The Wellness Wisdom of Dr. Charles Eastman

That is the only place where you can find true leaders again — out of doors. And they will be agile, supple, not only in physical action, but in mind and soul, because they are saturated with fresh air and God’s sunshine. They are flexible. They fit anywhere. They are magnetic.
— Ohiyesa - Dr. Charles Eastman

Neurologists and health experts the world over are discovering now what Santee Sioux Dr. Charles Eastman tried to tell us one hundred years ago. Proof of Dr. Eastman’s foresight lies in an obscure article he published in 1921 at the age of 63 titled What Can the Out Of Doors Do For Our Children? It has not been widely read, but this pinch of literature offers some of the most profoundly cutting edge health and wellness knowledge available then, today, or possibly ever.

Nearly every insight Eastman offers can today be proven or supported by contemporary medical and scientific research. His predictions have become real, and his recommendations for increased outdoor activity have become ever more relevant.

The primary point of Eastman’s message is that children need a lot of time outdoors, in nature, in order to become healthy adults in mind, body and spirit. It seems simple, but it is a concept that has not been widely recognized until recently. And even now, it is a concept that is not being taken as seriously as Eastman urges.

Contributing to the immense value of Eastman’s article is the depth and multiplicity behind his own background and understanding of the world. He was raised in the traditional Dakota (Sioux) lifestyle by his grandmother. Eventually, he also learned the Anglo way. But he never abandoned his people. Rather, he used his Native teachings, his Dartmouth education and his Boston University medical degree as collaborative tools while he served the world as many things, including a surgeon, a diplomat, a writer, an ethnohistorian, and an advocate for Native rights.

Reflective of the life that he lead, the concepts offered in this short essay have managed to transcend time, culture and space, leaving the reader with any knowledge of health and wellness in awe of its insight and foresight. It is almost a wonder that this source is not referenced or quoted more often as it is an absolute gem in both philosophical wisdom and downright utilitarian value.

This is an example of the timeless value of Native American knowledge and the unique ability of traditional indigenous people to crack the code of the perils of the modern world by simply drawing from ancestral teachings. Eastman knew then, as we all know now, that the Whites who devalued Native medicine, Native teachings and Native worldviews were more than shortsighted - they were missing out on things that could have helped them a lot… things that can still help the world a lot.

Much has changed since 1921. Our world is different now and it seems that Eastman predicted what it would turn into. The human race is becoming weaker all the time. We are in desperate need of a holistic revitalization of wellness practices.

Below are a few excerpts from Eastman’s essay along with links to contemporary scientific and medical sources that have since proved or supported, in the western sense, these truths. But after this, please take the time to read Eastman’s entire article - it is required reading for anybody with an interest in health and wellness.

Wellness for intellectuality and morality...

We need to be normal, to be agile, not only in our muscles but in our mental forces, not only in our intellectuality but in our morality. The trouble with civilized morality is that it is canned and stiff, and it cracks everywhere when you move it. The point of it is, out-of-doors means God; out-of-doors means Mystery, and that means God. Fresh air and sunshine are God’s own forces, coming out of his own laboratory.

Corresponding Research: "WELLNESS AS VIRTUE: Morality and the pursuit of health" by Peter Conrad. 


...most civilizations die of a nerve collapse, because they have shut the fresh air out… because they have tried to hover the little ones, to harness them up and pin them down … they have no freedom. The very thing on which we and all things live - you have prejudiced him against all that. You have prejudiced his soul against god.

Corresponding Research: "Health Benefits to Children From Contact with the Outdoors and Nature" - research developed by the Children and Nature Network.  


I will say to teachers that they cannot teach unless they have fresh air and sunshine - lots of it; out-of-doors — lots of it.

Corresponding Research: Quality Teaching and Learning -" Outdoor Play Benefits" - from  the Office of the Administration for Children and Families Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center.  


People used to say that animals are brutes, but I find in recent years that they are the most civilized creatures in the world…. In studying civilization, I find that it does not tape a snap of the fingers to get a ‘civilized’ man to fire upon another man - The cause of this condition is lack of fresh air — too many kinks in his nervous system.

Corresponding research: "Exploring the Mental Health Benefits of natural environments" by David G. Pearson and Tony Craig - Frontiers in Psychology Journal. 


It is time that we should put up the windows and let the boys and girls out. I go into a farmhouse, and I immediately begin to sneeze and cough… It is vitally necessary that we should wake up to all these things. What is the use in turning the whole United States into a flower-bed and losing your own nervous system and going to the insane asylum!

Corresponding research "Indoor Allergens" - the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.


We are the youngest civilization and we are already senile. We show every indication of it.

Corresponding Research: "Neurological disorders: Public Health Challenges" - World Health Organization. 


I predict the time will come when we shall have an entirely out-of-door school. These are necessary, and I believe we shall have them, except in the coldest part of the year in the coldest localities.


The gymnasium is not the best place for young people to develop their muscles. Our vitality comes from the sun, and only the light from the sun comes through the windows, not its life-giving properties. So that kind of development just blocks our muscles. We are only puffing up our muscles; we are not creating strength or endurance. We may for a moment be able to lift a heavy weight or to make a heavy blow, but there is no life or true strength there, and it all goes against the nervous system… the formative age should use no machinery in their development. They should season their muscles in the sun, in the fresh air, in the spring water coming down from the mountain, with a jump into the clean brooks and lakes of the mountains. That is where you get your nerve tonic.

Corresponding research: "The Benefits of Exercising Outdoors" - the New York Times


...the people who lived here thousands of years ago had physical knowledge above ours, so far as the physical nature and habits of man are concerned.

Corresponding article: "Manthropology" The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male" by Peter McAllister - the Huffington Post. 


What can the out-of-doors do for you? You cannot measure it. Your race will continue as long as you practice that kind of living. So far as your physical nervous system is concerned, you and your posterity would be sure of good health.

Corresponding article: "Research says nature provides secret tools for reducing stress" - by Evan Brand - Breaking Muscle. 


We must be natural human beings - we must, if we are going to be intelligent, spiritual people. Remember, there is nothing in canned heat, as far as spirituality is concerned.

Corresponding article: "Playing outside could make kids more spiritual" - Kristen Parker and Gretel Van Wieren - Michigan State University