How Can Recreational Therapies Help Us Heal at the Cellular Level?

Addiction Recovery Publishing Addiction Recovery January 20, 2024

How Can Recreational Therapies Help Us Heal at the Cellular Level?

The renowned Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, said, “We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.” This is true in life, and it is certainly true in recovery as well. That is why, while recovery is a very serious business, it is also important to break and find some joy in it from time to time. Recreational therapies can help us find that sense of joy.

The Importance of Individualized Addiction and Mental Health Care

When it comes to addiction and mental health care, it is critical that it be focused specifically on our individual needs. If a recovery plan is “cookie cutter” or “one-size-fits-all,” we here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab have found that it rarely works.

Of course, no two people are the same. So, why, then, would their recovery plans be the same? This is what many recovery centers fail to recognize. Even if two individuals have the exact same mental health and/or addiction diagnosis, their stories are going to be vastly different, and it is those stories that must be taken into account when creating a recovery plan.

For example, say two people have bipolar I disorder and alcohol use disorder (AUD), the exact same diagnosis. However, based on their life stories, such as their childhood, their environment, family dynamics, occupation, and physical well-being, their prognosis for a recovery plan should be significantly different. Those differences will be found in the various treatments and modalities (including recreational therapies) that are utilized to aid in their recovery. These variations are also what make comprehensive recovery plans just as important as individualized ones.

The Importance of Comprehensive Addiction and Mental Health Care

Comprehensive addiction and mental health care simply means care with variety. This variety exists in order to address all of the specific needs of the individual. Many recovery centers will prescribe the same types of traditional therapies to each of their clients. While these may work for some, for others, they will miss the mark significantly.

Being able to offer comprehensive addiction and mental health care also means that a recovery center must have a wide range of offerings. It is one thing to say that a plan needs multiple modalities, and it is another to have them available at all times.

This is what Exclusive Hawaii Rehab is able to do. Not only do we create specific plans for each of our clients, but we also have the modalities to accomplish those plans right at our 30-acre luxury recovery center. We are able to offer “traditional” mental health therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), nutritional therapy including a focus on the gut microbiome, holistic practices such as mindfulness meditation and yoga, and many other modalities including recreational therapies. 

What Exactly Are Recreational Therapies?

Recreational therapies are therapies that utilize leisure activities to help engage the individual and help them work through the various underlying and behavioral issues that are associated with their mental illness or addiction. Now, the interesting aspect of recreational therapies is that they can be very broad as long as the individual is finding some sort of relief within the activity.

It is also important to note that engaging in recreational therapies is much more than simply engaging in recreational activities. Yes, the activities are the base or cornerstone of the modality, but they are also fully accompanied by and monitored by professional therapists who focus on recreational therapies.

Also, many recreational therapies overlap with, or fall under the category of, experiential therapy. This is because the primary benefit of recreational therapy is the “experience” (hence, “experiential”). One extremely popular and beneficial recreational therapy that falls under the experiential canopy is nature immersion therapy.

Recreational Therapies: Nature Immersion Therapy

Nature immersion therapies, at their core, are therapies in which the individual engages with nature. Of course, anyone can engage with nature (though in today’s modern society, many people find themselves without healthy access to it). However, people who engage with nature immersion therapy engage with it to get to the root/core causes of their issues. Essentially, engaging with nature helps people get out outside into nature in order to look inside themselves and heal at the cellular level.

While it is considered recreational and experiential, nature immersion therapy has been shown to offer some very concrete benefits. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Besides physical health improvements, nature exposure can bring about positive influence upon psychological constructs such as boredom, friendliness, wellbeing and liveliness.” Also, “Besides improvements to physical and psychological well-being, exposure to natural environments has been shown to bring about positive impacts on cognitive functioning,” and “While cognitive restoration and physiological well-being are the prominent and renowned benefits of nature exposure, there is one important construct that is often overlooked in environmental psychology research studies – that is, the human-nature relationship; also known as connectedness to nature (CN).”

It is this connectedness to nature that embodies the recreational aspect of nature immersion therapy. Yes, it is the leisure activity of actually getting out in nature and engaging with it on a cellular level. The physical interaction with nature and then discussing with a therapist what that interaction brought up in oneself can be both life-affirming and life-changing. Also, the same can be said about the relationship between an individual and various art therapies.

Recreational Therapies: Art Therapy

Art therapy is relatively straightforward but also has many complexities under the surface. According to the 2021 article, Art Therapy: A Complementary Treatment for Mental Disorders, “Art therapy is defined by the British Association of Art Therapists as a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication… The overall goal of its practitioners is to enable clients to change and grow on a personal level through the use of artistic materials in a safe and convenient environment.” [It also] enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psycho-therapeutic relationship.”

Art therapy is also considered both a recreational and experiential therapy. It is the act of engaging with a specific creative activity to see what one can glean from both the experience of creating, as well as what the final “product” ends up being.

For example, an art therapy that includes painting will focus on what the individual chooses to paint and why. Is there some underlying issue that they wish to represent in their painting? It will also focus on what comes up during the process. Did they discover anything new as images started to take shape on the canvas? Then, it will also focus on the final work and what the individual and the therapist may be able to interpret from it. Does the final painting depict some type of underlying trauma that was being shadowed by addictive or negative mental health behaviors? 

Now, art therapy does differ from other recreational therapies because there is generally a final product to analyze. Other recreational therapies like surf therapy do not have anything concrete after the experience to analyze. Thus, it is wholly focused on what comes up during the experience.

Recreational Therapies: Surf Therapy

The benefits of surf therapy are much more understood than many people think. This is because many studies related to surf therapy have been conducted over the years. Many of these studies have focused on helping people with various issues of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One of these studies was conducted with the combat veteran population.

According to the journal Frontiers in Psychology, “The emerging evidence-base suggests that surf therapy is effective in improving mental health outcomes among vulnerable youth, disabled populations, and military veterans. For example, a study conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) examining the effects of surfing on the well-being of combat veterans found that surfing elevated subjective well-being through a sense of respite from worries, increased positive emotions, and connection with others. Surf therapy has also been found to be associated with significantly lower post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive symptoms (at both the conclusion of therapy and 30-day follow-up), increases in positive affect, and decrease negative affect, anxiety, and depression.” However, surf therapy is not just for individuals struggling with trauma.

Surf therapy has been shown to be effective at addressing a multitude of mental health and addiction issues. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “An intervention that uses surfing (physical activity) with therapeutic elements of the ocean as a vehicle to achieve positive change is called surf therapy. Carefully planned water activities tailored to the needs of the individual can contribute to correct psychosocial and cognitive development. The International Surf Therapy Organization summarizes the benefits of adequately indicated surf therapy as follows: improved physical health and mobility; improved mental health, including reduction of specific symptoms, such as posttraumatic stress and depression; improved well-being and improved social skills.”

Also, there may be no better place on the planet to engage with surf therapy than on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. A mere 15 minutes from our 30-acre luxury recovery center at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab is a local surf break called Honoli’i. Here, clients can catch some of the best waves in the world while also taking breaks from the surf to meditate as tropical fish and green sea turtles swim beneath them. Many people find this to be not only a therapeutic experience but also a spiritual one.

Now, like surf therapy, there are other recreational therapies that are focused more on the activity than the outcome. One of these recreational therapies is horticulture therapy.

Recreational Therapies: Horticulture Therapy

Also, like surf therapy, many people don’t realize how well-understood the benefits of horticulture therapy really are. They also don’t know that horticulture has been used as a form of therapy (though perhaps less recognized and “standardized”) for many years.

The benefits of horticulture therapy are vast and varied. According to the 2020 article, Horticultural Therapy Program for People With Mental Illness: A Mixed-Method Evaluation, “Horticulture has been long used as a therapeutic activity for people with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and depression. People’s interactions with plants, through goal-orientated horticultural activities in the form of active gardening, as well as the passive appreciation of nature, could be therapeutic to people with mental disorders in many ways… Horticulture could have emotional benefits, such as reducing stress, reducing psychiatric symptoms, stabilizing mood, and increasing the sense of tranquility, spirituality, and enjoyment.”

Horticulture therapy has also been shown to help with attention span, cognitive functioning, self-esteem, sleeplessness and lethargy, and overall productivity. These benefits have also been seen in the recreational activity of yoga, which also overlaps with a holistic practice.

A Recreational Holistic Modality: The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga has been practiced for over three thousand years (some argue even longer). It began as a strictly spiritual/religious practice but has since gone on to be used recreationally to help people heal from physical ailments as well. In recreational therapies, yoga can be used to heal physical ailments, mental blocks, and spiritual deficiencies.

According to the International Journal of Yoga, “The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit root “yuj” which means union, or yoke, to join, and to direct and concentrate one’s attention. Regular practice of yoga promotes strength, endurance, and flexibility, and facilitates characteristics of friendliness, compassion, and greater self-control while cultivating a sense of calmness and well-being. Sustained practice also leads to important outcomes such as changes in life perspective, self-awareness, and an improved sense of energy to live life fully and with genuine enjoyment.” It is also this idea of “yoking” that makes comprehensive recovery so crucial. Yes, it is the bringing together of many modalities to heal one individual. This is what we believe at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab. 

Also, just like surf therapy and horticulture therapy, there is no place like the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island to practice yoga. Whether it be in our state-of-the-art facility or out on a beach looking over the beautiful Pacific Ocean, one will soon realize that they have a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is also helping them to heal at the cellular level.

Getting to the Root/Core Causes of the Issue With Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

Thich Nhat Hanh also once said, “It’s very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems.” This is what recreational therapies offer us: the ability to rest and relax and get away from the rigidity that is sometimes felt in treatment.

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we understand that to heal at the cellular level, we must also get to the root/core causes of our issues. Our wide variety of therapies and treatments help make that happen. This includes the wide array of unique recreational therapies that we are able to offer.

There is a traditional Hawaiin Proverb that we often say on the Big Island. It goes, “Aloha Aku No, Aloha Mai No.” This proverb means that when we give our love to someone else, they too will feel love, and they too will give it back. Many of us who need help with addiction and/or mental health issues have lost that sense of love. That is why we are here. We are here to offer that love until our clients relearn how to love and, most importantly, relearn how to love themselves.  

Recreational therapies can be highly effective at helping people heal from issues of addiction and mental illness. Recreational therapies like horticulture therapy, surf therapy, swimming with sea creatures, taking nature excursions, creating art and music, and journaling can be highly beneficial for whole-mind-body healing and getting to the root/core causes of negative behaviors. If you feel like you or someone you love is struggling with issues of addiction, mental illness, or co-occurring disorders, we can help get you onto the positive path of long-term recovery and healing at the cellular level. For more information about the various types and benefits of recreational therapies, please reach out to Exclusive Hawaii Rehab today at (808) 775-0200.