Spencer Nielsen grew up in Novato exploring the hills and valleys of Marin County and greater northern California wild lands. After studying Ecology (B.S.) at UCSD, Environmental Education at UCSC, and traveling the world, Spencer has since been sharing his love of nature and its mysteries with youth. He has been a naturalist teaching, guiding, and mentoring youth for since 2005 throughout California working with ages 4-18. He has taken numerous natural history classes with Joe Mueller at College of Marin, always eager to learn more about the wild world around him. He has led high ropes courses and rock climbing, taught ecology, tracking, edible/medicinal plant use, organic farming & gardening, ancestral skills, and survival to youth in public, Waldorf, and home-school settings. Spencer helped founding Vilda Foundation, creating many new programs which are still running. Spencer has worked with middle schoolers almost continuously since 2006. Spencer has also been an organic farmer and a long time gardener & permaculture designer and educator, creating abundant gardens at home and for clients. Spencer completed a Master’s Degree in Integrative Eco-Social Design with Gaia University, which created the foundations for Elemental Nature.
Spencer has been teaching Permaculture Design Courses since 2013 at the Regenerative Design Institute, Natura Institute for Ecology & Medicine, and more recently at Sivananda Yoga Farm, co-teaching over a dozen PDC’s. After participating in and supporting numerous cycles of The Ecology of Leadership, Spencer has created eco-psycology daylongs and continues to train young leaders. Since his apprencticeship with Peg Shafer at the Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm in 2008, he has been growing Chinese medicinal herbs in his garden. After years of visioning, he co-taught a workshop there, Tao of Permaculture. As an ethnobotanist who has traveled through Central and South America, Asia, Australia, Indonesia, and beyond, Spencer is always seeking to deepen his relationship with plants and traditional uses of plants. He is always weaving wisdom from traditional medicine systems (Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) with permaculture, sharing it in his offerings, Ayurvedic Agroforestry.
After training to lead Vision Fasts with the School of Lost Borders, Spencer has led rites of passage programs for Summerfield Waldorf School, Credo High School, Marin Academy, and Stepping Stones Project, Vilda Nature, and through Elemental Nature. Aside from leading a couple multi-year groups with Stepping Stones Project, Spencer served on the vision council, helping to facilitate trainings for leaders and collaboratively vision solutions for the program. His work with Wilderness Reflections deepened his skills as a wilderness guide weaving eco-pscyology and wilderness fasts. After training with Dave, he apprenticed and co-guided a few fasts for guides-in-training. He has created backpacking programs for tweens and teens with Vilda, as well as coming of age rites of passage programs. Spencer weaves his experiences with the Path Of Engagement, a two-year program at Spirit Rock practicing mindfulness and service, into his path as an educator and guide, grounding mindfulness practices while on the land and weaving the wisdom of neurobiology with health and happiness. He has co-led Wilderness Retreats for teens with Inward Bound Mindfulness Education. He has taught Personal and Social Sustainability at Credo High School, as well as yoga and qigong. He has been offering ongoing mentoring in groups and one-on-one sessions, through Back To Earth’s W.I.L.D. Mentoring Circles, and now through Elemental Nature. Spencer has been a guide with Back To Earth since 2018, leading 10-day ceremony-based backpacking trips for young men.
Spencer has completed a 200-hour Teacher Training with Saul David Raye as well as practiced at the Sivananda Yoga Farm Ashram as well as with teachers from around the world. Spencer is committed to the study and practice of Tantric Hatha Yoga, leveraging about a thousand years of written texts in a living lineage of teachers. After a decade of Qigong practice including studies of Medical Qigong at Five Branches University with Tom Leichart in the lineage of Jerry Alan Johnson, Spencer completed a Qigong Immersion Teacher Training with Teja Bell. He has also received qigong teachings from Mingtong Gu and Bruce Frantzis. Spencer has most recently been studying Qigong with Master Zhongxian Wu and Jeffrey Yuen, and Nei Gong with Damo Mitchell. His training in Chinese Medicine is a weaving of TuiNa (bodywork), Acupressure, Medical Qigong, herbalism, and is now immersed in Classical Chinese Medicine studies with Xian Tian College. He is an ongoing student of Jeffrey Yuen, Jerry Alan Johnson, as well as studying Medical Qigong at Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College. He is also just beginning his journey into the study of Traditional Tibetan Medicine through Sowa Rigpa International.
Spencer is certified as a Planetary Herbalist with Michael Tierra’s East West School of Herbs, integrating European, Ayurvedic, and Chinese herbs into a TCM diagnosis. He is also an Ayurvedic Wellness Consultant, having studied with the American Institute of Vedic Studies, Kerala Ayurveda Academy, and various practitioners/doctors in the US and India. He has had ongoing studies of Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine since 2005 . He spent a couple years studying and working with Wendy Johnson at the Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden. He has taught Ayurvedic Herbalism at Sivananda Yoga Farm, where he incorporates Permaculture and Yoga/Ayurveda and teaches annual Permaculture Design Courses. He is a perennial student of Ayurveda and Vedic Sciences such as Vastu and Jyotish.
Spencer is also trained as a Wilderness First Responder. When he’s not in the field with youth or adults, you can find him in his garden, walking in the hills, playing music, or experimenting in his kitchen.