Hug a tree for better health

File:Christmas tree, City Square, Leeds (17th December 2012).JPG

Most people think that depression is all down to some sort of chemical imbalance in the brain. Well, it would appear that while that may be true, there could be other factors that need to be given consideration. A study in 2011 in the journal Nature identifies an interesting trend, in that city dwellers have 39 per cent higher rates of depression than that experienced by rural dwellers.

What is the answer? Well, we can’t all move to the country, however, perhaps we owe it to our children and to their health to make our urban environments more country like.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen master, peace activist and author of “Peace is every step; the path of mindfulness in everyday life,” tells us that when we are cut off from nature we get sick. Surrounded by only cement, metal and hard things, our fingers do not have the opportunity to touch the soil.He reminds us that we all need to go out from time to time and be in nature.

He recounts the following story:

“One day, I imagined a city where there was only one tree left. The tree was still beautiful, but very much alone, surrounded by buildings, in the centre of the city. Many people were getting sick, and most doctors did not know how to deal with the illness.. But one very good doctor knew the causes of the sickness and gave this prescription to each patient: ‘ Every day, take the bus and go to the centre of the city to look at the tree. As you approach it, practice breathing in and out, and when you get there, hug the tree, breathing in and out for fifteen minutes, while you look at the tree, so green, and smell its bark, so fragrant. If you do that, in a few weeks you will feel much better.’                                                                        The people began to feel better, but very soon there were so many people rushing to the tree that they stood in line for miles and miles You know that people of our time do not have much patience, so standing three or four hours to wait to hug the tree was too much, and they rebelled. They organised demonstrations in order to make a new law that each person could only hug the tree for five minutes, but of course that reduced the time for healing. And soon, the time was reduced to one minute, and the chance of being healed…was lost.”

A salutary tale, perhaps the moral is one that we all need to think about when we allow our rural landscape to be turned over to development.

Until next time.

With best wishes, Steve.

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

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Thich Nhat Hanh. (1991) “Peace is every step; the path of mindfulness in everyday life,” Rider

10 Strange And Obscure Facts About Mental Health by CHRISTOPHER STEPHENS MARCH 9, 2014.  [Accessed 03/04/14]

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