How 'green therapy' and 'naked shopping' can be kind to the Earth and your mind

Psychotherapist shares the positive effects of such practices on one's wellbeing and the environment

Hands planting a seed outdoors (left) and vegetables at a wet market (Photos: Getty Images)
Hands planting a seed outdoors (left) and vegetables at a wet market (Photos: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Ever visited a doctor who prescribed you with a walk in a park rather than medication? Your antidote to a medical condition might just be green therapy.

Green therapy is increasingly used to treat physical conditions around the world.

Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke with Joyce Low, a psychotherapist with Redwood Psychology, about "green therapy" and how it can positively affect one's mental health, as well as the rise of "naked shopping".

What is green therapy and why it works

Low explains that green therapy can be as simple as growing plants in a container, talking a meditative walk at the park or exercising outdoors.

Other forms of green therapy include conservation efforts such as planting trees.

Aside from green therapy, medical and psychology professionals can also assign green prescriptions to their patients, otherwise known as "prescribed time in nature" which are helpful for certain medical conditions.

Low shares that being in nature helps with our mental, emotional, psychological and physical well-being. As such, green prescriptions can help lower stress levels by reducing cortisol, the body's stress hormone.

"When you are exposed to trees, they release airborne chemicals called phytoncides which help our bodies increase natural T cells, a type of white blood cell which helps our bodies suppress diseases," she says.

"The lowering of cortisol levels and increase in killer T cells will also reduce our high blood pressure which will help us to feel more calm and relaxed."

The other benefit of green therapy lies in connection - whether with other humans or living things.

As such, Low feels that green prescriptions should become compulsory in schools and workplaces, with the aim to uplift well-being and wellness.

Urban garden on the roof of a carpark in Singapore (Photo: Getty Images)
Urban garden on the roof of a carpark in Singapore (Photo: Getty Images)

Not yet widely practised in Singapore

While certain hospitals in Singapore are beginning to carry out the practice of green therapy, Low says it is still not widely practised by medical doctors here. This is in comparison to countries like Canada, New Zealand, the United States, Finland, Korea and Japan.

However, she has noticed more community rehabilitation hospitals having outdoors areas such as a roof terrace or garden where patients are exposed to natural lighting.

She likens the benefit of green therapy to a chain effect, an improved mood leads to a better appetite which quickens recovery for an earlier discharge.

"The uptake of green therapy is not a matter of catching up but fundamentally recognising the usefulness of it," says Low.

The minimalist philosophy and 'naked shopping'

Low finds that when she practises a minimalist philosophy in her consumption habits, it enables her to live more maximally, as it shifts the focus from material things to intangible experiences which have personal meaning and significance.

"I always intentionally ask myself, 'Am I buying this because I can afford it? Or is it because it's fulfilling some unmet emotional need? What is the utility and purpose of what I'm buying?'" she says.

"I don't want to just buy something, use it once or use it a few times and it ends up in the landfill. I'm always very conscious of that sense of connection with the environment because I am one with nature."

Low also introduced the new concept of naked shopping, where customers buy products like groceries and toiletries that are plastic-free and unpackaged.

Places where you can go naked shopping in Singapore include wet markets.

One international example would be Great Food Hall, a large-scale store in Hong Kong, which opened an eco-filling station in 2019. Shampoo and shower gels are sold "naked" and customers are encouraged to bring their own containers to fill them up.

Simple ways of going green

When asked what simple ways one can be more sustainable and reap the spiritual, mental and physical benefits of going green, Low proposes making sustainability a habit.

Simple practices, like bringing a reusable water bottle and a foldable reusable shopping wherever you go or planting your own edibles at home, can go a long way.

As the world's top bottled water consumer spender per capita, according to a UN think-tank report, more can be done in Singapore to reduce the usage of one-time-use materials.

"It all starts from living from a more mindful place and being more intentional in how we live. We need to take time to pause and slow down to recognise the connection we have with nature," says Low.

Consider spending some time with nature this Earth Day and get your happy hormones going!