A new book on the subject, The Healing Energies of Trees by Patrice Bouchardon, which encourages us to look at the "tree within" is timely, for even serious psychologists now agree that trees are good things. Along with goldfish watching and chocolate eating, tree-hugging can boost the immune system.
Dr Mike Money is a Principal Lecturer in Psychology at John Moore's University in Liverpool. Although his name sounds like a yuppie in a Martin Amis novel, he is in fact a tree fan. He says that underneath all the weirdy nonsense, trees really are good for the health.
"At the cognitive conceptual level we know that all life on earth depends on vegetation. Trees are often older than us and bigger than us. Unlike us, they keep growing throughout their lives. They feel very powerful. We now know that appropriate visual imagery can help people with cancer. A tree could provide that image of strength.
"I wouldn't go so far as to say that trees have an inherent healing purpose. But you can't walk through a wood without feeling better. Tree hugging is seen as a mad thing to do now but it began quite practically in the Sixties when environmentalists were literally putting themselves between the tree and the person who wanted to cut it down."
If you want to be healed by a tree but don't know where to start then try the following exercises, gleaned from Bouchardon's book.
1. "How to meet a tree"
i) In a wood or park, let your subconscious lead you to a tree (it may not be one you would normally consider beautiful).
ii) Send an inner greeting. Walk round the tree to decide which is the most appealing side to approach.
iii) Approach the trunk and sit opposite or against it.
iv) Smell the tree. Breathing slowly, notice and identify the smells that come to you. Look, hear and taste tree with equal thoroughness (handy hint: check if it's poisonous first).
2. "Asking a tree a question"
i) Think through a problem in your life you want to resolve.
ii) Close your eyes and listen to what is happening inside.
iii) Open your eyes and look for hints of an answer to your question. Bouchardon says you may feel "an inner certainty," or see "some feature near you that you realise mirrors your inner situation."
There should be three levels of reaction to your tree exploits. First the physical response - minor aches disappear. Then the emotional response. Trees, as you may have noticed, are not inclined to panic. Duly you too should feel calmer. The third response, says Bouchardon, is on a deeper level. Days afterwards, you will feel stronger. You may start making positive changes to your life. (Tree-inspired and thus perfectly organic and fitting).
Bouchardon says that different trees give off different energies. And you will be drawn to different trees as your needs vary. We have always known this. Yew trees in churchyards ward off bad vibes, fir trees at Christmas bring light into the home (OK, I admit, the fairy lights help too).
To test, I hugged a 300-year-old Yew Tree in Kent. It was very dark. The tree was deeply grooved. The bark felt dry. When I put my arms around it, I felt a warmth. It sounds insane but I found it quite a healing experience. I did feel that the tree was responding. And I was particularly impressed with the yew tree's answer to my question. When I opened my eyes, there was a yellow Post-It stuck to the bark with the words "I wouldn't if I were you" scrawled in green. Magic.
The more sceptical among you may prefer Dr Mike Money's advice on tree communing. "Build tree houses in them. Play cricket against them. Have a picnic under them with your family." You could always ask their advice instead.
'The Healing Energies of Trees' by Patrice Bouchardon is published by Gaia in March.Reuse content