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The Healing Nature of Trees

Japanese “forest bathing” is the science of nature to heal yourself, wherever you are. 

Science and research have finally proven something that mankind has known innately for centuries, that trees and nature have healing powers.  It has been discovered that trees release antimicrobial essential oils, called phytoncides.  These phytoncides protect the trees from germs and 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.

I think most of us that spend any amount of extended time in the forests or woods can appreciate the healing effects that they have on our personal well-being.  Researchers around the world have taken an interest in the medicinal benefits of spending time among trees.  They have discovered that being with trees had significant positive effects on our nervous systems.  Forest bathing reduced stress hormone production, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, suppressed the sympathetic “fight or flight” system, and enhanced the parasympathetic “rest and recover” system.  Spending time among trees tends to leave us feeling better, sleeping longer and we continue to enjoy these benefits for weeks following our exposure.  

So how do we forest bath?  Our mindfulness practice has prepared us to soak up all of the goodness with a simple slow walk through the woods.  Lean into your senses and enjoy the healing residue!  

When we spend a lot of our time in urban environments our eyes and our attentions are constantly being bombarded with stimuli manufactured to command our attention.  Our eyes are almost being forcefully bounced from one stimulus to another.  In order to feel the benefits of nature, we need to get out of the hard lines and bright lights of our cities.  Make a point to visit the urban green spaces, forest paths, or if you are lucky enough to escape the city, immerse yourself deep in the woods.  Give yourself the gift of a slow walk through the woods.  Keep your eyes soft and allow them to land quietly as you explore.  Stay curious and notice all of the colours, shapes, light, and life that is before you!  Rest your eyes on the natural soothing sights of nature.

Nature isn’t silent.  Pause to really take in all of the sounds of the living trees and forests around you.  Normally we are so busy listening to the internal chatter within our own minds.  Allow the sound of nature to fill your ears and awareness.  You may even try closing your eyes for a few minutes and really experience the cacophony of natural sounds all around you.

A walk in the woods is an entire aromatherapy treatment!  Remember phytoncides, the tree defense system that heals humans as well? Well, the oils—called terpenes—smell good, too, and influence mood, simultaneously calming and energizing people.   Smell the trees, the flowers, the soil, the moisture, and the humidity.   Notice the strong pungent aromas, as well as the subtle or sweet scents as you explore.

Don’t be surprised if you have the urge to hug a tree!  😉  But if a hug is not for you, spend some time touching the bark of the trees.  Stroke its leaves gently between your fingers.  Feel the different textures of grass, petals, leaves, dew, dirt.  It’s all about creating a connection to nature around you.  

Forests are full of delicacies - berries, mushrooms, leaves and grasses, and bark to flavour tea or soup.  But unless you are an expert in foraging, it may be a better idea to pack a lunch and enjoy a meal surrounded by these wise trees.  Enjoy the tastes and smells of your own meal and send gratitude to the origins of the food that you are consuming at the moment.  

In this context, allow your sixth sense to be the root of your awe or wonder.  Do you know that feeling that we tend to get in a wild setting such as staring at the stars, a sunset, the mountains, or oceans?  Consider how trees live for hundreds and thousands of years.  And with that incredible age, it is hard to ignore that they must encompass wisdom that is difficult to comprehend.  Forest bathing is a practice that allows us to experience life in a simpler, more honest, and happier way.   Stand among the trees.  Protect our trees.  And practice this deeper connection with nature.   

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