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Healing with Nature

A large and growing body of research demonstrates what our ancestors and indigenous peoples have always known to be true: being in nature is good for you. In today’s modern age, when most of us live in cities and spend countless hours in front of screens, nature is an essential remedy to help us feel better and more connected with the world around us.

For me, nature has been a huge part of my identity and everyday life. Born in Bataan, Philippines, my early childhood was spent wading in the sea and riding water buffalo in mountain rivers. When I was five, my family moved to the 1000 Islands region of Northern New York. I have fond memories of swimming in the pristine waters of the St. Lawrence River, exploring the woods, and picking strawberries every summer and apples every fall. I attended a small women’s college in the Finger Lakes, where our traditions included dancing around a very old Sycamore tree and jumping into Cayuga Lake in lingerie.

Not until I moved to New York City in 2009 to pursue a career in health education and non-profit management did I begin to feel separated from nature. It took me years to restore that connection. New Yorkers are always competing for a little more space, aren’t we? We are ever-hustling to find that little glimmer of Eden, be it on a crowded rooftop, in a 100-square foot backyard, in a bustling park, or under the shade of a sidewalk tree. It’s called the Concrete Jungle, after all.

Professionally, for over 12 years, I witnessed the effects of what some scholars are now calling “nature deficit disorder,” resulting in behavioral issues and health risks, including asthma, hypertension, and obesity. While working in health education was rewarding, I also recognized the limitations of interventions that focused primarily on personal behavior change rather than environmental factors that play a more significant role in determining health outcomes. For example, the 12-year-old boy with asthma, obesity, and pre-diabetes, who lived in the Bronx near the Brucker Expressway, a vortex of air pollution in a county ranked worst in New York State for health outcomes. Not to mention, being a student of New York City public schools, where it’s common for multiple schools to be within one building, providing hundreds of students with physical education in the absence of a gymnasium. Even later in my career as director of health programs at Harlem Children’s Zone, empowering children and families to develop lifelong healthy habits felt like swimming upstream, given the toxic environments in which people were playing, working, and living. Educating children and families to “be more active” and “eat more plants” seemed grossly inadequate.

It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic did I have a real awakening. After months of isolation, technology overload, and compounding stress, my mental health was suffering. I became extremely anxious and depressed. My brain felt foggy. I had also noticed significant changes in my appetite, weight, skin, and hair. Taking a break, I went to visit my friends, who owned a lodge in the Berkshire Mountains. I went on daily nature walks, listened to the calming sounds of the rambling brook, and from a mountaintop watched hawks soar above the trees. I collected pine cones and dipped my feet in a waterfall. After five days, I felt reborn. I remember thinking, “This is a thing…this is therapeutic.” On my way home to Harlem, I am entered “nature therapy” into Google, and sure enough, it was a thing, with a lot of evidence behind it. Research shows that as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can boost mood and promote relaxation. Taking a 90-minute walk in nature lowers activity in the part of the brain linked to negative rumination. I also learned that for many cultures, especially for indigenous peoples, healing traditions were rooted in nature. Modern medicine, after all, evolved from centuries-old plant knowledge. So, I did what any committed health educator and nature lover would do, I enrolled in studies and received my ecotherapy certification in June 2021. While ecotherapy is not a substitute for psychotherapy, it is a profoundly beneficial complement. During my coursework, I began intentionally making nature walks part of my daily self-care routine. Together with therapy, acupuncture, CBD treatments, and social support, I finally felt like myself again. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to share the healing gift of nature with anyone willing to take a walk.

Sessions are typically held in a natural setting, typically in a park, garden, or nature trail, depending on the client’s needs and interests. My practice focuses on nature to facilitate mindfulness, helping individuals find deeper connection in their own lives, and nurture gratitude and happiness in daily living. In addition to formal training in the discipline, my style of ecotherapy is shaped by 12+ years of experience in public health education, expertise in management and leadership, and yoga studies. I incorporate coaching, meditation, gentle movement, and sensory exercises into every session.

Nature is free and nature is for everyone. I provide some services at no cost, including an initial consultation and guided mindfulness walks in Central Park every Monday morning at 7:00 AM. I also facilitate customized individual sessions, group classes, workshops, and seminars for a fee. Ultimately, my goal is “to guide you on the trail” long enough to (re)learn how to tap into the healing power of nature anywhere, any time. It would be my honor to share this gift with you.

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