Learn a thing or two about human rewilding

Learn a thing or two about human rewilding

Could reconnecting with nature actually boost our wellbeing?


It should come as little surprise that one of the top wellness trends for 2019 is human rewilding, which offers up an organic alternative to the tech-driven, numbers-obsessed bio-hacking trend of recent years.

First coined by American environmentalist Dave Foreman in the 1990s, the term “rewilding” originally referred to restoring natural environments that have been neglected or destroyed.

More recently, human rewilding has surfaced. And in human terms, this means returning to a more natural state and spending time in nature, as well as moving, resting, and eating in conjunction with circadian rhythms – without relying on apps that tell us what to do and when to do it.

“Human rewilding brings us back to a more primal world-view where we are interconnected with everything and the world is filled with wonder,” says Kenton Whitman, who co-founded ReWild University in the woods of Wisconsin in the US with his wife Rebecca Whitman 12 years ago. ReWildU, as it’s known, offers everything from four-month forest immersion programmes to weekend-long workshops and online courses.

Whitman says that human rewilding is the key to regaining our sense of self that comes from our connection with Mother Earth.

Green therapy

Ample studies have shown that simply being present in nature has powerful positive effects on our immune systems, stress levels, and moods, says Whitman.

The students at ReWildU often get to experience days or weeks of intense mosquito activity. If they resist, they will suffer. But if they surrender to the experience, they discover an inner resilience that not only makes the mosquitoes much less annoying but translates into a new way of encountering life once they return to the modern world, explains Whitman. “For example, if your boss is yelling at you, it no longer stresses you out. You’ve learned to find relaxation being assaulted by tens of thousands of mosquitoes, and that’s much worse than anything your boss can dish out,” he says.

ReWildU was initially started for at-risk youth who were battling drug addiction. Over the years, the programme was opened up to everyone.

“We’ve had video game designers who ‘made it to the top’ and then decided to give everything up for a life in nature. We’ve had teens coming out of high school, people in their fifties trying to regain a sense of health and wellbeing, and families with children. We’ve had people pulling in six figure incomes, and homeless veterans,” says Whitman.

Hope for nature

British writer George Monbiot, who is known for his environmentalism and political activism, has penned many columns and a book about rewilding. In his 2013 book Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, he writes that, “Rewilding is not about abandoning civilisation but about enhancing it. It is to ‘love not man the less, but Nature more.’”

Monbiot’s words remind us why it’s not possible to discuss human rewilding without looking at its source, which is about restoring an area of land to its natural uncultivated state.

Successful rewilding projects include the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park in the US and tree restoration in Glen Moriston, Scotland. An on-going project in Jukajoki, Finland is being carried out by the Snowchange Cooperative whereby a heavily damaged catchment area in the country’s north is home to state-of-the-art ecological restoration that includes an internationally recognised wetland and a bird habitat.

Aino Tuominen, the founder of Rewilding Finland, another Nordic-based nature conservation organisation, says “it’s important to repair damaged ecosystems because so much has already been lost in Europe and Finland.”

“If we want to protect biodiversity and stop the extinction wave, it’s not enough to protect existing small patches, but larger areas need to be returned to a natural state. Climate change increases the pressure on wild nature and threatens biodiversity. Having more diverse natural areas will help nature to adapt to the rapid change,” she says.

Rewilding Finland aims to rebuild nature’s own processes such as maintaining meadows and pastures and protecting threatened species such as wild forest reindeer, muskox, and the iconic wisent.

And while taking care of the nature around us is crucial in itself, it also directly benefits us humans.

“The health of the river directly impacts the water we drink, the health of the air directly impacts each breath we take, and the health of our local ecosystems directly effects our ability to enjoy the benefits of spending time in nature,” sums up Kenton Whitman of ReWild University.

Text Katja Pantzar
Illustration Anja Reponen