The Nature in Naturopathy Finding it Through Experiential Nature Cure Retreats

 In Naturopathic News

Node Smith

It is critical that events like ReVitalization continue to show us the relevance of our traditions and their timeless healing potential in the modern 21st century healthcare landscape.

(Kurt Beil, ND, MSOM, MPH)

It has been an exciting year for the ReVitalization and Revival retreats, both having wrapped up their third annual events this past summer. For those of you who are not yet familiar with the ReVitalization and Revival, I invite you to enter into a world of possibilities, where education is presented at the foot of second-growth cedars, where the river flowing underfoot provides clay for hydrotherapy workshops, and herb walks are an unscheduled and organic part of an entire weekend. I invite you to set aside preconceived notions of what medical curriculum should look like, and imagine a setting in which the openness to learn and to connect with Nature is the driving force behind the educational model.

Mission Statement: Inspires healers to embody the naturopathic principles

Students from Bastyr and National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) did this type of imagining 3 ½ years ago, and their efforts have manifested into a phenomenon which has touched the hearts of both practicing physicians and students and which truly inspires healers to embody the naturopathic principles. These 2 retreats mark the beginning of a movement within naturopathic educational curriculums towards experiential opportunities, which place students and docs side by side in a mutual exchange of enthusiasm and wisdom. Charley Cropley annunciated the importance of this type of multigenerational experience beautifully:

As I grow older, I long to pass on the wisdom and confidence I have gained over many years. Within our colleges I have not yet found a way to share what I’ve learned with students and younger docs. The “Revite” gives me the opportunity to do this. Plus, it is done in a natural setting with plenty of time for informal conversations. 

(Charles Cropley, ND)

These “informal conversations” are certainly a highlight of these weekend retreats, allowing for a type of networking and community building to occur, which is especially unique in its strength as well as authenticity. To this effect, Pamela Jeanne expressed the following:

At the Revitalization Retreat, I experienced not only the camaraderie with students and peers, I felt the essential connection we all share that I have never felt at conventional conferences. This basic connection we all share comes from a love of our medicine; it is true healing from deep within.

(Pamela Jeanne, ND)

The Model

So, what makes these retreats different than other events that bring students and Elders of our profession together, such as “The Gathering” or the Northwest Naturopathic Physician Convention?

For one, these events are hosted and facilitated in their entirety OUTSIDE! The model beckons the question: “Where is the nature in naturopathy?” In a single weekend, students and docs alike experience a profound rekindling of enthusiasm for the process of stepping away from chaos and touching the earth in an intimate way. Kurt Beil shared this perspective:

It is a very special thing to embody and experience the “Healing Power of Nature” in its truest form and context, i.e., the fresh air, water, and sunlight; the grass and trees and other parts of the natural world that the founders of our profession knew and utilized on a daily basis. Being on the land to do this work of connection to the roots of our profession is such a gift, and something that cannot be replicated in a classroom or indoor clinic.

(Kurt Beil, ND, MSOM, MPH)

This is not simply a “fun party in the woods,” as some may accuse revitalizers and revivalists of having, but rather an intimate evaluation of the principle of vitalism and how the Vis operates within each of us in a profound way. Herein lies the fundamental truth – that the best way to learn is to experience. Following the retreat, Pamela Jeanne shared with me that this retreat…

…was an organized yet relaxed series of nature-cure experiences that gave attendees the opportunity to integrate naturopathic philosophy with nature-cure experience. More importantly, experiencing the actual effects on the body of sitting in a steam tent, then doing a cold plunge, cannot be mimicked by just reading about such treatments. Performing the wet wraps and lying wrapped in wool blankets cannot be duplicated in a standard conference setting.

(Pamela Jeanne, ND)

In experiencing these treatments first-hand, students and participating docs develop a confidence in utilizing them, which transfers over to our teaching and community clinics. The fact of the matter is, as Pamela Jeanne states, “If these modalities are not experienced they will not be recommended/prescribed for patients.”

Enriching Curriculum and Supporting Students

Since the creation of these events, it has been an intention that these educational opportunities would supplement, enrich, and support current didactic curriculums, not supplant them. Over the last 3 years, students and faculty members have been excited and surprised by the effect these retreats have had on current students and incoming classes. The placement of these retreats at the beginning of the academic year is well-suited to supporting students by opening a space to experience the medicine first-hand, as well as connecting with the essence of the naturopathic profession as a community rather than an institution. We have seen a dramatic change in the student body within the cohort that has attended the retreats for multiple years. NCNM student Stephanie Monneson comments:

I can’t put into words how meaningful it has been to be involved in the ReVitalization Retreat. I began helping with the retreat shortly after starting my first year at NCNM, and jumped into it before I really knew what I was getting involved in. It takes a lot of involvement and planning throughout the year, but the retreat is such a special experience that it makes all the work worth it. Being in such an intensive program, it can be difficult to maintain the zest that got me here to begin with. The retreat is a time when I can refill my stock of enthusiasm and inspiration that I will need to tap into to get me through another year of school. It serves as a reminder of why I have chosen this path. For many, the ReVitalization Retreat helps increase their faith in naturopathic medicine. I don’t need to use the retreat for this, as my faith is strong, but it is truly amazing to be around so many doctors and students that have an unfailing passion for naturopathy and the power of the Vis.

(Stephanie Monneson, NCNM student)

New Additions

In October of 2014, Bastyr of San Diego facilitated their first annual “Restore the Vis” retreat. The San Diego campus is in an extremely unique position to use events such as this, to build into their curriculum an atmosphere which will support their community and build connections between the school and the larger California naturopathic community. One of the lead coordinators for this new retreat, Ryan Olson, describes it this way:

I have facilitated retreats for other medical students (UCSF Medical School) that have been more focused on community/team building and problem-solving as groups. I think those aspects are so valuable to our community as we step into the dynamic, and sometimes harsh, environment as practicing physicians. The interdependent nature of our medicine shall lucidly mirror what we hope to show our patients of their body and health/disease. We hope to harness some of the confidence and pure passion that the elder generations have to share through the connected interactions amongst the power and beauty nature provides at our retreats!

(Ryan Olson, Bastyr student, San Diego)

Continuing Education

This year, the ReVitalization secured 11 credits of general continuing-education credits for its participating docs. At a registration cost of $110.00, this is the least expensive opportunity for CEUs available to our docs. It is also an area of effective education, which is largely unrecognized.

It is likely that all 3 retreats will offer CEUs in 2015, and practicing doctors are invited and encouraged to join their alma mater for an experience like no other.

Revival: Restore the Vis

The fourth annual Revival will be hosted in August 2015 in North Bend, WA. For information, visit


The fourth annual ReVitalization will be hosted in September 2015 in Sandy, OR. For information visit

“Restore the Vis”

The second annual Restore the Vis retreat will be hosted in October 2015 near San Diego, CA.

Node_Smith_HeadshotNode Smith is currently a fourth-year student at NCNM, where he is instrumental in maintaining a connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He initiated and continues to support the NCNM Philosophy Club, and has served as the NMSA’s National Philosophy Chair. His biggest accomplishment to-date is the founding of the ReVitalization Retreat. This spring, Node will begin a year-long pilgrimage by bicycle around the United States, unsupported by cell phone or computer, in an effort to embody the “return to nature” vitalism he so adamantly advocates. He invites his friends and colleagues to keep him in their thoughts and prayers, and to follow periodic updates (mailed to the Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization) @


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