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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

The Earth Gym: Getting Healthy in Relationship with Nature

Jan 30, 2014 10:58PM ● By Bonnie Hart

Connecting with nature is the inspiration we feel when we stand at the ocean’s edge or on top of a mountain. Native Americans believe such sensations are created not just by our own thoughts, but also because the Earth speaks to us. In our modern lives, we are often too busy to hear nature’s messages. Mick Dodge, founder of Earthgym, in Forks, Washington, and Bonnie Hart, founder of Earth Gym, in Marlton, New Jersey, hear those messages and help others to reconnect and deepen their personal relationship with nature.

The pair independently coined concepts that they call “Earth Gym.” At its most basic level, it is the notion that nature is the best arena for creating physical fitness. There is no need for fancy equipment. Just step outside and do something. Run, jump, swim or climb. The Earth Gym contributes to not only physical health, but mental and emotional well-being, as well.

Hart, a New Jersey native created Earth Gym on the East Coast in 2005, unaware of the West coast Earthgym, founded by Dodge, a Washington native, who recently contacted her. The two agreed to collaborate and create a nationwide movement to spread the word that nature is good for our health.

Dodge is the subject of a new National Geographic television series called The Legend of Mick Dodge, in which he is captured in action. Cameras follow as he runs barefoot through the forest, climbs trees, and plunges into icy rivers. The former U.S. Marine dropped out of the human world to live outdoors in the rugged mountains of Washington State. Although most of us do not want to go to such extremes to connect more fully with the Earth, Dodge’s lifestyle choice provides a message that can help us all become healthier.

Hart also lived off the land. Her four-year experience living without electricity and other modern conveniences in the mountains of New Hampshire taught her a great deal and ultimately led her to a career in counseling. “I learned how to help others, not only through my formal education in psychology,” remarks Hart. “When I lived off the grid, I had to rely on Nature to survive. It can be pretty scary, but the Earth taught me to transform problems into possibilities.”

Whether living off the land seems brave or kooky, Dodge and Hart invite everyone to embrace one aspect of it: curiosity. “Stepping outdoors is remarkable,” Hart prompts. “Although we are looking outward, it turns us inward. We feel a deeper connection with the Earth and ourselves.”

Bonnie Hart is an eco-psychologist and stress-relief specialist in Marlton; for more information, call 609-970-3401 or visit The Legend of Mick Dodge airs Tuesday nights on the National Geographic channel; for more information, visit

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