Most people who hear the expression tree hugger picture stubborn, barefoot hippies either chaining themselves to trees, or setting up camp high in the branches, as their way of fighting lumbering. But, the term goes muchfarther back in time.
In 1730, the original tree huggers were villagers belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism. Following a village woman’s cry of “A chopped head is cheaper than a felled tree”, 363 people, trying to protect their trees, had their heads quickly removed from their bodies by the swords of soldiers under orders from a local maharajah needing wood to build a new castle.
After hearing of the carnage, the repentant maharajah quickly designated the Bishnoi state in India as a protected area. The regulation still exists in the region today. That particular area was then, and still is now, a treed oasis in the middle of a desert.
Respect for trees, and their healing properties, occurs all over the world. In Poland today, some hug birch trees to improve their physical and mental well being.
During COVID, Icelandic officials recommended hugging trees to help overcome the sense of isolation caused by the pandemic. Forest rangers specifically cleared roads and paths leading to trees.
Canada has its PaRx program, which encourages doctors to prescribe some time in nature for patients. Acknowledging that nature is important for human health, the program recommends two hours of outside time each week, for at least 20 minutes per session.
Of course, we’ve all heard about the Japanese custom of forest bathing. The practice began in the 1980s, and quickly spread worldwide. The purpose of shinrin-yoku is not just an antidote to tech burnout, but inspires people to reconnect with forests; to appreciate and protect them.
Research has proven that people are happier living near a forest. Connections with trees and other living things — like bears, and bobcats, and beavers, oh my — reduces stress and increases happiness.
Plants give off phytoncides, airborne chemicals having antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities which help plants fight disease and insects. These chemicals also help humans. Each breath of fresh air we take increases the number and activity of the type of white blood cell in our bodies that help kill virus-infected cells.
Many studies have shown that exercising in the forest, or simply sitting still looking at the trees reduces blood pressure. Cortisol and adrenaline, those stress related hormones in the body, are reduced as well.
Research shows that forest bathing decreases anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, and fatigue. As stress adversely affects the immune system, any reduction in it can be significant.
A simple thing like a green view from a hospital window has benefits. Studies discovered that patients recover from surgery faster and better with a view of greenery. They took fewer painkillers, had fewer complications, and shorter postoperative stays than patients who had no green view.
In short, the trees in our Tahoe Basin, their branches loaded with benefits, are waiting for you.
Why are you still sitting in front of your computer? Log off — go outside!