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Nature's Power for Healing and Recovery

Nature's Power for Healing and Recovery

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. It’s a yearning for total acceptance for being who you are. Being in nature can provide that.” - Brian Klink, Living Color Healing

The path to recovery from health care matters relating to chronic pain and/or opioid and other substance use disorders can be full of obstacles. But there is one powerful recovery ally that is freely accessible to all and provides research-backed wellness benefits: Nature.

In a free online Boulder Community Health lecture presented by the BCH PILLAR Program (formerly Opioid & Chronic Pain Response Program), Boulder County nature and recovery experts—Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) education and outreach coordinator David Ford, recovery coach Brian Klink, and recovery veteran Jim Veraldi—described the science behind nature’s benefits for conditions like anxiety, depression and perhaps even pain, as well as the meaningful healing experiences that being outdoors can offer.

As OSMP’s Ford explained, “When you're immersed in a natural space and you hear bird calls or the sound of running water or feel the breeze moving over your body, research shows there are physiological and neurological responses in the brain that can help lower blood pressure and may even help regulate blood sugar. These responses also can help with anxiety, depression, some sleep disorders and even pain, according to some studies.”

Coming in May! OSMP’s free Recovery and Wellness series will offer safe, guided nature walks aimed at local residents in recovery. Learn more and register now.

Working with trained guides and learning how to give yourself permission to feel safe and relaxed in nature can have tremendous healing benefits, says Ford, based on reports from local cancer survivors and other OSMP program participants. In a deeply relaxed state, the brain is able to produce alpha waves, which some studies suggest have a similar effect on the body as painkillers without the side effect of reduced cognitive function. “In fact, there are increases in function,” he says.

VIDEO: Watch the BCH PILLAR program’s talk on “Nature and Recovery.”

As recovery coach Brian Klink explained, most addictions are driven by a desire to avoid chronic pain or painful emotions of shame and inadequacy, which leads to isolation and a “relentless search for whatever brings pleasure and makes us feel alive.” In contrast, nature offers complete and unconditional acceptance. For his clients and himself, he says, “Nature is the ultimate come-as-you-are sanctuary. We can just relax, breathe and open up all five senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste.” Over time, holistic mind-body-spirit experiences in the outdoors provide deeper satisfaction than the passing relief experienced with addiction, he adds.

“Recovery is a lifelong process,” said recovery veteran Jim Velardi. “There are ascents and descents along the trail, but you are not alone.” Beyond being in nature, his favorite ways to stay on track include regular physical activity, practicing gratitude, recognizing and feeling all his emotions, deepening his spiritual connection and acts of service. “Giving back to others makes you feel better about yourself,” he says.

Four easy ways to harness nature’s healing power:

  • Start small: Add houseplants to your living spaces. Brainstorm a do-able landscaping project that will bring beauty to your home.
  • Take your favorite hobby outside: Try stretching or yoga poses in your backyard or a nearby park. Trade the treadmill for a walk or run along a tree-lined or creekside path.
  • Invite friends and peers to join you: Add social fun (and accountability) by making plans to spend time together outside with people you enjoy.
  • Go with a guide: Trained to support everyone in a group, guides often lead helpful activities that amplify your sense-awareness, promoting greater clarity and mindfulness.