Does wellness grow on trees?
We share picnics beneath them and seek shade from the harmful effects of the sun. They provide shelter from the rain, decorate our landscapes and in the autumn present a vivid display of colour. Yet many of us do not realise how important trees are to our wellbeing and the therapeutic properties they provide.
Research has shown that exposure to greenspaces can reduce blood pressure and stress levels while views of natural settings have been found to have a calming effect and can reduce crime and aggression.
We have a mutually healthy relationship with trees. As we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Through our technological advances, we are responsible for nitrogen dioxide emissions from cars and industry fumes and depend on trees to trap and remove such airborne pollutants from the atmosphere.
Trees offer a natural therapy for mindfulness and de-stressing. A stroll in the woods can tune you into your natural surroundings and set you up for a spot of forest bathing! This trendy term originates from Japan where it is known as Shinrin-yoku, meaning “taking in the forest atmosphere”. It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
In the early 1980s, Japanese scientists discovered that simply inhaling the aromas produced by trees could immunise the body against disease. Phytonicides, which trees emit to protect themselves from harmful insects and germs, have strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal qualities when inhaled by humans. American medical research has proven that just being among trees is good for well-being, with stress levels and blood pressure lowered within three minutes of being in a green space.
Touching, stroking, leaning on and, above all, hugging a tree is beneficial to health. Given the term Silvotherapy (from the latin Silva “woods”), this is the art of healing ourselves by harnessing the energy of ancient trees leading us to inner harmony and peace by deeper reconnection with Mother Earth. It is practised in locations such as in the untouched vastness of the woods surrounding Sarek National Park in the far North of Sweden and the Italian Dolomites, both UNESCO World Heritage sites.
It is believed that individual tree species have different effects on people: beech improves concentration and well-being, will help ease a sore throat and improves kidney function, while pine is good for the respiratory system, helps to treat depression and restores balance, while reducing fatigue.
How to practise your own tree therapy
When you are next near a wooded area take the time for some forest bathing. Witness those shards of light beams darting through the branches, take in the fresh smell of nature, listen for the water trickling along temporary streams and the birds in song. Tread slowly and with care over slippery moss and new growth. Feel the texture of the bark, watch for bushy tails scurrying along branches. Forget any problems or niggling negative thoughts, just listen to the moment. Be still and breathe. Trees can do this.
From the bark to branches, wellness does grow on trees.
Key words: Wellness, therapy, trees, Japan, Silvotherapy, Forest Bathing, UNESCO Heritage Site,