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The Cornerstone of Ecotherapy

By: Christine QuerubinThe Cornerstone of Ecotherapy

Have you ever tried hiking before? Climbing mountains may be reminiscent of your Girl Scout or Boy Scout experiences, but in recent years more and more people are becoming more interested in hiking or mountain climbing, thanks to the YOLO (You Only Live Once) motto. The phenomenon shows people coming from various races, gender, and age, setting off on a seemingly daredevil adventure complete with social media coverage of their at-the-summit photos and videos. This provides a sense of thrill and excitement to otherwise dangerous and, to some extent, life-threatening situations.

However, people who are into hiking would argue that the benefits of climbing mountains go far beyond the Instagram-worthy posts or following trends. For one, this activity provides “ecotherapy” which refers to the growth and healing we can get from healthy interactions with nature. Being one with nature simply brings a sense of peace and relaxation.

There are three dimensions in ecotherapy: inreach, upreach, and outreach. Inreach essentially means receiving and being nurtured by the healing presence of nature, place, and Earth. Upreach refers to the actual experience of finding our place within the natural world. On the other hand, outreach means joining activities with other people who care for the planet. All these can be experienced when hiking.     

Hiking for wellness

With hiking, you actually have all five senses immersed in the natural environment. Wenrael Jago-on, a hiker for 13 years shares, “Hiking is my stress reliever from work.” According to him, being one with nature allows him to be free from the toxicity of city life. At the same time, it provides him an avenue to reflect and be at peace with the earth. This encapsulates the  “inreach” concept of ecotherapy. Not only does mountain climbing allow him to de-stress but also enables him to maintain a healthy physique.

Hiking entails a lot of cardiovascular work and he is losing weight without even trying. With 34 mountains on his list, his regular twice-a-month climbs allow him to stay in shape while enjoying the beauty of mother earth. For Jago-on, mountain climbing is vital to his mental and physical health.

Riccarl Flores, guide at Trail Madness – a mountain climbing group based in Manila, also shares the same perspective. According to him, hiking has brought him “peace of mind, a joyful spirit, humble heart, and a positive outlook in life.” He has been into mountaineering since 2011 and conquered over 40 mountains. Over the years, this activity allowed him to not just develop a deeper appreciation to nature but also advocacies that reach out to the less fortunate who live in remote places.

During his first climb, he recalls, “I fell in love with the sea of clouds and how I was able to make friends.” He also regularly initiates climbs for a cause dubbed as “One Act of Kindness” where people would not only get to see the beauty of the mountains but also get a chance to interact with the locals and donate school supplies or other daily essentials like boots, slippers, umbrellas, and grocery items.

The ecotherapy concept indicates that the human-nature relationship matters. People are intimately connected and inseparable from the rest of nature. More so, ecotherapy can be fundamental in psychotherapy and psychiatry because it offers new methods of healing the human psyche without the overly expensive medications and treatments. Such is the case of Geneva Redulla, a hiker of about five years. When she moved overseas to find greener pastures in 2012, she was very homesick and the change in the work environment and constant longing for family made her gain weight, lonely, and exhibit signs of depression.

However, all these had changed when she started climbing mountains. Her energy had improved and she also lost the excess weight. More importantly, it also gave her the confidence to socialize with the Filipino community in her area, thus allowing her to gain friends whom she now considered as a family.

Hiking essentials for beginners

If you have been putting off hiking from your bucket list for fear that you can’t reach the summit or that it demands too much physical strength, the key is to simply start where you are comfortable with and move from there.

“Each mountain has its own characteristics and levels of difficulty. Have the courage to try and be excited for the great adventure,” Flores shares.  Climbing mountains teaches you a lot of things, and as this mountain guide puts it “It teaches you to be patient, to face life’s challenges, and it humbles you.”

Once you are one with nature, you get to realize that we are but a tiny speck in the totality of our natural world and its various wonders. And once you reach the summit, it’s like reaching the heaven because nothing compares to that awesome feeling you get when a sea of clouds greet you at the peak. This coincides with the “upreach” concept of ecotherapy. You just find yourself in awe of the greatness of God’s creation that all your worries and troubles seem so miniscule, and worrying about them seems futile.

Hiking and environmental sustainability

All hikers should abide by the “Leave no trace (LNT)” principle, complementing the ecotherapy’s “outreach” aspect. This principle simply means that thrash produced while climbing should be brought down the mountain and disposed of accordingly. As explained by UP Mountaineers, a mountaineering club that offers Basic Mountaineering Courses (BMC), LNT also follow these rules: vandalizing on trees and rock formations or anywhere else in your trail is simply disrespectful; you should minimize noise and respect the customs and traditions of the locals, greet other people that you meet on the trail and leave what you find there; and no matter how beautiful or exotic the flowers you see when you hike, they bloom best in their natural environment and not in a vase at your home.

These rules can be summed up by the mountaineer’s creed, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.” Nevertheless, we can take everything in memories.

“Mountaineers should protect our environment and not destroy it,” adds Flores. “It is my personal goal to continue to spread awareness on the importance of caring for the environment for as long as I live.” As a citizen of the earth, we all share this responsibility.

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