Tree hugging has long been looked down up as a ‘new age’ activity. Yet as Carol M. Davis pointed out in her Fascia, Interoception and Self Care webinar with The Fascia Hub[i] in December ’20, hugging whether it be a tree or a person, stimulates the ventral vagus, producing oxytocin, one of the ‘happy’ hormones. Not such a weird idea now perhaps, given that fact?
During lockdown last year, we heard a lot about Forest Bathing, beloved of the Japanese it seems, and acknowledged to promote mental and physical health. Walking in a forest might have previously been thought to be the occupation only of ‘nature lovers’; now it is highly popular amongst people from all walks of life and the benefits understood. We learned that our ‘Killer Cells’ are stimulated by forest bathing and walking under the trees. Plenty of research has now been produced on this.[ii] “Indeed, research shows that trees really do have healing powers. For one thing, they release antimicrobial essential oils, called phytoncides, that protect trees from germsand have a host of health benefits for people. The oils boost mood and immune system function; reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress, anxiety, and confusion; improve sleep and creativity; and may even help fight cancer and depression.” [iii] These benefits are cited in a book on forest bathing by Dr Qing Li[iv].
And now I’ve come across a book by Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees[v] which dismantles yet more myths and misunderstandings about these fascinating, long-lived beings. Apparently, they nurture each other, feed each other and communicate via fungal networks. This beautifully written book, by a forester who has seen the light, talks about trees as if they were humans. To be frank, we could learn a lot from them: “On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what.” What would happen if humans followed the example of trees? Our society might even revert to ‘old-fashioned’ values! The anthropomorphic view that Wohlleben has of trees seems, as one reads on, to be justified: “….partners are often so tightly connected at the roots that sometimes they even die together.” How often do we see lifelong couples – human couples – die within days or weeks of losing the other?
‘Wohlleben’ translates as ‘good life’, and this is exactly what this author seems to have, immersed as he is in a deep love of Nature. Learning so much about trees is changing my walks; I have always loved watching the horse chestnuts, oaks, etc. I pass daily and have even been known to have a quick hug, but I now look around me with a new eye. I love the fact that there is still a lot we don’t know about the world around us, and always something to learn. We just need to put aside our preconceptions and misperceptions and be open to possibilities that were once thought of as naïve or ‘new age’ and which are now backed by science.