Have you ever swum in a natural water source, like a lake, the sea or a stream? There is something so exhilarating about it; knowing the water is wild, the shape asymmetrical, the scent earthy and the surroundings natural. The act of swimming at your gym or your pool at home is technically the same thing, but the feeling afterwards is noticeably different. You feel alive after the natural swim. This feeling might be similar to the one when you stopped for a coffee break in the Leadwood Forest at Londolozi, or looked out at the vista from Ximpalapala Koppie. This subconscious phenomenon is now known as Ecotherapy.
“A new wellness trend is reverting back to Mother Nature to find the best medicine for the mind and body” ~ Condé Nast Traveler
While this term might be new for you (and me) – the concept is innately already familiar to us. Ecotherapy is an umbrella term for ancient therapies used to help us reconnect with nature. Ecotherapy is essentially taking a walk in a forest, taking your shoes off and walking on the beach, feeling the texture of the bark on a tree, looking at an expansive view and any other wild interaction with the natural world. The world we live in today separates us from nature to the point where we need to actively be creating time and space for this relationship. Can you remember a moment when you were last totally surrounded by the natural world?
“It’s estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050″ ~ Condé Nast Traveler
With the majority of us living in urban settings, most of the stimuli throughout our day is artificial. While we might be content living in this setting, it takes a subconscious toll on our bodies. Increased stress and a disconnection from ourselves (as well as many more unstudied side effects) are all inevitable outcomes, and there appears to be only one way to regain a sense of wellness – through Ecotherapy.
Londolozi has known this concept for quite some time now – often said with different terminology – but always boiling down to the same thing – the importance and healing power of time spent in nature. For many years now, we have witnessed guests arrive at Londolozi with a sigh of relief and leave with a new lease on life, with purpose, with passion and zest. While there are many dimensions to your trip at Londolozi, we are quite sure that the immersion into a wild space heals people. From our Nature Reunion campaign during the Covid lockdown, our blog on the Psychology of Safari and the Science of Happiness, to the nature retreats we offer – we place a huge amount of importance on Ecotherapy and the life-changing effects it has on people.
The Benefits of Ecotherapy
Although hard to admit, our urban, technology-driven lives increase anxiety and stress. Ecotherapy has been proven to make people feel happier, calmer and more resilient to stress. It’s also shown to improve self-esteem and create a deeper meaning to life. It engages our senses and calms the mind. Interestingly, therapist Adrian Harris has been taking his patients into the wilderness for Ecotherapy sessions for the last 10 years. Harris says “As an Ecotherapist I’m working in partnership with nature – the best therapist there is – so sometimes my role is to be a facilitator allowing nature to do the healing”. Harris explains that the natural world can often be a mirror into our own lives, and during his sessions, patients find natural metaphors that surround them to reflect on their mental wellness. This approach to mental health allows the wilderness to heal in a restorative way.
“In one randomised, controlled trial of German managers, going away for a short break resulted in significant increases in wellbeing and a reduction of perceived stress levels – effects which lasted 45 days after their return home” ~ Condé Nast Traveler
Bring Your Family On A Nature Reunion
One of the most alarming stats I read recently was that of children with relation to the natural world. Recent studies have shown that children in the UK spend less time outdoors than that of prisoners! They are also spending half the time outdoors than their parents did as children! What a very saddening statistic to read, but one that we need to be aware of. It is so important to cement children’s relationship with the natural world from a young age, particularly in the world we live in today. This is where weekends away and vacations become important – but what is even more consequential is where you choose to spend your family and off time. Time away from technology, noise pollution and artificial visuals is the natural healing we are all seeking. When possible try to choose destinations that encourage outdoor activity and that are closer to wild spaces. Children today have a strange relationship with nature, constantly aware of our impacts on it but yet extremely removed from it. I truly believe that forming a strong relationship with the wilderness is important in understanding our place and purpose on this Earth.
Ecotherapy and the Wild Self
When reading up more about Ecotherapy I kept being reminded of the wild self – a term introduced to me by the Londolozi Family. To me the wild self is the feeling I get when I’m completely surrounded by nature. It is when the preconceptions of who I am are stripped away and I can truly feel myself and get to know myself better. You are no longer defined by your title, your appearance, your educations etc – you are just a living being in your natural setting. This is how I recently explained my Londolozi Effect, the sense of belonging to nature and that relief of being enough when immersed in it. It’s that curious, adventurous, care-free feeling you get just because you find yourself in a natural setting. This is essentially Ecotherapy – being allowed to be who you are – your wild self.
“By developing a greater mindfulness of our experiences in the natural world through our bodies and senses, we can become more attuned to our needs and “hear what truly matters to us” ~ Condé Nast Traveler
Ecotherapy at Londolozi
It is now obvious to me that Ecotherapy is synonymous with experiencing the wild self. I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the small moments at Londolozi that lead to this beautiful phenomenon of the wild self. While natural swimming wouldn’t work at Londolozi due to obvious reasons, there are so many other small opportunities to have a wild experience, here are 8:
1. Watching the dappled light on your skin and hearing the rustle of the leaves as your drive through the Leadwood Forest. And if you hop out the vehicle, that feeling while you forest bath.
2. Taking off your shoes and feeling the the crunchy, course river sand beneath your feet during your morning coffee stop. Noticing that grounding and earthing experience that works on your subconscious.
3. Stopping at the airstrip on your way back from your evening safari and gasping at the Milky Way. Breathing in the crisp air as you marvel at the glowing expanse above you and realising your actual size in this world.
4. That moment when you get to the top of Ximpalala Koppie and you can suddenly see for miles. That incredible feeling when the utter expanse of wild land engulfs you and calms you.
5. Watching your children collect feathers, leaves and stones during the day’s adventure and now they are in the Londolozi Cubs Den creating nature art and crafts. This tactile experience with wild objects, gets soil under their fingernails, allows leaves to tangle in their hair and finally allows them to be children.
6. Witnessing a wild animal moments away from you. Looking at this living creature and respecting it for all that it is and realising that we share this world with so many fascinating species.
7. Watching the sun fade on the distant and wild horizon and slowing down as the day closes. Not realising it but feeling happier with higher levels of dopamine and finding that your slip into sleep easier that night, feeling content and at ease.
8. Sitting beside a fire as it crackles and spits sparks into the air. Feeling mesmerised by its vibrant colour and its warmth and giving into that natural urge to gather together and exchange stories.
It is a hard pill to swallow, but we need to come to terms with the fact that our day to day lives have little contact with the natural world, it’s a brief and foreign relationship to many. Today I encourage you to listen to your innate self, and retreat and find refuge in nature, in what ever way you can. Whether it be getting involved in a community garden, taking a walk on the beach or signing up for a mushroom foraging workshop – Ecotherapy is easier to access than you think. Let the wilderness be you antidote…