THE NATURE CURE

Words by Shawn Peters
Photo by Sara Kempner

The Comox Valley isn’t just a pretty place—it can heal what ails you.

 
 

It is no secret that the Comox Valley offers us a unique opportunity to work, play, and revel in the natural world. Vancouver Island is truly a magical place to live, and our surroundings are more than a beautiful playground—they are a place for healing. 

The rejuvenation we feel after spending time in nature may be due to the activities we’ve been enjoying, but it is also imbued in something deeper. Outdoor time has been shown to have positive effects on our health: mental, emotional, and physical. 

I practice naturopathic medicine, which—like many traditional forms of medicine from around the world—works with the healing power of nature to focus on the prevention of disease and the promotion of health. 

Old-school naturopathic doctors call this “Nature Cure.” 

By observing how healing happens in nature, we can utilize both the principles and tools nature offers to improve our own health.

For example, in an ecosystem disturbed after an event like a forest fire, we see a tendency for balance to re-establish itself over time through plant growth, multiple species migrating in, and so on.  

The same principle can be found in the human body, which has a natural tendency and progression to heal after an injury or illness of some kind. For example, processes like inflammation and tissue repair attempt to return damaged tissue back to optimal functioning.

The founders and original practitioners of naturopathic medicine observed and utilized simple, yet powerful, tools to support the body’s tendency to progress towards healing. Those of us fortunate enough to live in the Comox Valley have access to these tools every day. They are water, air, light, and nature. 

Water is widely acknowledged as a basic foundation of good health. We’re told to stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day, and many people practice hydrotherapy. This involves using water at different temperatures—from time-honoured hot mineral baths to the increasingly popular trend of cold-water plunges—to promote physical healing.

The presence or absence of light affects the rhythms of human life. Understanding and using your own body’s (circadian) and nature’s cyclic rhythms by exposing yourself to sunlight during the day and slowing down in the evening in low-light environments (natural light, not screens) can improve your sleep, which has significant impacts on your mood and mental health.

Spending time in nature allows us to breathe in an abundance of fresh air. Intentionally taking deep, slow belly breaths activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a relaxed and healing state. It can also calm our minds when anxiety runs high, which has become a frequent experience for many of us since the pandemic began. 

Nature itself is the final (not-so-secret) piece of the nature cure; a good example is the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or forest-bathing. Even during the least mindful walk in the woods, you’re breathing in powerful natural compounds emitted by plants and trees, called phytoncides. These compounds have been shown to reduce blood pressure and adrenaline while improving the activity of our immune systems. 

The best thing about these simple cures is that they’re accessible to everyone, and they’re free. Take a small step towards better health: go outside, walk beside the water, jump in the ocean, meander in the woods, take some deep breaths, or even just sit in the sun for a few minutes.

Without even trying, you’ll be tapping into something deeper that promotes the optimal function of body, mind, and self.




Category: Volume 25