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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Health & Ecospirituality 

How time spent in nature, participation in natural environments, and experiencing the awe of living can support your mental health.

The word “spiritual” comes from the Latin spiritus, which means “breath.” Originally, that which was spiritual was simply that which was breathtaking. From this perspective, a spiritual experience is anything that is awe-inspiring. People of all religions – or none at all – can equally experience such awe-inspiring events. Spirituality doesn’t rely on a set system of teachings or dogmas; it is merely the joy of being present in the moment and experiencing the awe and wonder of living.

So what is ecospirituality? It depends on who you ask.

Definitions of ecospirituality include ‘‘a manifestation of the spiritual connection between human beings and the environment’’ and ‘‘understanding the interrelationships between all living beings on earth and recognizing their interdependency while appreciating their value for maintaining ecobalance.” Others feel ecospirituality is the connectedness between the science of ecology and spirituality. Put simply, it is the personal experience of spirituality in nature. Although definitions may vary, all point to a sense of oneness with nature, and address our inherent need for reconnecting with the environment.

What does ecospirituality look like in practice?

Although there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to ecospirituality, there are a few concepts that resonate throughout the practice. Things like feeling connected with the universe, knowing the risks involved in creating an imbalance in the ecosystem, preserving and conserving nature – and most importantly – perceiving a sense of “awe” in learning about our environment and ecosystem are all encompassed by ecospirituality. Embracing a way of life that honors all living beings on our planet is what ecospirituality entails.

With news breaking every day about the latest climate disaster, is it any wonder that calls to respect and preserve the environment have started to gain momentum? Thus, millions of people are turning to concepts like ecospirituality to help ease their anxiety and support their mental health. In fact, mental health professionals have been known to utilize concepts of ecospirituality and ecopsychology in treating their patients. Nature and participation in natural environments have markedly influenced healthcare, especially mental healthcare, for centuries.

Some ways that ecospirituality and participation in nature can positively affect your mental health include:

  • Filling the fundamental human need to connect with other living organisms
  • Promoting wellness via restoration of directed attention (aka mindfulness)
  • Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms
  • Promoting feelings of accomplishment
  • Positive changes in social interactions

Though not an exhaustive list, you can see some of the many ways ecospirituality can benefit your mental health.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what you can do to incorporate ecospirituality into your life. And the answer is simple! Start with a daily gratitude practice, focusing on what you are grateful for in nature every day. This simple exercise will not only positively benefit your outlook on life, but it will also motivate you to take actionable steps in preserving Earth’s many gifts.

Once you have a solid gratitude practice in place, consider spending more time in nature. Studies show that something as simple as taking a mindful walk outdoors can both mediate stress and reduce rumination. Other ways to participate in nature include:

  • Forest bathing or hiking
  • Gardening or horticulture therapy
  • Taking a break at work to spend some time in green space
  • Doing arts and crafts while surrounded by nature, or using natural materials
  • Visiting a botanical garden with friends or family
  • Participating in a neighborhood cleanup
  • Volunteering at a local pet shelter

The goal is to spend at least 120 minutes in nature every week. And remember to be mindful while participating in nature! The key to ecospirituality is to let our beautiful planet take your breath away. And how can you do that if you don’t stop to smell the roses?

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