. There are many organizations like Conservation International that are actually working with communities to have a control on this demand. Conservation International for example, has actively been working with governments in Madagascar and Indonesia to implement policies that can maintain sovereignty over their natural resources and make sure that these natural resources aren’t exploited by pharmaceuticals and rich countries. 

Now going into the more philosophical and therapeutic side, my favourite as always! We have heard so much about the mental and physical benefits of nature. It’s very easy to say “oh if you’re feeling stressed, why don’t you go for a walk?”, “why don’t you go for a walk in the park, get a breath of fresh air?” But perhaps we haven’t really heard much about the science behind it. First of all, the issue of mental health is massive. Please do check out my mental health episode (HERE) that I released a while back to hear more about it. The issue of mental health is very, very massive and very costly as well to the economy. Every year, anxiety and mood disorders have collectively cost Europe €187.4 billion, and 1 in 4 people globally will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their life. That is massive. Mental health issues are a pandemic in itself. It affects everyone and anyone regardless of socioeconomic background, regardless of what you’ve achieved in life. It’s economically and socially damaging and this rise in mental health issues has actually been partially attributed to widening gaps between nature and people, and our vision of increasing development and becoming more urban is really to blame this reduction in interacting with nature. This is then worsened by environmental injustices that exist in deprived areas or areas of ethnic minorities where access to nature is already so poor. So, you can only imagine how bad it will be for those areas in terms of their mental wellbeing, it just widens the gap even more. To give you a current example, the closure of parks in the UK due to the pandemic affected the BAME communities and deprived areas the most. 

Science has shown again and again, the benefits are nature brings in terms of wellbeing. For example, a study in 2017 showed that people living in neighbourhoods with high vegetation cover and a higher amount of bird abundances had reduced mental health cases. It’s not just vegetation, even water bodies, or what we refer to as blue spaces provide equal benefit. The sonic environment that’s created by these bodies act as soundscapes, which really improve the overall acoustic ecology of the natural environment. Coming back to the science behind all of this calmness and relaxation that we feel when we go in natural spaces, in 2015 Harvard conducted a study that compared the brain activity for participants are walking in an urban setting compared to a natural setting, it could have also been in a park in an urban area, didn’t really matter. And they were able to show that those who were in the natural setting had low activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is a region of the brain that is active when we focus on negative thoughts. So they had a lower activity in that region compared to people that were in the urban setting. Another study conducted by Nature during 2014-2016, found that having a least 120 minutes of contact with nature every single week, significantly increased good health and wellbeing. And this is regardless of what form of contact you had, whether it’s cycling for two hours each week, whether it’s having a woodland walk or taking part in a conservation project. This pattern was seen across groups, whether it’s elderly people, young people, people with underlying health issues. And it also didn’t matter how you structured those two hours per week; it could be two hours within a single day of the week, or it could be divided into a few minutes each day within a week. So long as you had these two hours of contact with nature, it really benefits your wellbeing significantly. 

Another very strong social benefit arising from nature that I had, no idea was a reduction in crime. A UK study carried out in 2015 demonstrated the healing power of nature in terms of actively reducing crime rate through the promotion of community cohesion. Natural spaces really bring a more community feel, it allows people to gather around in groups as well as do an activity or just be a nature. It connects people more. There are actual studies to show the natural areas are negatively associated with crime. This is not really that shocking. If we look at where crime occurs the most, and then look how the access to nature is for those communities, you will constantly see that the most deprived areas usually have the higher amount of crime rate AND they also have a very poor access to nature. So, this correlation, it does make sense if you see it in that way, BUT we do need to remember that this is a correlation case, and it’s not a causation one. You can’t exactly 100% be sure that nature is the true driver of reducing crime rate. Of course, there are many the factors, but the link is there. And if deprived areas equal poor access to nature, that issue already exists, and that’s something that we need to focus on and address. 

Contact with nature is also very, very important for childhood development, especially in the early stages. This has become a major issue because outdoor activity is rapidly decreasing across age groups, especially for children. For example, a study showed that children are 6x more likely to play a video game than ride a bicycle. And if you couple that with parents’ concern on increasing crime, this further reduces the amount of time children spend outdoors. This then raises a lot of health issues, for example, a lack of activity is largely attributed to increases in obesity rate within children. If you give the US as an example, 50% of children and teenagers in the US are overweight, and that was a study conducted in 2005 so this is statistic would definitely be higher. Now talking about younger children because early child development is really, really important in terms of setting the foundations for a child as they grow up, playing in a natural setting is especially important for children for their physical, social, cognitive, and emotional wellbeing. Because as children play outside and outdoors, especially with other children, it allows for unstructured learning. Children are able to explore their surroundings and use their creativity to play in these natural settings. There’s no set structure in how these children can play it, grants them that autonomy. They’re able to build their self-esteem and confidence just by playing outside. These are qualities that we require as adults, and if children are able to build on these qualities at a young age, they won’t have issues like low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. Furthermore, contact with nature also improves environmental awareness of children, which is vital for the generation that is growing up in a climate crisis. We need to remember that children are the future stewards of the planet, so if children become environmentally aware at a young age, then they will be standing up for protection of the environment that they grew up in, protection of rights of people that suffer from environmental injustices, and they will be able to support companies that are sustainable, that invest in renewable energy. that invest in a greener world. By increasing the amount of contact children have a nature, they are able to respect and protect the natural environment that they remember growing up in. Those children that stay indoors won’t be having that one-to-one experience with nature, and even if they really want to help protect the planet and protect the environment, they won’t be able to do that because they don’t fully understand what nature is, how to actually respect it, how to immerse yourself into it. Children need to constantly be in contact with nature at a young age, so that they’re fully able to appreciate it and learn how to respect it, that is the main idea. 

There are millions and millions of ways that you can develop your contact with nature and the amount of time you spend in nature. Using nature as a form of therapy is an actual thing, it’s called ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy or green therapy. It forms a part of the discipline of ecopsychology, which was developed by Theodore Roszak in the 1900s. It essentially arises from the belief that we are interconnected with nature. Problem again arises that, just like Ayurvedic medicine or other forms of natural ways of recovery, this practice has been given little to no value, because people really just synonymise ecotherapy as a “simple walk in the park” or “meditating in the sun” or “going for a hike”, something that anyone can do, and it doesn’t really have a structure. So ecotherapy has definitely gone down in terms of the number of people that practice it. I think it just highlights how we’ve taken all these free services for granted and anything that doesn’t really have a price tag on it is not really valued. So ego therapy has really become a forgotten ecosystem service. This is why I really wanted to talk about therapy in this episode, because it really is not just a walk in the park. It works exactly like conventional therapy does, but it just takes place in a natural environment, in a natural setting. It can be either rural or urban, for example a park. It focuses in on a specific activity instead of your condition, just like Ayurved, just like any natural form of treatment. You can conduct ecotherapy however you want, in whatever way suits your needs. You can couple it with group therapy, you can choose what form of ecotherapy you want, it’s just so you appreciate the environment around you and take your mind off of troubling and repeating thoughts, give rests to that prefrontal cortex in your brain. It gives you a different way to divert your thoughts and relax your mind. 

What’s amazing about ecotherapy is that it doesn’t just work on your mental wellbeing, it also works on your physical wellbeing. Ecotherapy is always you doing an activity, whether that’s a simple walk or whether that’s an actual activity, cycling or some sort of sport or a conservation project. As I mentioned before, ecotherapy can take any sort of form you want, but there are two different forms. The different types of therapy kind of fall under either one. So the first form is either you work in nature, so a project, you can do a conservation project, you can do gardening farming, and the second form is experiencing nature, so you can go for a walk, you can visit a flower field, you can cycle in a park. You decide! 

The structure in which you conduct therapy lessons can also vary massively. You can either follow a set structure, may make it more formal, or you can have a more informal series of therapy sessions. Talking about the types of ecotherapy, you can have adventure therapy, you can have animal-assisted intervention (so coming into contact with animals within a green space, for example, a farm) or you can have animal-assisted therapy (which is actually building a relationship with the therapeutic that has been trained to do so). You can do conservation therapy, you can have green exercise therapy, can do nature arts and crafts, therapeutic horticulture (which is horticulture within allotments or community gardens), you can have wilderness therapy like hiking and camping. For example, The Wilderness Foundation in the UK helps vulnerable people and the youth with mental health conditions and also for personal growth, for example, making a person more employable. If you live in UK, or if you live anywhere else, and really want to check out different kind of support mechanisms when it comes ecotherapy, you can go to Mind UK, go to their website (HERE), they have a very nice page full of contacts for ecotherapy so you make sure you have certified trainers in your therapy sessions. (You can find that link on my website, or you can go onto the internet and search Mind UK ecotherapy contacts). 

A really major part of ecotherapy is also forest therapy or better known as forest bathing. Forest bathing began in Japan back in 1854, and it’s just another form of ecotherapy, but you are now surrounded by trees. What makes this form of ecotherapy really powerful and really effective is that being around trees and going to a forest or a jungle has proven to boost immune systems. In 2009, a study showed that just a single visit to a forest, so remembering that 2 hours minimum is the best when it comes to improving mental wellbeing, if you just have a single visit to a forest and spend a minimum of 2 hours in a forest, it can significantly increase the natural killer cell activity within you. So, these are cells that respond rapidly to viral infections, tumours and cancers. So, the study showed that participants that spent that time in a forest showed greater activity in these natural killer cells, and this positive impact actually lasted for a whole month after that visit. Just a single visit to a forest was able to boost the immune system of these participants. Why does this happen? Trees actually release essential oils called phytoncides, which is found in plants, some fruit and wood, and these oils are released by trees as a defence mechanism against pathogens and pests, but this very substance when humans breathe it in really helps boost immune system function. If you go into a forest, the smell of the air is so fresh and pure, really is very different to cities of course, even in other green spaces. The smell of a forest is amazing, and it’s really down to these oils that the tree releases for itself but is so beneficial to other organisms that are breathing in this substance. This really demonstrates that forest bathing and ecotherapy in general has the science behind it. It’s not just a simple walk in the park, you are actually immersing yourself in the nature and it is actively helping you, whether it’s boosting your immune system, your mental wellbeing, your physical wellbeing, your mood currently. There are literally no negatives, it’s all positives. I genuinely think that every single therapy session that people have, the conventional therapy sessions, ecotherapy should definitely be promoted and encouraged to patients are undergoing therapy. It is such a strong way of improving your mental wellbeing, your wellbeing in general. I think it’s definitely something that people should actively encourage because there is a structure to it. The science proves that it is so beneficial. it should really be taken on seriously. 

You may be wondering where can I go to forest bathe? Of course you can go to any forest, but the more trees you have, the better it will be for your experience and for your immune system, your wellbeing. The National Trust in the UK has given some places that you can visit and also has given a list of tips for forest bathing and how to maximize your experience. I think I’ll go through some of the tips first, and then I can talk about their recommended places to visit. 

  1. The first tip is to pick a quiet time of the day, so going off peak time, if possible so you can really immerse yourself in the nature and not be distracted by other people. 
  2. Remember to turn off your devices of course. 
  3. Take your time around the natural place, even if you’ve been here millions of times, there’s always something to kind of discover. Remember that two hours minimum per week is what is really required to get that full experience to boost your mental and physical wellbeing. But of course, people are busy so even a 10 minutes walk in the park will be beneficial, but if you can get that two hours, it is really, really good.
  4. Actively explore the area, the wildlife around you, look the trees, try to activate all of your senses. This is not a “romanticised” version of therapy really! It is so, so beneficial because the more you explore area, the more you’ll be able to pause your thoughts that have allowed you to have a reduction in positive thoughts and positivity, and it really helps you to fully relax. 
  5. The last step is really to just clear your mind of troubling thoughts, and the best way is just to focus on what you’re doing currently, which is you exploring the park or whatever place you want to go and immersing yourself in nature. That is what you should be focusing on when you forest bathe or when you take part in any ecotherapy activity. 

There are actually tons of places you can go to in the UK, even though it does seem a bit like a DULL island, not gonna lie! You can go to National Trust, you can see their website and the different places that they’ve advertised but I will say some here: Brownsea Island in Dorset is a really good one, Fingle Woods in Devon, Boxhill in Surrey (I’ve been to this one, it was really, really good because it has so many trails that you can go to and different settings, so you will see some lakes and then you have the woodland and then you have fields and lots of hills, “Box Hill” it’s in the name!), Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire, Cragside in Northumberland, all of Snowdonia and all the other places like Peak District, Lake district, the whole of Scotland really, and of course there are many, many others. 

For the rest of the world, National Geographic have given a list of places that are really, really good in terms of the support for ecotherapy and certified, licensed, ecotherapists helping you along the way. Adirondack Mountains in New York (apparently just protected area of the US), Costa Rica (50% of the country is actually covered by forests, the most famous being Monte Verde), New Zealand has apparently the oldest and largest Kauri trees, Kenya (famous for the Matthews Range), Hawaii has 175 types of native trees, for example the Banyan tree, and of course have many medicinal plants. All of these places, as I mentioned, have certified ecotherapist guides that can give you quality ecotherapy sessions whilst you explore these amazing, amazing places. 

I hope you are now, convinced that ecotherapy is a legitimate form of therapy, that it has so many benefits. You can do with anyone, or you can do by yourself, and gain so much positivity out of it. Nature is so beautiful, and if we can boost our mental wellbeing, as well as our physical wellbeing within nature, that is again a free resource that we’ve taken for granted, but we are drifting away from, I think that’s really, really important.

However, (sigh) it is a bad ending note, but it is important to address again and again. This form of therapy, although it has no cost to us, will be costly if we do not protect our natural environments, if we continue to be destructive, if we continue to deforest and cause major losses in habitat. We won’t be able to effectively do ecotherapy, we won’t be effective in finding new medicines and extracting important compounds from natural sources, we won’t be able to do all of that IF we aren’t actively protecting our environment, our natural environments. It already costs us billions and billions just to manage and to restore degraded habitats, so even though that these facilities and resources are essentially “free”, it costs a lot to manage them. So if we just do our own part and take care of local areas and regional areas, national, international areas of environmental importance, we are doing this for the benefit of our wellbeing and for the wellbeing of the planet and the ecosystems it supports. 

Ecotherapy is just one form of ecosystem service, there are many other ecosystem services we so rely on. Essentially everything that we use, everything that we consume is of natural, is of a natural source, so destruction of the planet and allowing these natural systems to collapse is just allowing the collapse of humanity, the collapse of livelihoods, the collapse of entire communities and ecosystems. If we want to reap the benefits of this amazing planet, if we want our future generations to reap the benefits of this amazing planet, then we need to collectively work to support and conserve the only planet that we have. 

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