Why we need to save the Tiger, and how extreme sports can help

There is a common and unfortunate belief amongst human beings that we are different from the animals of the forest and that our wellnbeing is not determined by how we relate and interact with our own nature and that of our fellow beings (flora and fauna). We believe that it is our role to conquer nature, to control it, to exploit the Earth’s myriad resources and to play in it as if we are somehow separate. As if we are somehow immune to our own fool hardiness.

There are now only 3200 Tigers left in the wild and by some estimates in twenty years we will have no tigers left. In itself this is a sad reflection on humanities treatment of the non-human world, but it is also a reflection of what is happening to our planet in other areas. For example, on land we destroy about 25 acres of rain forest every 10 seconds, in the oceans we are on the brink of massive fish annihilation. A study published in 2006 in the journal Science calculated that if fishing rates continue as they are, fisheries around the world will have failed by 2048, all in the name of progress. Modern humanity is defined by its cognitive abilities and progressive nature, but at what cost? We will build fish farms to feed the world, Tigers will survive in captivity, and we will replant deciduous forests to replace the old trees. So why should we care? What is in it for us? Is there more to this story than the preservation of aesthetically pleasing wild life?

Research into extreme sports helps us answer these questions. One the one hand we should care because we have the capacity to think beyond our own selfish needs. However, even from a selfish perspective we should care because we are connected to the natural world in the same way that the Tiger is connected to the natural world. When it comes to the quality of our water, air or food we can see tangible connections to the state of the planet. However, our connection it seems goes far deeper. For thousands of years the wisdom traditions have recognised that we are connected to the natural-world in a deep psychological and spiritual way. For centuries, philosophers and psychologists like Henry Thoreau, Carl Jung and William James have spoken and theorised on this connection. But modern humanity seems to have forgotten this link. Extreme sports participants report that their experiences provide an opportunity to reconnect with nature in powerful ways. Ways that transform and change their perceptions on life and our relationship with nature (Brymer, 2009; Brymer, Downey, & Gray, 2009; Brymer & Gray, 2010a, 2010b)

Some argue that the industrial revolution started the development of a lifestyle lived predominantly indoors which has resulted in less contact with nature. Research over the last twenty years has gradually been identifying the human health benefits attributed to re-connecting with the natural environment (Brymer, Cuddihy, & Sharma-Brymer, 2010). The significance of feeling connected to natural environments are described as a foundational requirement for human health and wellbeing (Maller et al., 2008). Also, the early findings of Schultz’s (2002) work indicated that by feeling connected to the natural world a person is more likely to be committed to positively interact with and protect the natural world and research on extreme sports supports this (Brymer, et al., 2009). Research on young people has indicated that young people are even more disconnected from the natural world. Leading some writers to call this disconnection a crisis termed “Nature Deficit Disorder” and draw links between our disconnection to nature and other health issues such as ADHD, obesity, and anxiety to name just a few. A growing body of research is finding that beyond this fundamental relationship exposure to the non-human natural world can also positively enhance perceptions of physiological, emotional, psychological and spiritual health in ways that cannot be satisfied by alternate means. Theoretical explanations for this have posited that non-human nature might 1) overturn mental fatigue; 2) trigger deep reflections; 3) provide an opportunity for nurturing; 4) rekindle innate connections and 5) nature might be unique in its ability to provide opportunities to develop a range of psychological and emotional skills. Human wellness is strongly connected to our relationship with the natural world. So even from a selfish perspective non-human nature is essential for human health and wellness.

Research has found that time in nature increases self-esteem, attention and memory, and reduces depression, anxiety and stress. It doesn’t take much to reap the rewards either, a walk in the park, some time on the beach, eat your lunch outside, grow some plants or vegetables, bring plants into the office and remove the ear phones are just some simple ways of making the best of your time in nature. What seems to be most important though is to ensure that our children spend time in nature where they can explore their boundaries, experiment in an environment that does not judge or compete. Where they can get dirty and creative and where they can learn to discover the best in themselves and those around them. We should all get out and live the adventure ….. and we should allow our children to do the same.   


Brymer, E. (2009). Extreme sports as a facilitator of ecocentricity and positive life changes. World Leisure Journal 51(1), 47-53.

Brymer, E., Cuddihy, T., & Sharma-Brymer, V. (2010). The role of nature-based experiences in the development and maintenance of wellness. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 1(2), 21-27.

Brymer, E., Downey, G., & Gray, T. (2009). Extreme sports as a precursor to environmental sustainability. Journal of Sport & Tourism, 14(2-3), 193-204.

Brymer, E., & Gray, T. (2010a). Dancing with nature: Rhythm and harmony in extreme sport participation. Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 9(2), 135-149.

Brymer, E., & Gray, T. (2010b). Developing an intimate “relationship” with nature through extreme sports participation. Loisir, 34(4), 361-374.

Maller, C., Townsend, M., St.Ledger, L., Henderson-Wilson, C., Pryor, A., Prosser, L., & Moore, M. (2008). Healthy parks healthy people: The health benefits of contact with nature in a park context: a review of current literature (2nd ed.) Social and Mental Health Priority Area, Occasional Paper Series. Melbourne, Australia: Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences.

Schultz, P. W. (2002). Inclusion with nature: The psychology of human-nature relations. In P. Schmuck & P. W. Schultz (Eds.), Psychology of sustainable development (pp. 61-78). Boston: Kluwer Academic.



Eric Brymer

Member of the Australian Psychological Society

Registered Psychologist

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The safety-seeking gene??

I am about to embark on a series of research studies with colleagues in Europe and the US which is (very briefly) looking a bit deeper into wellbeing bebefits of adventure and also emotional intelligence.. .. with comparisons to traditional sports as a control. We are just beginning so nothing to report as yet, but the background research into this area got me thinking.

I wonder if we could turn current thinking on its head??? .. if we did would this be what we came up with??

From and evolutionary psychology perspective one could argue .. not so long ago adventure was part of everyone’s life .. we lived the adventure everyday .. we did not survive if we were not prepared to accept or look for challenges and so forth. In some parts of the world this is still happening. What if we considered that in the “modern” world we seem to have forgotten how important adventure is to everyone’s life and now we see adventure as something different from normal (hence we call it risk??). Richard Louv’s book puts that into some perspective .. once, what we might have considered normal is now considered abnormal and labelled as such. Kids used to be adventurous as a matter of course .. out in the woods exploring and discovering .. now that this is too scary we need to “manage” their free time. Perhaps the increase in child hood obesity, ADHD, ADD , depression etc .. might be directly linked to the gradual move away from playing in nature (AKA adventure??). Perhaps we should really be having programs about our morbid and unhealthy desire for safety-seeking?? Maybe we should be looking for the safety-seeking gene?? Or safety-seeking chemical?? Wouldn’t that be interesting. How much of our percpetions on extreme sports and other adventurous activities is driven by cultural perceptions about what is normal?

Fear and life

In a recent article published in the Journal of Health Psychology “Extreme sports are good for your health: A phenomenological understanding of fear and anxiety in extreme sport” I presented research findings from extreme sports that showed how approaching fear might be beneficial for human health and wellbeing. Essentially, different to the typical assumption that extreme sport participants do not experience fear we found that fear is an important part of the experience. Fear is felt, in fact for many athletes fear is seen as essential. Fear is important information that participants take very seriously as it indicates that the event is worth taking seriously and managing effectively. undertaking an extremes port without feeling fear might lead to athletes paying only superficial attention to managing the event. Participants realise that they need to know a great deal about themselves, the task and the environment if they want to participate effectively and live to realise the benefits. But fear is not a reason to not do something. Fear is information that should be taken seriously. Management of an event that triggers fear includes 1) an honest evaluation of personal skills. capabilities and attributes to determine if success is realistic .. do I really have the skills and attributes to succeed rather than this is scary I better not do it; 2) a realistic evaluation of your task related skills and the task related “rules” to determine if you understand what is required and that you are able to achieve success; and 3) a solid evaluation of the environment (physical and social). It may be that the environment is not right at this moment .. so walk away, reflect, learn and go for it another day. 

The benefits of participating when all three elements are aligned and coupled is that fear can instigate self-transformation and powerful feelings of wellbeing. It can change your life for ever. 

Extreme sport participants talk about intense fears which are integrated and experienced as meaningful, constructive events that add to their life experiences. Fear has the potential to transform life. It is not just about doing it anyway but what comes in between. Don’t see fear as a barrier but an opportunity to learn and succeed, to live life at it fullest.


Extreme sports and life

I know for most of us extreme sports are seen as way out there …. so what can we learn from such activities that might be of interest to non-participants. Well the list is endless. My latest paper in this area shows that extreme sports participants can help us understand our relationship to fear and how we can transform this relationship to tap into somethig that we all have. Being able to see fear as information rather than a barrier allows us to transcend the everyday and move into the realm of the special/ extraordinary.

Take a look at the documentary if you want to get a glimpse of a little more:


But of course to tap into the leassons available we have to reframe extreme sports from a risk-taking focus to something more positive …. for another time.