Great reasons why you need Tree Hugging in your life!
“Tree Hugging” might sound like hippy nonsense or taking ‘care of the environment’ a bit far – but did you know there are genuine health benefits to the practice?
In this post, I explore what they are and why letting go of your apprehensions and embracing a tree can be truly beneficial.
5 benefits of Tree Hugging
I want to be clear on something from the outset. The evidence I’m presenting here is based on my experience of spending at least two hours immersed in a Forest Therapy experience (or Forest Bathing as it is also known), with Tree Hugging as a small part of it and not just giving a tree a quick hug and wandering on staring at your phone!
To understand what Forest Bathing is, take a look at the What is Forest Bathing blog.
However, spending time amongst trees and close to them (including hugging) is certainly beneficial…let me tell you why:
Reason 1: Trees are oxygen-rich
It is well known that trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. So, when you are close to a tree and surrounded by them in a forest you are naturally in a more oxygen-rich environment. You are also more likely to be breathing in fewer pollutants, especially if the forest or woods are away from a main road or aeroplane route.
Reason 2: Trees are a stress buster
Try relaxing in a Forest Therapy session, then hugging a tree, and still feeling stressed!
The gentle movement of hugging and the inhalation of pure forest air, as part of a Forest Bathing session, takes you out of the ‘fight or flight’ response system, also called the sympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the production of cortisol and whilst it’s helpful in times of real danger, too much of it, especially when caused by stress, is bad for you.
Instead, when you are relaxed, it activates your ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you to recharge and increases the production of serotonin – your happy hormone.
Cortisol can be easily measured by taking mouth swabs. At the research bases in Japan, they’ve found that the lowered levels after forest bathing can continue for days following an experience. This is significant because excess stress is the root cause of many common ailments such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes and asthma.
Reason 3: Trees emit immunity-boosting antimicrobial essential oils
OK, not the tree hugging directly, but did you know that trees and plants emit antimicrobial essential oils called ‘phytoncides’.
Phytoncides are produced to help plants and trees protect themselves from attack – they make up part of their defence system. However, they also help us too. They are proven to cause an increase in the count of, and activity in, the cells in our bodies that seek out and defeat cancer, as well as bacterial infections. These cells are known as natural killer (NK) cells.
The increase in NK activity has been shown in various studies to last for weeks after a Forest Therapy session and these same essential oils deliver a host of other benefits, including lowered heart rate and blood pressure.
So get close to a tree and inhale its scent – especially oaks and conifers!
Reason 4: Spending time with nature reduces anxiety
Whether it’s hugging trees, sitting by a tree or going through one of my invitations, the longer you spend in nature the more anxiety levels drop.
I carried out a recognised mood test (POMS – Profile of Mood States) with the volunteers in my trial Forest Bathing sessions. The most notable change in mood was a reduction in anxiety. And given that it’s also the most prevalent condition in my customers, I was pretty excited to see this.
As a highly sensitive and anxious person myself, it’s been an effective preventative medicine for me. Although I still get anxious (there is no magic bullet, I’m afraid!), the more I immerse myself in nature, the less ‘loud’ my anxiety is when it comes. And the more confident I am that I have the tools to manage it. I definitely notice my thoughts, feelings and behaviours change when I haven’t spent some time ‘just being’ in the woods and close to the trees for a couple of weeks.
Reason 5: Tree hugging can enhance your focus on the here and now…on what’s important
We all want to clear our mind, right? We all want to feel that sensation of ‘switching off’ from our responsibilities and ‘to-do’ list?
Through my practices, especially tree hugging, I encourage you to really focus on the activity at hand – nothing else. Through clear instruction and recommending silence, I give you the time to not just hug a tree or stand close to it, but to focus on it. I give you the chance to really look at the tree. To feel its bark, listen to the creak of the branches, notice the movement of the leaves, and to smell it. You can even take your shoes off and stand together in the soil in which it grows.
When was the last time you just ‘hung out’ with a tree, as if it was the only thing that mattered in the world? …sounds like a pretty special experience to me.
Furthermore, by connecting to nature on a deeper level, you begin to notice nature’s delights more and you go out of your way to protect it.
Is Forest Bathing and Tree Hugging the same thing?
Now I’ve given you 5 great reasons to hug a tree, let’s discuss what exactly Forest Bathing (also known as Forest Therapy or Shinrin-Yoku) is in comparison. As mentioned at the start, tree hugging is just one element of Forest Bathing. Forest Bathing offers a number of different ways to connect with nature, from basic sensory activities such as touching leaves, smelling the soil or listening to the wind rustling in the canopy, to something more spiritual. There is always an opportunity to give a tree a hug, or even just to smooth the bark with your hand – and it’s a powerful part of the session for many.
Through my guidance and a series of invitations, you are invited to build a kinship with the natural world. You’ll spend 2-3 hours relaxing, reducing stress and practising mindfulness. Learn more about a typical session here.
The importance of human connection to the natural world cannot be overstated, as the benefits are so vast.
Have I convinced you to give tree hugging a try?
Before you answer that question, ask yourself this: Don’t you find it strange that hugging trees is ridiculed, yet it’s acceptable to stay indoors all day connected to a screen?
Ponder that for a moment…I think maybe we’ve lost our way!
Are you keen to rekindle your connection to nature and give tree hugging a try in a more meaningful and beneficial way? If so then come and experience a Forest Bathing session with me. I run sessions in locations across Hampshire and Berkshire.
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With blessings from the forest,