Tibaldo: Of Tree Hugging, Forest Bathing and Creativity

HAVE you ever hugged a tree, climbed its branches or slept underneath it? For most of us urban dwellers, it is very rare that we do such a thing or even think of doing so as we are probably more concerned with avoiding traffic, staying away from pollutants and keeping physically fit.

Last week, I sat on a meeting convened by Dir. Marie Venus Tan of the Cordillera Tourism Office with environmentalists and officials of DENR including a representative from the Mount Pulag National Park and Forest Reserve.

Listening to what was being discussed, I realized that I was at the wrong meeting as I was supposed to hear from urban planner Dr. Mary Ann Alabanza-Akers on how Baguio can take on the challenge of being a Creative City of Unesco. Before finally doing a vanishing act so I can transfer to the Baguio Museum which is just next to DOT-CAR office, I paid attention to Dir. Tan’s elaboration of the “Forest Bathing” concept that she is proposing as a health and wellness component of local tourism in the region.

The tourism official mentioned that the idea originated from Japan’s practice of Shinrin-yoku which means "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing."

The practice was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

I later learned that researchers in Japan and South Korea have scientifically proven health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest and said research has helped establish Shinrin-yoku and forest bathing therapy throughout the world.

I was actually interested in knowing more about this proposed development particularly that which will be launched at the eco-trail of Camp John Hay as it also features arts and crafts like stone-works, sculptures and Totem poles.

Having read a net published information about Shirin-Yoku, I was reminded of my early manhood days during school breaks when I helped farm and stayed in our mango orchard in the hilly part of Old Sudipen, La Union.

I actually slept on a hammock under trees and sat beside tree trunks when resting on my daily trek from our poblacion residence to our “Kalapaw” orchard hut.

Learning about Shirin-Yoku, I wish that I could do those chores again as that was probably the time when I was at the best of my physique.

This Japanese health concept is simple. A person visits a natural area, walks in a relaxed way and experience the calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits that can be achieved.

Accordingly, some scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku are the boosting of the immune system, reduced blood pressure, stress relief, improved mood, increased ability to focus and this also applies to children with ADHD. Said activity in natural areas also accelerates the recovery of patients from surgery or illness, improves sleep and increases energy level.

Moving over to the Baguio Museum for the talk on Baguio as a Creative City, I caught Arch. Joseph Alabanza while introducing his daughter who is the also the Dean of Morgan State University’s School of Architecture and Planning in the United States.

Dr. Mary Ann Alabanza-Akers defined creativity and what makes a creative city citing that being creative means being able to come up with original ideas from one’s imagination. The dean implied that architects are also artists that are vital in shaping the total atmosphere or esthetics of a place.

When she asked for volunteers from the audience to take a creativity test, I volunteered together with fellow artist Chi Balmaceda Gutierrez and theater artist Raffy Kapuno to draw something out of a curved line based on our own interpretations.

Chi drew added curves that resembled hills with trees and Raffy added sun-like rays protruding from the arched line and I spent my one minute drawing two bunkers and people with cannons at the curve ends with fired cannon balls thrown at each other.

With that, Akers gave her personal interpretations to our works and she also showed some of the creativity exercises she did with her students basically implying that every work has its uniqueness.

She then pressed on a word that caught my attention…”artistic suffocation” which led me to think that this is actually happening in Baguio.

As a pioneering member of the Baguio Arts Guild back in the mid-80s, I knew for a fact that we had many art convergences and collaborations that even made waves far and wide. Because I received an urgent call during Aker’s talk, I left the museum confident that I’ll somehow get to know more about her topic from the covering members of the press.

I also inquired from my wife Helen who was there and she mentioned Aker’s statement on “Disruption” as something that the city of Baguio might need.

Accordingly, the dean raised few points about rethinking urban planning in the city, which may mean focusing on other areas other than the usual ones.

She asks, “What can Baguio do to encourage cultural experiments and innovation?”

For me, if we come to a point of suffocation even in the field of arts that we are immersed in, I truly believe that we need not have to reach the choking point thus we need to untangle ourselves even to the point of going back to the most basic art form like shaping a mountain or a castle out of clay.
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