The forest and its therapeutic benefits
The forest represents the protective mother, the strong father or the faithful friend, who takes care of us gently.
It is a symbol of patience, stability, mutual aid and willpower.
The forest soothes nervous and stressed people with its inner calm. Its natural music is punctuated in a soft and quiet way by the breeze in the leaves, the sway of the trunks which dance on the spot, the movement of the animals in the thickets, the song of the birds, the buzzing of the insects.
Forests are an amazing resource. They give us everything we rely on in order to exist. They produce oxygen, cleanse the air we breathe and purify our water. They stop flooding rivers and streams, and the erosion of mountains and hills. They provide us with food, clothing and shelter, and with the materials we need for furniture and tools. In addition to this, forests have always helped us to heal our wounds and to cure our diseases.
As well as having a higher concentration of oxygen, the air in forest is also full of phytoncides, more information below in the article. There is also a substance in soil that we breathe in when we walk in the forest and which makes us feel happier. This is a common and harmless bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae.
Forests cover 31% of the world’s land, and contain 80% of the world’s land biodiversity and are home to 70,000 different types of trees. They store more than 1 trillion tonnes of carbon, twice the amount found in the atmosphere.
Each year, more than 32 million acres of forest are lost across the world. That is an area around the size of England. Classical theories of economics consider soils, forests, trees, animals, minerals, rivers as resources. Deforestation has a direct impact on pollution and global warming especially when we know that plants absorb 120 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.
Forests and trees have been around for over three hundred and seventy million years, Homo sapiens for less than three hundred thousand years… and forestry for only three hundred years. Forests have clearly done without human mediation.
There is an urgent need to restore vast spaces of lively, diverse and free nature. At the initiative of botanist Francis Hallé, the Association for the Primary Forest is working to create a vast natural zone on a European scale – about 70,000 hectares (172,974 acres) – in which an undisturbed forest will evolve autonomously, renewing and developing its fauna and flora without any human intervention over a period of several centuries. This land, which is in the process of being located, will be cross-border with a portion in France.
Our health and the health of the forest go hand in hand. You can’t have a healthy population without healthy forests. When we feel connected to nature, we want to look after it. And this in turn is good for our health.
Trees allows us to stand out of time and invite us to live, like them, far away from everyday life tumult at the rhythm of the seasons.
On this planet, trees have existed since the Devonian, which means three hundred and seventy million years ago. If everything is fine, some trees have no reason to die. But not all trees are potentially immortal : a palm tree, for example, does not exceed a century and a half, and a birch or parasol trees live fifty years, not more. The current record is a 43,000-year-old tree, the Lomatia Tasmanica, commonly know as King’s Holly !
Trees and plants are the only ones with us, and some exceptions like the seahorse and the penguin, to stand upright on a vertical axis. Even birds that stay upright on its two small skinny legs move by flying horizontally.
But, as Charles Darwin understood, the tree has an inverted verticality, the head underground and its reproductive system in the air. He was one of the first to suggest that the « brain » of the tree was in the roots. The roots thus form a veritable underground network where nutritional, chemical and electrical exchanges take place, and where various information is processed.
Can humans communicate with trees ?
In order to communicate in any form whatsoever with trees, of course we go into the forest, where we can hug a trunk to feel something. But, our two bodies being connected to the earth, there is no difference of potential, and therefore, nothing happens from the electrical point of view. For the tree to notice something, it would have to be sensitive to the pressure and feel the arms that surround its bark. But the active strength must be considerable and above all persistent – two parameters that our embraces do not offer. The sensibility to touch that some people seek is not on the trunk but in the soil. If a contact could happen, it is at the root that we should go.
Furthermore, the trees are in fact terribly slow. You would have to multiply by ten thousand your own reaction time in order to know when a tree would be likely to respond to you. A real communication, or at least some interaction, would suppose that the adaptation was reciprocal; but nothing proves that the trees are adapted to us.
However, that wild plants can adapt to humans is a fact already proven. For example, wood hyacinth mimics human scent and informs mosquitoes to the presence of a possible meal.
According to Prof. Frantisek Baluska, a plant, a tree can feel pain ; every organism must be able to do this in order to be in a position to react properly ! Like animals, plants produce substances that can inhibit pain. But what for if there was no pain ?
Trees have « self-consciousness » and sensitivity.
« … When I am with you, trees of these grand woods,
Within all that surrounds me and hides me at the same time,
In your solitude where I retreat into myself,
I sense someone great listening to me and loving me ! »
Victor Hugo – The Contemplations, poem « Aux Arbres »
- Willow tree symbolizes the comforting grandmother ; it is a tree that embodies the moon and water ; its feminine side helps you release your sadness ; it is certain that your encounter brings you inner peace and calming to better move forward in your life.
- Olive tree is present in many legends and traditions, especially in Greek mythology, because Athena, goddess of wisdom, made a gift of it to the people of a city then newly created with this promise of a tree that would bring health and food to its inhabitants, and as a thank-you, they called the city, Athens. Olive tree is the symbol of Peace and Wisdom.
- Oak tree has always had a reputation as king of the forests, and symbolizes strength, power, and longevity.
- Beech tree is an edible tree with its young leaves in salad, and its fruits, the beechnuts ; it is a tree that symbolizes energy.
- Birch tree is like a big sister, welcoming and full of kindness ; near the Birch tree, you will contact with feminine fluidness, your inspiration will grow and you will feel yourself breathing happiness and joie de vivre.
- Chestnut tree, native to Asia Minor, is connected to the planets Jupiter and Venus, which symbolize mixed strength and femininity.
- Ash tree is often associated with the link between sky and earth, and symbolizes both the microcosm and the macrocosm ; go to meet him is the promise to go in search of your inner self.
- Pine tree’s energy is very maternal, like a mother with her child ; you will discover its strong energy which will allow you to accept the duality between your feminine and masculine parts.
Wild plants and fauna
The dawn of plants: 500 million years ago, most life is still in the oceans. However, the continents are invaded by the first moss-like land plants. Some of these plants later evolve into vascular plants with roots and internal tubes transporting water and nutrients. Algae, mosses and ferns were the first to emerge in the plant kingdom.
By 420 million years ago, the first land animals appear, such as millipedes, and arachnids. Then, terrestrial communities are forming, encompassing insects, crustaceans, mites, and many others.
Globally, there are nearly a million species of Insects and we discover more every day ! Fish represent about 28,000 species, Birds 10,000 species, and Mammals nearly 5,500 species. Bees, Butterflies of all colors and other pollinating insects are a precious and solidarity army allowing plants to mate all spring long.
According to some scientists, if bees disappear from this world, human life will survive no more than a few years !
They are the natural oils, volatile organic chemical compound, within a plant and are part of a tree’s defence system. Trees release phytoncides to protect them from bacteria, insects and fungi. Phytoncides vary from tree species to tree species and have very specific scents.
Phytoncides are also part of the communication pathway between trees, the way trees talk to each other.
The main components of phytoncides are terpenes, and these are what you can smell when you practice Shinrin Yoku in the forest. The major terpenes are :
- D-limonene, wich smells lemony.
- Alpha-pinene, this is the most common terpene in nature and has a very fresh, piney scent.
- Beta-pinene, smells more herby, like basil or dill.
- Camphene, which has a turpentiney, resinous smell.
Scientific researh showed that exposure to phytoncides :
- significantly increased the numbers of Natural Killer cells and Natural Killer activity, as well as enhancing the activity of the anti-cancer proteins.
- significantly decreased the levels of stress hormones.
- increased the hours of sleep. Decreased the scores tests for tension/anxiety, anger/hostility and fatigue/confusion.
- stimulate a pleasant mood.
- significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- suppress sympathetic nervous activity (fight or flight), and increase parasympathetic nervous activity (rest & recover), bringing your nervous system into balance and making you feel comfortable and relaxed.
If you can’t get outside for Shinrin Yoku, you can bring the forest into your home with wood essential oils… So, why don’t you try diffusing your favourite essential oils at home and see what effects they have ? Here are some ways to get essential oils into your home :
- Reed diffuser
- Cedarwood shavings
Negative ions, fine electrically charged particles, are a real source of vitality and calm. They are mainly found by the sea, near waterfalls, or in the forest, hence the advantage of getting out into the green countryside as often as possible.
These microparticles are very present in nature. Each natural element has an electrical value ; the cells of our body are also subject to this rule. Trees, by rubbing their branches, stimulate the atoms present in the ambient air, which then acquire a negative electric charge. They facilitate the transport and exchanges of cells in our body.
Negative ions help increase mental clarity and our sense of well-being.