Shana Tinkle, right, and Tasha Hipple each embrace a tree for 60 seconds during a tree-hugging event sponsored by Portland Parks and Recreation at Deering Oaks on Saturday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Turns out that hugging a tree may very well be good for you.

Participants in the city’s first Tree Hugging Event, held beneath the dense canopy in Deering Oaks park Saturday, did indeed hug trees, but not before learning how doing so can improve their health.

City Park Ranger Liz Collado explained that forest bathing, or “shinrin-yoku,” originated in Japan in the 1980s from research on what happens to humans when they enter a forest. What researchers found was profound, Collado said.

Trees keep themselves healthy in part by releasing compounds called “phytoncides” into the air. The phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities that help fight disease and protect trees, she said.

The compounds can also help keep humans healthy, Collado said.

When humans are in a forest, “we inhale these phytoncides,” and they help us build cells that fight cancer, Collado said. Standing under trees, observing nature, and breathing deeply also improves blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and promotes well-being, said Collado, who is also a certified forest therapy guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy.


The participants, which numbered about 30, surrounded Collado in a wide circle. She asked them to be still, put their cellphones away, and think about what Deering Oaks was like before they were born and about the people who came before them.

Participants were asked to close their eyes, then take note of their breathing and what they heard and felt. She then asked them to open their eyes, gaze up at the forest canopy, and then look down and study the ground.

They were then asked to leave the circle, “befriend a tree” and stand under it. Finally, they were asked to hug a tree for 60 seconds. Tree hugging isn’t just for ’60s hippies, Collado said; it is believed to lead to the release of hormones that enhance calmness and well-being.

The group spread out. Each found and hugged a tree. Returning to the circle, they were led in song by the choral group Brunswick Sings. The song was about the love and appreciation of trees.

Sarah Hipple and her daughter Tasha Hipple of Portland attended. “I’ve never done an organized tree-hugging event. I’ve hugged some trees, but never for quite that long,” Tasha said. “It was really lovely.”

Pat Cannon, a member of the Brunswick chorus, said the event was positive, “the best thing ever. It warms my heart that the Parks and Recreation Department is doing this.”


Anne Pringle, president of the Friends of Deering Oaks, was all for encouraging people to try forest bathing.

While growing up in Rhode Island, Pringle said, she remembers lying down in tall grass and looking up at trees. Taking the time to appreciate nature allows people to take in things that they otherwise might not notice.

A former Portland mayor, Pringle said that too often parks and recreation can be an easy target for budget cuts, but events like Saturday’s bring people out so they can appreciate what’s there. “Green space takes nurturing,” including staff and other costs, she said.

Portland boasts many beautiful trees and nature spots, Collado said.

“We have over 20,000 street trees. We have over 67 parks now and soon to have 69,” plus 40 miles of trails, Collado said. City rangers have more than 1,100 acres to patrol, she added.

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