Human hugs can result in a range of undesirable circumstances, most importantly, cooties. Coming in at a close second is the risk of contracting COVID-19, and thirdly, a meaningful emotional connection.
In contrast, hugging trees increases levels of oxytocin, a hormone which generates feelings of serenity and bonding – and rangers at the Icelandic Forestry Service are encouraging locals to do just that.
When physical distancing is a requirement and pillows won’t do the trick, Icelandic forest rangers suggest giving your nearest trees a bit of affection.
“When you hug [a tree], you feel it first in your toes and then up your legs and into your chest and then up into your head,” forest ranger Þór Þorfinnsson told Iceland Review. “It’s such a wonderful feeling of relaxation and then you’re ready for a new day and new challenges.”
The first tree huggers were the Chipko Women, who protected trees from deforestation in the 1970s. The non-violent movement originated in the Uttar Pradesh region of the Indian Himalayas and began to take root elsewhere in the decades that followed.
“Five minutes is really good, if you can give yourself five minutes of your day to hug [a tree], that’s definitely enough,” says Þorfinnsson. “You can also do it many times a day – that wouldn’t hurt. But once a day will definitely do the trick, even for just a few days.”
Þór recommends closing your eyes for the full effect, as well as leaning your cheek against the trunk to feel the currents flow.
Rangers in the Hallormsstaður National Forest in East Iceland have been clearing paths through the snow so that people can explore nature during the pandemic. They’ve also been marking out intervals of 2 metres to ensure that nature go-ers can get up close to the trees without getting up close to each other.
Below are a few other notable bark and trunk devotees, in case you need any further convincing.