Feeling lonely during lockdown? Take a deep breath and hug a tree
Don't roll your eyes, just go outside, find a tree (not a thorny one), and give it try
What do Israel and Iceland have in common besides the fact that both countries have an "I" at the start of their name? Authorities from both countries are advocating an unusual antidote to the feelings of isolation and detachment that social distancing rules can bring.
"The most basic human need is for connection, for touching, for hugging," says Israeli Barbara Grant, lamenting that as a health precaution she can't hug her grandchildren. Instead, Israel's Nature and Parks Authority suggests that bark is much better than Covid-19's bite.
They've launched a campaign suggesting that citizens embrace the wild, literally. "In this unpleasant corona period we recommend to people around the world to go out to nature, take a deep breath, hug a tree, express your love and get love," says Orit Steinfeld, the authority's marketing director, in Israel's Apollonia National Park.
Israel's tree-hugging campaign follows a similar endeavour launched by Iceland's forestry service.
Thor Thorfinnsson, forest manager for East Iceland, gave practical tips on how to get the most out of the encounter. "It's good to close your eyes while hugging a tree. I press my cheek against it and feel the warmth and currents flowing from the tree into me ... it starts in your toes, runs up your legs and through your body into your brain. You get such a good relaxing feeling that you are ready for a new day and new challenges," he says.
TREEHUGGING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
In northern Finland they've taken things further by holding the world's first TreeHugging World Championships. Watched live by more than 12,000 viewers globally on Periscope and Instagram, Stefania D from Italy won the prestigious title of TreeHugging World Champion 2020.
The event was held recently in the HaliPuu forest in Levi, Lapland, northern Finland to mark the start of Tree Hugging Week 2020, which ended on August 29, and which has been celebrated in Finland since 2016.
Due to Covid-19, the invitational live event was held in front of a small number of local spectators and streamed live from the forest. Competitors - representing 10 countries from four continents: Australia, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, the UK and US - all currently live in Levi, and didn't need to travel.
Several styles and takes on tree hugging were showcased, including impressive acrobatic acts and a beautiful mother-daughter fairytale-hug by the Russian competitor.
The winning performance, by Stefania D, was about gratitude and celebration of forests. Stefania has spent all her life near or surrounded by trees, foraging berries and chestnuts, doing sports or just enjoying the energy.
"I was nervous before the start," she says, "but when the competition was over, I was full of positive energy from the trees, the forest and the love pouring from the other participants."
According to the judges, Stefania's way of encountering the trees was "convincingly caring and insightfully profound".
The competition was judged by three experienced tree huggers and forest specialists, including HaliPuu-Pappa Kaarle Raekallio, the owner of HaliPuu forest, a retired lumberjack who decided to save his forest for everyone to enjoy. HaliPuu has made his living from the forest since he was 12 years old.
Joining HaliPuu was Ritva Saarensalmi, who works to protect biodiversity, says: "There's no right or wrong way to hug a tree. What's important is respect, realising that the tree is a living being one should treat well - like our loved ones." And finally, Minttu Heimovirta, a biologist, wilderness guide and journalist, who is fascinated by survival strategies of plants and animals.
Participants competed in three events:
- Speedhugging: Most trees hugged in 90 seconds, each hug lasting minimum five seconds;
- Dedication: Most dedicated hug of a specific tree lasting a maximum of one minute, and
- Freestyle: Most creative hug. Contestant's own interpretation, one tree only, maximum 30 seconds.
A virtual championship was also held where anyone, anywhere in the world could participate by taking a picture of their treehug and sharing it with HaliPuu.
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