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  Tree Climbing for Adults
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Tree Climbing for Adults

How trees provide a path to healing and personal growth

Abby Grifno

Most of us stopped climbing trees after we were finally allowed to watch PG-13 movies. But if you think that tree climbing is just for kids, think again. Reconnecting with a forgotten pastime isn’t the only benefit of climbing trees. In fact, studies show that being among nature, specifically trees, can improve emotional well-being,  and significantly improve physiological and psychological states. One study showed that tree climbing can dramatically improve cognitive skills. Participants showed working memory improvements after just a couple hours of climbing. Another study showed that climbing trees can help people physically relax their bodies, improve vitality, and reduce tension and fatigue.

If that’s not enough to make you want to find a nearby tree and start climbing, check out these stories from three tree climbing enthusiasts around the world. 

Finding a New Perspective in Italy

After traveling and completing social and cultural education studies, Italian-born Erika Zuliani found herself in Bologna, where she assisted a community helping Nigerian trafficking victims. While Erika loved the work, she said, “I couldn’t find my place…I didn’t have a space for myself, although I had my own room.” So Erika turned to nature, hoping to find rejuvenation in a nearby park. As she returned day after day, she started to love the trees and eventually decided to climb up some branches and find a new perspective. 

It was a new experience, but Erika was immediately fascinated. 

She loved climbing the branches and looking at her city from a new vantage point. Seeing the world from a new angle inspired her to look at her life differently too. As she sat high above the ground, she found hope, excitement and a sense of peace. 

Since then, Erika’s climbing practice has evolved to include dance. 

“I feel comfortable because I’m communicating with the trees. I have a lot of respect for them,” said Erika.

 Her newfound art includes flowing through the branches and stretching into aerial poses which requires focus. Erika says that focus is one of the benefits of the practice.

 “My mind can’t think so much…We are always used to thinking, so we are never connected to ourselves,” she said. “Tree-dancing makes me connect to my real self.”

Erika shares this art by coaching individuals and posting tutorials. She says, “Everybody can do it, step by step.” The practice is accessible to everyone, even those who can’t climb the branches of a tree. Simply being in nature can change your perspective and provide healing in your life. 

Building a Community of Tree Climbers

Tim Kovar, a Portland native and pioneer for tree climbing, started climbing trees when he was a kid in the ‘70s. Unfortunately, as Tim and his friends became adults, he noticed that many of them stopped enjoying their favorite pastime. But Tim never stopped finding peace in the branches. But it wasn’t until he was in his early twenties that he met Peter Jenkins, the founder of Tree Climbers International. Peter invited Tim to do tree work with him in Atlanta. While in Atlanta, Tim saw Peter high up in the canopy of the trees and thought, “That’s where I want to be.” 

After training for several months, Tim started taking novice tree climbers on facilitated climbs. He showed them the ropes (literally) so that they, too, could reconnect with their childhood freedom, challenge themselves physically, and see the world from another angle. 

During one excursion, Tim guided two women in their seventies during a climb.

“They came back changed,” said Tim. “I thought, alright, there’s some magic here. I have to focus on getting this out into the world.” 

Since then, Tim founded Tree Climbing Planet, an organization that aims to help anyone—no matter their age or ability level—to climb trees. He added that an unexpected tree climbing benefit that he discovered is that people can connect on a different, more human level during climbs. 

“Here’s an experience they are all able to share no matter their views,” said Tim. “...Trees are this common ground where people get to literally just be people.” 

Spreading Joy and Saving Trees

In another part of the world, Steven Pearce and his wife, Dr. Jen Sanger, run the Tree Projects in Tasmania. The organization facilitates various projects that promote accessibility to and conservation of the trees in the region. 

Both Jen and Steven discovered tree climbing during Jen’s doctorate research in Tasmania. They were delighted by the beauty of the trees in the area. Steven says that climbing offers him freedom from the stresses of everyday tasks. 

“You’re very much detaching from the world, from modern society,” said Steven. “You’re free of all constraints. And all you’re limited by is your physical ability and mental dexterity.”

Steven added that you don’t necessarily need to climb a tree in order to experience the benefits that the environment offers. Simply going into nature and taking the time to appreciate the beauty and quiet of the landscape can be enough. 

How to Start Tree Climbing

If you’re feeling inspired to find a nearby tree and join the birds in its branches, we’ve got a few tips to help you start tree climbing:

  1. Choose the right tree. You want to make sure that you’re choosing a sturdy, healthy tree before you begin. So asses the safety of the tree first. Is the bark healthy? Do the branches feel secure? Is there enough space between branches to allow for movement and visibility? 
  2. Wear the proper clothing. You’ll want clothing loose enough to allow for a full range of motion. You’ll also want to wear flexible shoes with good grip. 
  3. Stretch. You never want to dive straight into any physical activity without warming up. So, take some time to warm up your muscles and stretch.
  4. Use three points of contact at all times. To ensure stability, you’ll want to keep three points of contact with the tree while you’re climbing. This could mean two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand. 
  5. Start slow. No one is suggesting you try to scale California’s largest redwood on the first go. Start by choosing a tree with branches just a few feet off the ground. This will allow you to get your footing at a height that is still safe if you slip. 
  6. Enjoy the view! 

As a writer and teacher based out of the Washington, DC, metro area, Abby Grifno has had work featured in the Washington City Paper, Bethesda Magazine, and others.

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