Tree Meditation: Calming Down in Nature
The Human/Tree Connection
When I walk to downtown Santa Barbara, I feel the oak trees' presence, forming a green canopy for me as I make my way to State Street. In the summer I feel the shade and cool of the enormous trees that soak up the sun and freshen the air.
Not only are people living by and around trees, but a growing number of people are also living in them, having treehouse builders construct the perfect vacation home or extra living space high among the branches and birds. See, for example, the TV show "Treehouse Masters," on the Discovery Channel.
I always had a special connection to trees, but I didn't realize how vital it was for my health.
In the summer I feel the shade and cool of the enormous trees that soak up the sun and freshen the air.
Therapeutic Effect of Trees
In a New Yorker article, How Trees Calm Us Down, Alex Hutchinson found in research studies the correlation between health and trees:
- People who live near trees tend be healthier than those who don't.
- The loss of trees in a neighborhood correspond to declining health.
Hutchinson writes, "After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt."
Hutchinson continues, "A county-by-county analysis of health records by the U.S. Forest Service, between 1990 and 2007, found that deaths related to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses rose in places where trees succumbed to pest infiltration, contributing to more than twenty thousand additional deaths during the study period. The Toronto data shows a similar link between tree cover and cardio-metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. For the people suffering from these conditions, an extra eleven trees per block corresponds to an income boost of twenty thousand dollars, or being almost one and a half years younger."
Who wouldn't want to age slower, live longer and have more money? It's in our best interest to spend daily amounts of time walking down a street lined with trees or spending time in a woodsy park meditating on the trees.
Tree Meditation: Pick a Favorite Tree
When I was a therapist, a stream with a park full of trees surrounded the parking lot of my therapy practice. I purposely got to work early so I could spend quiet, meditative time with a particular tree. I found that meditating on this tree before doing therapy put me in the proper frame of mind to help people.
When I spent ten minutes before each work day--breathing slowly, following my breath and focussing on the details of the tree--it had a noticeable calming effect. It put me in a positive mindset, stabilized my mood and helped me be less reactive with people.
I meditated on the green leaves of summer, the red and orange in the fall and the snowy tree limbs in the winter from the front seat of my car. I meditated on the tree's strength and resilience, two important characteristics that I wanted to reinforce in my clients.
Visiting the Giant Redwoods is Humbling
It makes sense that thousands of people each day would want to come to Northern California and Oregon to visit the redwoods. There seems to be a primal message that such large trees evoke in people. Its very presence compels one to meditate on its spellbinding height and girth.
- The redwoods are between 600 and 800 years old, and they can live up to 2,200 hundred years.
- Redwood trees are truly spectacular. The trees grow upwards to 380 feet, taller than the Stature of Liberty.
The redwoods were here way before I was born and they will be here after I die. They have endured fires and nature eating away at its roots and bark. But they still remain. Seeing these trees live many more years than me, gives me greater perspective on my life.
As I meditate on the redwood trees, I imagine my roots being connected to this earth in the same way. I imagine what it would be like to be as secure on the earth as the trees. As I experience the giant redwoods, I realize that there are things on this planet far greater and stronger than I am. It’s humbling.
Moreton Bay Fig Tree In Santa Barbara
Knowing the Tree of Your Meditation
A lot of trees have a history attached to it. For instance, the Moreton Bay Fig tree in Santa Barbara, California, has a wonderful history to meditate on.
A seaman, visiting Santa Barbara In 1876, presented a seedling of an Australian Moreton Bay Fig tree to a local girl who planted it at 201 State Street. After the girl moved away a year later, her girlfriend, Adeline Crabb, transplanted the tree to the corner of Montecito and Chapala streets. The widest spread of the branches is 198 feet (60 m). The trunk diameter above the buttress roots is 12.5 feet. (from Wikipedia)
Knowing the history helps to deepen the experience. As I meditate under the Moreton Bay Fig tree's enormous canopy, I feel connected to Adeline Crabb's mission as a young girl to save her friend's tree and to fulfill a promise that she made to her. In the process, she made a gift to the people of Santa Barbara for generations to come.
Do You have a Favorite Tree?
Given the health benefits of trees, it makes sense to spend quiet time with them, a perfect drishti or focus on meditation, either sitting, walking or during yoga.
Identify a tree that you're fascinated with in the moment. It doesn't matter what kind. Spend some daily tree time, learning about the tree's history if possible. Complement a tree meditation with yoga or tai chi.
Do you have a tree that you're enamored with, one that you find particularly interesting or enchanting? Let me know. Please share your experience and unique relationship to trees.