“If I could just get away to the beach for a weekend, I’d feel so much better,” Anne sighed. “I don’t know what it is about the ocean, but 24 hours of salt air and surf, and I feel 10 years younger.”

“I know,” Elizabeth nodded. “I feel the same way about the mountains. Put me on a lake with a book and a glass of tea, or lemonade, or wine, and I’m a new woman.”


Both women knew something most of us do – that getting out into nature, whether it’s near the ocean, a beach, a lake, or even a stream in a nearby city park can make us feel rejuvenated, fresh, and relaxed.

While adults identify these nature retreats as something we plan for, drive to, or vacation at – children and medical professionals know that running barefoot through the back yard, or standing barefoot in a tub of freshly turned earth, or weeding your garden barefoot can have the same effects.

“Love blossoms when thinking quiets and living begins.”
Stephen Altschuler from “The Mindful Hiker”

It’s taken awhile, but modern medicine and scientific studies now prove what humans have intuitively known throughout time–that the earth’s natural electromagnetic properties are also natural healing properties.


One of the most popular terms for accessing this natural healing is called “Ecotherapy.”

The name is an umbrella term for a variety of nature-based methods of physical and psychological healing. Where many once saw superstition, science now provides medical fact and evidence for what we once called “faith” healing, or “a day at the beach or the lake” recuperative powers.

People who hike, walk, run, or get outdoors on a regular basis for any reason are intimately connected with the power of just being in nature. This awareness, once people grasp it, can shift our understanding of how to heal our human psyche. It means instead of popping a pill, reaching for the aspirin, or calling the doctor, we can take time to see what nature can do for us first.

Howard Clinebell, a pastoral councilor and author of The Ecotherapy Book, wrote about three interacting operations/dynamics that occur when we embrace nature:

Inreach – This is the process of receiving and being nurtured by the healing presence of nature. This nurturing can be from a place outdoors that you consider special – from a corner of your garden or even walking a path around your back yard.

Upreach – Upreach is the practice of getting in touch with our intuitive “wise woman” or “wise warrior” self and awareness. Upreach is that intuitive self that knows the things our reasoning, overthinking-it minds fail to grasp.

Outreach – The things we do, like hiking, kayaking, wading, swimming, walking, or gardening – any activities we do with other people that care for our health, our relationships, and ultimately the planet.

Where are you?

Like Anne and Elizabeth, most of us have a favorite get-away like the beach or the ocean, or a wooded path nearby. Even the local dog park can be a place we find peace. What is your favorite place in nature?

If asked to name a place that feels safe and inviting, would you have one? If not, think about it. Where would you go if you had to name a place? Think about it.

Then test it out. Go there. Spend at least 30 minutes sitting, walking, and just thinking there. Find a place that feels safe and nurturing. Keep trying out different spots until you find a bench, a tree, a spot by a garden, or wherever that feels good to you. Now relax and enjoy the healing.

Seeking the outdoors

I highly encourage outdoor time. As a therapist, nurse, and healer for more than 30 years, I have experienced and have had clients experience the power of something as simple as walking barefoot in their garden 30 minutes a day. If you don’t walk, you can still benefit from simply digging in a garden, weeding, or planting 20-30 minutes a day.

If you’re not sure how to incorporate nature into a healing practice, I offer monthly instructive walks for individuals who want to do more exploration of nature and themselves. The walks include both labyrinths and nature walks at area parks.

Do you prefer a group setting and the chance to meet with or learn from others? I also offer a variety of groups: including women’s groups who are looking for a way to connect with each other with more depth/ mother-daughter walks and retreats to learn more about themselves and their relationship and nature.

Labyrinth walks – There are several labyrinths in our local area (we are so fortunate). I offer walking meditations for seasonal changes, personal transitions, and group work.

Sensing into Nature experiences – becoming aware of your 53 Natural Senses.

Ecotherapy can be combined with any medical treatment. It’s not contraindicated for any current medical treatment you may be undergoing, but check with your physician.

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Address: 225 N. High Street

Harrisonburg VA 22801

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Photos: Artist and photographer Ann Cheeks