The Joy of Tree Hugging

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I have always had a fondness for trees, particularly the old-growth giants who have witnessed the passing of the centuries. I’ve made friends with a few of these wise elders of the woods over the years, visiting them whenever I’m in their neighborhood. Here in the Pacific Northwest trees such as Red Cedar, Hemlock, Sequoia and Sitka Spruce grow to enormous sizes due to the rainforest climate.

For me, merely being in the presence of old-growth trees is an exhilarating experience. Standing with my back leaned against one of them results in an increased flow in my energetic field–solar plexus and other chakras–and a “blissed-out” state for lack of a better term. I see old-growth trees as genius-loci or “spirits of place” of the forest–focal points of spiritual power that radiate energy to the surrounding eco-system–analogous to the chakras or subtle energy centers in the human body.

As mentioned in the previous post, shamans journeyed in vision, climbing the World Tree. Inblog philosophers tree 5jpg western esotericism the Tree of Life is a cosmological symbol used in meditative and visionary practices. The tree is also an icon for Druids, who in ancient times worshipped in oak groves.

Here is an example of a Druidic tree meditation for centering and grounding–combining visualization and breathing, inspired by exercises I learned while studying the OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids) correspondence course. Ideally it is done while sitting or standing with your back  against a tree, though it can be performed anywhere:

1) Sit in a comfortable position you can hold for a few minutes. Become aware of your breathing.

2) Imagine your body transforming into a tree. Your spine becomes its trunk, while your legs and feet become roots in the earth. Branches grow from your chest, arms and head, extending into the starry night sky.

3) Now take a deep breath and as you inhale imagine pulling energy up from the earth through the roots and up into the trunk. Feel this energy glowing around your heart chakra. Now exhale this energy, pushing it up and out through the branches and into the sky.

4) Next, as  you inhale, breath in the starlight from above into the branches–and push it down into your heart center. As you exhale, visualize it flowing down the trunk into the roots and into the earth below. Continue this cycle of breathing and visualization until you feel charged with energy.

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Humans and trees have always existed in a symbiotic relationship that sustains our health: we exhale carbon dioxide which trees absorb–and they in turn produce oxygen for us to breathe. The Japanese have realized the health benefits of exposure to forests in a therapeutic practice called Shinrin-yoku–meaning “forest bathing”. This involves leisurely meditative walks in the woods while engaging in deep breathing and sensory immersion, such as exploring the textures of bark or the scents of wild flowers.

Scientific researchers have produced studies demonstrating that forest environments reduce stress hormones, improve blood pressure, reduce depression and strengthen the immune system. The breathing of chemicals called phytonides produced by trees and plants also significantly increases cancer fighting white blood cells. The Japanese public is being encouraged to get out of the cities and visit the 44 Shinrin-yoku accredited forests. The idea of “forest therapy” is catching on in the US and elsewhere.

All the more reason to turn off the cell phone…and go hug a tree!

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