Recently I came across an article recommending that people take a ‘canopy stress break’. The article by Robin Powell appeared in The Spectrum, Sydney Morning Herald, on 2/2/19. The byline declared that ‘looking at trees, even a picture of one, is enough to boost your wellbeing’.

This alone is enough to please me. One of my favourite ways to relax or calm scudding thoughts is to look out the window at trees. There is something about the constant movement of leaves, the shape and curve of branches, that settles my thoughts. When I first moved to the Blue Mountains, I would spend time simply looking out the window. Initially, this was accompanied by a vague sense of guilt – shouldn’t I be doing something else? But over time I realised, subconsciously at least, that something very useful was happening without any further input from my part.

A small grove of trees close to where I live

The benefits of trees are well-known and there is more research emerging about their beneficial properties. One of the obvious benefits is the provision of shade, especially after a hotter summer which has been felt everywhere, including the usually cooler mountains. Other benefits include cleaner air, energy conservation, saving water, habitat for wildlife and growing food, as well as providing physical benefits for humans.

During the 1980s, ‘forest bathing’ or ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ was developed in Japan. This encourages spending time in a living forest, with restorative benefits achieved from walking in a natural area in a relaxed manner. This is known as Shinrin Yoku and encourages a shift from the self to the world immediately around you.

One of the reasons why simply being near or looking at trees is beneficial is due to fractals. According to Powell:

It turns out you don’t even have to walk through trees to share their stress-busting benefits. Looking is enough, even at a picture. The theory that explains how this can work is called “fractal fluency”. Fractals are patterns that repeat across scales – like a tree branching from the trunk, and continuing to branch, right down to the twigs and leaf structure.

And there are fractals everywhere, especially in nature. These patterns are visible in river systems, lightning bolts, seashells and galaxies. There are some incredible photos here. Fractals also appear in other forms, including the artwork of Jackson Pollock.

Canopy of gum trees

For me, it is enough to know that fractals exist and that looking at them, especially in their natural form, helps to reduce stress and make me feel better.

When was the last time that you took a tree break?

[Photo: trees at Wallumatta Nature Reserve, East Ryde]