Where trees breathe
New life is born
Where each branch reaches out to me
I know myself held in the arms of purest generosity
Where the leaves fall I am blessed with a giving back
that nourishes the roots of my soul
For the trees reflect who and how I can be
Standing tall, true, honest and undeniably me
Unafraid to love, to give, to share and to bend
So I bless the forests
As I learn from them

~ Clare Dubois

I’ve always had a rather bizarre affinity for trees. Growing up I didn’t speak much about it though. The only people that seemed to connect with trees were somewhat unfairly labelled as ‘greenies’ or ‘tree huggers’ and I wasn’t sure I fitted into a label. I thought maybe I liked trees more than other children because I had an aunt who took me under her botany wing and shared her immense knowledge with me from a very young age. Then one day I just decided that I didn’t need a reason to love them. I accepted that I was just a kind of tree architecture enthusiast; someone who admired their design, their towering beauty and most importantly, the way they made me feel.

This was until I heard about ‘forest bathing’.

Japanese forest bathing, also called shinrin-yoku, literally means “taking in the forest atmosphere”. In Japan, there is an entire sub-culture based around spending time with trees. What’s more is that this seemingly simple activity has been scientifically proven to improve health. In 1982 the Japanese Government actually introduced a national health programme based on it, with far reaching effects. All it requires is quiet contemplation around the trees.

The ‘aim’ of the walk is not to exercise or hike but rather to take a gentle, mindful stroll through your natural surrounds and to be open to the full experience of the forest, allowing all your senses to be engaged. If needs be, find a spot that feels good to rest in and allow yourself to be awed. This gentle practice is yet another access tool to greater mindfulness and an example of the healing modalities that the west is slowly adopting from the east.

It sounds simple because it is but the health benefits are huge. Trees actually emit an oil, called phytoncides, as protection from germs and insects, and these oils are proven to help our immune systems. These organic compounds that the trees give off support our “NK” (natural killer) cells. These cells provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumour formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention.

Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, measured the activity of these NK cells in the immune system before and after exposure to forests. In her 2009 study, Li’s subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity in the week after a forest visit, and positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.

Time in these forests also proved to lower heart and blood pressure levels, reduced stress hormones, reduced levels of depression and increased physical energy.

John Muir wrote, “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” And now we know why… People literally get better just by being amongst trees.

So the next time you feel more lured to sit in the shade of an ancient Mahogany rather than tracking down a leopard, or taking a wander through your nearest park instead of visiting the downtown coffee shop, know that there’s nothing strange about you. You’re possibly doing the very best thing you can for yourself, your health and your wellbeing. There is a part of every single one of us that feels at home in nature, so allow yourself to go home every once in a while.

Filed under General Nature Wildlife

About the Author

Amy Attenborough

Media Team

Amy has a rich field-guiding history, having spent time at both Phinda and Ngala Game Reserves. This diversity of past guiding locations brought her an intimate understanding of different biomes across South Africa, and she immediately began making a name for herself as ...

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27 Comments

on How Trees Heal People

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Dave Mills
Guest

To add to your pleasure of trees, take a look at a fairly new book called “The Songs of Trees,” by David George Haskell. He’s a brilliant guy, educated in England and now teaching at the University of the South in Tennessee, United States.

Amy Attenborough

Thanks Dave! Would love to check it out!! Another amazing one is the Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben 🙂

Lynn Rattray
Guest

Awesome post! Thanks!!

Lee
Guest

Another wonderful inspiring post! Thank you Amy!

Deb and Frank Kohlenstein
Guest

Beautifully written! I know the feeling of well being you speak of whenever I am out amongst our trees. Thank you for putting it into words.

Ginger Brucker
Guest

Beautiful post Amy. Love the poem. Thank you for sharing some of your favorite trees with us this week. Some of the most peaceful and connected moments we experienced. Miss you already.

Amy Attenborough

Ah thank you Ginger!! Miss you already too!! Sending lots of love and peaceful, connected tree energy your way 🙂

Barbara Bethke
Guest

I also feel that there is something special with trees, affinity and admiration.

Mary
Guest

What a great story. I enjoy trees too. Could not have a yard without at least one tree.

Lynne
Guest

All trees are beautiful especially a dead tree with it’s twisted branches ! Lovely article !

Rob Cooper
Guest

Hi Amy, Your article says what I have always felt. Thanks

sandra harmon
Guest

This is why I yearn to return to the Smokies! Peaceful–and I always feel better physically and emotionally!

David Henry
Guest

Hi Amy
Have been walking the Hawaan forest for over 35 years . It has been my passion and after 3 hours in the forest the best stress relief possible
Would love to share it with you
140 tree species in 125 hectares

Amy Attenborough

Hi David. I would love that! I still remember the tree at school that you helped save by suggesting the hallway be built around it. It was incredibly beautiful and one of my most favourite features. Let’s plan a Hawaan walk. Much love, Amy

Jenny
Guest

Thank you Amy for this reminder! Confirm when just touching the beautiful lime coloured bark on one of several Acacia Xanthaphloea I planted 15 years ago, I definitely feel calmer. Great article.

Michael & Terri Klauber
Guest

Thanks for that reminder Amy! We look forward to hiking through those beautiful trees on our visit in June!

Lea
Guest

What a great blog Amy. I too am a tree hugger and proud of it. One of my very favourite songs is called “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. My happy place is walking through woods, admiring the trees and listening to the birds. Thanks for touching on this subject – trees are good for humans and animals as well.

Maureen Butcher
Guest

Very interesting, thank you so much.

Linda Polley
Guest

Always loved Palm Trees, still do, but then in Londolozi saw the beauty in a dead tree. Well said, Amy, as always, your insights touch my soul.

Barbara
Guest

Great story

Amanda Ritchie

I absolutely love this post, Ams. There is something incredibly magical about trees, their wise presence and the way that they make me feel. Thank you for sharing!

Jeff Rodgers
Guest

This post is yet another reason why Londolozi is the best. I also find it interesting that so far, this post has elicited about as many comments as I can remember any post generating. Clearly, you connected with many people.

Amy Attenborough

Thank you so much Jeff!

Nicky
Guest

My friend runs Forest nursery schools in the UK. Wonderful for small children to connect with trees and the outdoors in all weathers. Thanks Amy I loved your post

Linda surtees
Guest

Amy I just love your post it n trees . Thank you . Beautiful read.

Tielman Haumann
Guest

Great blog! – Two parks that all tree huggers must visit when in Cape Town are De Waal Park, Oranjezicht and Arderne Gardens in Claremont.

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