Iceland Recommends Hugging Trees Instead of People

©. @ilkerhuseyingezer / Twenty20

The Icelandic Forestry Service is giving lessons in hugging trees, literally, and we are here for it.

During New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's daily coronavirus press briefings, he usually offers an empathetic lament about how hard this pandemic is for us emotionally. "There is something to this lack of ability to connect," he said in one briefing. "Don't hug, don't kiss, stay six feet away. We are emotional beings and it is important for us, especially at times of fear, times of stress, to feel connected to someone, to feel comforted by someone."

Well the Icelandic Forestry Service has a solution for that: Hug a tree.

Larissa Kyzer reports in Iceland Review that the service is encouraging people to cuddle up to
a tree while social distancing is keeping loved ones out of arm's reach.

“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 tells the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV). “It’s such a wonderful feeling of relaxation and then you’re ready for a new day and new challenges.”

woman hugging a big tree

Given the name of the site where you are reading this story, we are obviously on board for treehugging. But aside from the novelty of the idea, there's plenty of science to back it up. The Japanese have been practicing and studying "shinrin-yoku" (forest bathing) for years and the evidence is clear: Spending time in nature has numerous benefits for both mind and body.

Back in Iceland, forest rangers in the Hallormsstaður National Forest have been clearing paths to allow visitors to safely amble among the arboreal huggees. (Yes, they do have trees and forests in Iceland.) Just like supermarket checkout lines in the United States and elsewhere, the rangers have marked spaces of six feet distance to help maintain social distancing. And as with everything else in the time of COVID-19, precautions should be heeded.

Þorfinnsson recommends that not everyone should embrace the first tree they see; potential huggers should venture deeper into the forest. “There are plenty of trees...it doesn’t have to be big and stout, it can be any size.”

And since this is Iceland, of course the rangers have a prescription for treehugging.

“Five minutes is really good, if you can give yourself five minutes of your day to hug [a tree], that’s definitely enough,” he says. “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.”

“It’s also really nice to close your eyes while you’re hugging a tree,” he adds. “I lean my cheek up against the trunk and feel the warmth and the currents flowing from the tree and into me. You can really feel it.”

“It’s recommended that people get outdoors during this horrible time,” says Bergrún Anna Þórsteinsdóttir, an assistant forest ranger at Hallormsstaður. “Why not enjoy the forest and hug a tree and get some energy from this place?”

So there you go; take it from Iceland and TreeHugger and go hug a tree. And if you need me, I'll be outside with my arms around the Callery pear tree in front of my building.