EcoTherapy in Three Acts – Look to These Cultures for Advice

The pandemic continuing on into the winter has sounded the death knell for the public indoors – and just when we use them the most!

Millions of people every year are affected by SAD – seasonal affective disorder – and if you combine that reduction in happy chemicals, plus regular-old depression, plus living-through-a-pandemic depression…

It’s no secret that many of us are struggling right now.

Not to mention that Americans spend 90% of their lives indoors on average, according to the EPA. 

If we were spending that much time inside before the pandemic… you can only imagine that percentage has gone up.

Nature can be an incredible antidote to the blues, chronic or temporary. 

But Americans don’t have the best handle on using it effectively – at least not by the average numbers. 

There are other cultures, however, that have their own cultural methods for staying connected to the outdoors, especially when the weather feels forbidding and our indoor spaces call to us. 

Let’s explore some of the global approaches to staying in nature even through the winter…

Japanese Forest Bathing

Beginners tend to open their forest-bathing journey with a Certified Forest Guide to aid them, but you certainly don’t have to!

This method of communing with nature is all about slowing down and adhering to your senses – something we don’t often do when we’re just trying to get somewhere, power-hiking, or laughing and talking with friends. 

The general principle is this: Get your cold-weather gear on and take yourself to a forest, not as the setting for an activity, but as a destination in itself.

Follow a few guidelines to inform your experience there…

  • Shorten the distance you plan to travel while extending the time you plan to be there. For example, you should try to be in a forest for between two and four hours but only physically travel less than a mile.
  • Try to be somewhere where there’s minimal intrusion from man-made sources – less noise, artificial lighting, etc. Don’t bring your phone or bluetooth speaker. Don’t bring a digital camera. Just bring you.
  • Don’t aim for any experience in particular! If you don’t meditate, that’s fine. If you don’t have a spiritual awakening, that’s fine. This is less about inner alchemy and more about engaging with the forest as its own treasure chest of lives being lived, observing them and noting them. 
  • See if you can find a place close-ish to your home that features natural waterways, so you can watch and listen to the creeks, rivers, ponds, etc. 
  • Walk slowly and sit often. If you’ve got a forest near you with meadows, canopies, heavy wooded regions – perfect. Try to spend time in each different place at a much slower pace than you’re used to.
  • Speak to the forest! It may sound silly, but introduce yourself. Notice what each element of the forest is providing, and thank the element for it. Don’t let self-consciousness stop you – engage!


Stay physically active the way indigineous cultures did when they were the stewards of their own land. Many of today’s popular outdoor winter activities actually have indigenous roots.

Since we know how important staying physically active is to maintaining optimum mental health, and that sedentary activities can literally reshape our bodies and change the flow of hormones and biochemicals…

You can see pretty quickly how cloistering indoors for three-four months contributes to the overall denigration of our health. Plus, the body burns more calories in the cold than in the heat by its effort to keep you warm. 

Some of the physical outdoor activities we can think indigineous cultures for include:

  • Ice Fishing
  • Snow Shoeing
  • Sledding or Tobogganing
  • Playing hockey

Now, you can only do some of those things without plenty of snow/ice/a frozen lake. But another mainstay of many indigenous cultures is storytelling around a warm fire outside during the winter – old folktales, family stories, parables, etc. 


There is a tradition in Norway called friluftsliv, which translates to “open-air living”, and it’s rooted in spending time outdoors regardless of the weather. Not in spite of, but in congress with the weather.

For Norwegians, this tradition is deeply tied to their cultural and ancestral identity. 

It represents an impulse and a commitment to remain connected to the outdoors all year round – even when it’s so cold, you just want to be bundled on a couch watching TV.

There’s even a special word for having a beer outside (utepils), but friluftsliv applies to everything – outdoor winter picnics, long walks with friends, camping in the cold, playing games outside, biking to your destinations.

It’s antithetical to what we do here in the States… but it works for them. It’s less a set of rules and more a lifestyle.

If you’ve found yourself feeling trapped in a repetitive indoors cycle of preparing to go to bed from the moment you wake up, and automatically ruling out anything that takes place outdoors, starting with getting back to nature can be a very effective way of shaking off the blues!

Although, sometimes, we need more help than that.

This triple depression threat – SAD, pandemic, and mental illness – can be supported by spending this time addressing your own unhealed trauma.

Not light work, to be sure, but absolutely essential.

That’s why Nick Polizzi and I developed the nine-part “Trauma” docu-series we debuted last night… at no cost to you whatsoever.

Should you suspect there’s more to your bad mood than just the weather… this is a must-watch.

Click here to sign up to view it for free!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.