Why you should go hug a tree

Ready to embrace the natural world? Fiann Ó Nualláin outlines how it will benefit you.

I mean it it, go find a nice tree and give it a hug.

Drop your embarrassment or shyness or uptight self and go make a point of letting your human self really make contact with a sturdy representation of the natural world. Okay, you get a pass if you have a tree pollen allergy — at least until autumn.

But really if you are up for a bit of dynamic mindfulness or the health kick that a tree hug brings then do it today.

So this old hippy thing of giving a tree some love, man! Was that not loving compassion. Was that not embracing Mother Nature with a big demonstrative “thank you” — a conscious actioning of gratitude and respect?

This tree-hugging is a way to get your loving kindness groove on. And then some.

The Buddhists have a precept called “interbeing”; the underlying interrelatedness of all life — that everything is connected. So with trees they breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. We humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

So we and trees are connected — you could say “life-support connected”.

We and trees benefit one another by replenishing each other’s breath — we are the breath of life to one another. Wow, right? There is a beautiful truth here — “symbiotic nature”.

Our human selves are enhanced by trees in so many other ways. The improved quality of air is beneficial to nourish the lungs and oxygenate the brain and muscles — this is the feeling of “blowing away the cobwebs” that a good forest walk brings.

Being around a single tree is great, but being in a woodland — that’s brilliant.

The colour green is known to lower systolic blood pressure and calm the central nervous system — so the relaxation response gets switched on even if you are nervous about the hug or are taking a jog through the forest.

Therapeutic renewal

Trees also naturally emit phytoncides or aerosol molecules that we can absorb through our skin or inhale into our bloodstream — often the very same terpenes that are the beneficial therapy in aromatherapy. Some can trigger endorphin release, some can activate enzymes and bodily systems to prompt or rebalance health perception and physical wellbeing.

Some of these phytoncides (more often the coniferous ones) have been shown to increase NK activity — that’s “natural killer” cells — the true warriors of our immune system. And then some again can even raise the levels of intracellular anti-cancer proteins.

There is still study needed to be done on the exact chemistry at play but in part, both of those events are a side-effect of the decreased production of stress hormones that occurs when we humans are near trees.

I guess once upon a time (when the early hominoids roamed the savannah) a tree was an indication of survival. It meant shelter or materials for one, it meant a water table and possibly a yield of edible fruits or leaves or birds to snare or wood fire or making hunting and gathering tools.

So we learned to not fret that day and expect that we would make it through another one in the company of trees. That eventually logged itself into our DNA with an imbedded relaxation response — or as the neuroscientsists say, it “wired and fired” together.

You might have a tree in your garden, there might be one down the street but you may want to take this prompt as an opportunity to get some of the latest hot trend —Shinrin-yoku.

Shinrin-yoku is a term coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. It is often translated into the shorthand of “forest bathing” and it more accurately means to “take in or immerse in the forest atmosphere”.

So it is about visiting a woodland or forest habitat and literally soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the place. It is not only a temporary vacation from gardening chores and a chance to relax in a different nature setting, but as I have just highlighted, a woodland or forest can be a real boon to physiological and psychological health as well as offering you sensory experiences.

Life force

So go find a tree — in the back garden, down the street, in the local park or nearest woodland — put your arms around it and

right there in the moment, feel your physical presence be in contact with its physical presence. Bring your alert presence to this meeting of life — to this “interbeing”.

Follow your breath like you would in a mindful meditation, conscious of the inhale and the exhale, focused, and with knowledge of the reality of this inter-relationship, breathe it in, exhale it out.

Remember in this moment that you are not just meeting, your exhale is what this tree uses to sustain its life, its exhale is what you use to sustain your life — if ever there was a “far out, man”, here it is.

Be conscious of the symbiosis — of all the myriad benefits of being this close to a tree. Be conscious of the interrelatedness of all life — be conscious that life is beautiful.

Be conscious that just as you extend your loving kindness to the tree so it too is to you, in its natural way — with all of itself — with all of your self. Feel the wow in the now.

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