Ancient health wisdom is rarely wrong. Turns out tree-hugging is great for your health & wellbeing.
Forest bathing is the latest health trend, but what exactly is it?
Translated from the Japanese term “shinrin-yoku,” forest bathing also is known as forest therapy. It’s somewhat like hiking through the forest. It’s also like meditating among the trees. Yet it’s not exactly either.
Diana Beresford-Kroeger, the first to write about tree aerosols, says “tree compounds are released like rockets into the air.”
Beresford-Kroeger spoke last year at the Canadian Ecology Centre’s Earth Day book talks. She is a world-recognized author, medical biochemist and botanist.
Beresford-Kroeger has a unique combination of western scientific knowledge and the traditional concepts of the ancient world. She was one of the first to conceptualize what forest therapy really is.
“Tree air is loaded with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antiseptics, antivirals and analgesics,” she says.
Trees and other plants produce hundreds to thousands of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These carbon-based chemicals easily evaporate from a liquid or solid into air at much lower temperatures than most chemicals, Beresford-Kroeger explains.
“For example, your nose is sensing VOCs when you smell pine trees.”
She gives us the reasons why trees are so beneficial for our health.
“Trees produce their own self-defence mechanisms,” says Beresford-Kroeger. “Trees secrete these compounds to protect themselves from insects and microbes. By simply being close to trees, we breathe in these antimicrobials. A growing body of research has shown that living close to trees has beneficial effects on mental health, as well as well-being, mood, cognition and lifespan.”
These airborne compounds increase immune system regulators, while decreasing respiratory rates, stress levels, blood pressure and stress (adrenaline and cortisol).
Beresford-Kroeger has an ambitious “bioplan” encouraging ordinary people to develop a new relationship with nature, to join together to replant the global forest and be “with nature.”
Her books include The Sweetness of a Simple Life, The Global Forest, Arboretum Borealis, Arboretum America and A Garden for Life.
Beresford-Kroeger was elected as a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 2011. More recently, in 2016, the society named her one of 25 women explorers of Canada.
“Like the brain, trees are an enigma machine,” says Beresford-Kroeger. “Nobody knows how they really work. Trees have more DNA than a human child. They communicate in two ways: One, by silent infrasound into the emotions; the other, in a chemical communication with the atmosphere. The drum of the tree beats a message to us all.”
Beresford-Kroeger encourages walks in all seasons. But a forest therapy guide is not a therapist, she emphasizes.
“The forest itself is the therapist,” she says. “The forest does all the work. My words simply open the door to the forest to help connect the forest with the person.”
If needed, Beresford-Kroeger says you can be guided by certified professionals and Google will find programs for you.
“The guide’s role isn’t to explain the flora and fauna. Rather, the guide facilitates the contemplative experience, offering participants invitations to interact with the forest in a meaningful and healing way.
“How many of us really slow down and feel the different textures in the forest?” she asks.
Where are those trees with aerosols and where can we get a dose this winter?
Guylaine Thauvette, Nipissing forest management forester with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry North Bay District, suggests a ‘Sunday’ drive to Boulter Township where there are some of the area’s most expansive, mature red pine plantations dating back to the 1940s.
Best access is from Rutherglen on Hwy. 17 E. Take the Rutherglen Line to Development Road, turn right on Farmer’s Line, left on Laplante Road, left on Guay Road and right on what will turn into what is known locally as ‘Grand Desert’ Road.
It is here you will see an expansive plantation, looking east. These roads are former colonization roads, with many farmsteads, active and abandoned.
Back Roads Bill explores the backroads and back waters of Northern Ontario in The Nugget. He is the founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre and teaches part time at Nipissing University and Canadore College www.steerto.com. For more information on Beresford-Kroeger go to calloftheforest.ca/