Tree huggers and tree sitters. There are plenty of labels that have emerged over the years to refer to the people intent on protecting the trees and forests across the globe.
And while some tree huggers have simply linked arms around the trees to buy time and stave off development, others have been known to take up residence in treetops for weeks on end to hold loggers at bay.
Tree Sitting and Tree Hugging
Interestingly, the act of tree sitting emerged in the 1930s, but had nothing to do with protesting deforestation at the time. This came later. Back then, it was a children’s pastime, with contests emerging across the US that rewarded the child who could sit in their tree the longest.
Tree hugging on the other hand has been with us since the 1700s.
Tree Hugging and the Maharaja of Marwar
The act of Tree hugging actually became synonymous with protesting environmental destruction back in the 1700s in India.
And according to historical accounts, the ruling Maharaja of Marwar tried to chop down all of the kejri trees in Rajasthan so that he could use the land to build his castle. He was met with resistance from the local Bishnoi people.
In total 294 Bishnoi men and 69 Bishnoi women wrapped themselves around the kejri trees to protect them from their prospective plight. Sadly, despite these efforts, the local Bishnoi people were all killed and the trees were chopped down.
However, this act led to the emergence of the Chipko movement in India. In Hindi “chipko” literally means “to hug”.
This movement gained traction under Sunderlal Bahuguna, an eco activist. It is largely thanks to his efforts that Indira Ghandi banned cutting down any green trees in India for a period of 15 years in the 80s.
Tree Hugging Is Now Taking on a Whole New Meaning
Today, tree hugging is no longer just about protesting the environment. Despite its feisty roots, it is now also about going into the forest and hugging or getting close to the trees to reduce stress and improve one’s health.
This is largely because, people are now aware that hugging trees can induce the release of oxytocin — the hormone responsible for making us feel calm. Tree hugging can also stimulate the release of serotonin and dopamine, which makes us feel happier and more positive about life.
This new-found awareness of the benefits of tree hugging, has also led to the emergence of a related phenomenon called tree bathing.
The Japanese like to call this shinrin yoku.
Researchers believe that bathing in the forest helps improve our health because the oils emitted by the trees (referred to as phytoncides) have antibacterial and antifungal qualities. And when we ingest these phytoncides, we increase the activity of our NK white blood cells which are responsible for killing off tumors and viruses.
Essentially, hugging or just being near trees, has the effect of allowing us to better fight off illness and disease.
In support of these claims, one study found that,
“Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease experienced decreases in perforin and granzyme B expressions, as well as decreased pro-inflammatory cytokines — all related to better immune function — after they visited forests rather than urban areas.”
Another recent study, conducted in Japan found that participants reported feeling less anxiety, hostility, fatigue, confusion, and depressive symptoms after walking in the forest.
Celebrating Tree Hugging
Considering these recent finding and discoveries, tree hugging has taken on a whole new meaning.
Yes, it is still associated with the classic protests and anti-logging demonstrations that still take place across the globe. But hugging trees has also become a catalyst to improve our well-being. It has become a way to make ourselves feel calmer, happier and healthier in life.
And this is yet another fantastic reason to protect our forests. In fact, it’s something we should celebrate.
Fortunately, some countries have already taken up this mantel.
Finland for example has had an annual tree hugging competition that has taken place since 2016 This year’s contest is expected to draw residents from Australia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, Scotland and the USA.
In the End
Tree hugging. Tree sitting. Tree bathing. They are all focused on protecting our forests. But they have recently evolved to mean so much more. Because in addition to keeping us alive, these same trees are apparently also keeping us healthy, calm and stress-free.
So, get outside and hug a tree. Soak in the fresh air. Bathe in the forest. And let that tree hug you back. Not only will you develop a better appreciation for those trees, you will also feel a whole lot better in the process.
© Courtney Burry 2021