Sylvotherapy and Nordic walking: the ideal combination

Sylvotherapy is a little-known and surprising practice. Perhaps you have an image of hippies hugging trees? or perhaps dancing among the deciduous?

Forgetting these preconceptions, Laurence Monce*, naturopath and sylvotherapy trainer, tells us exactly what this practice involves, including its effects, benefits, and contraindications, and more particularly, how Nordic walkers can enjoy it as part of their sport!


How does forest bathing work?

L. M.: "Today, we know that trees emit a lot of substances between each other, notably phytoncides and terpenes, which are volatile molecules that trees produce naturally to protect themselves from bacteria and to attract pollinating insects.

When the sun comes out, the trees' foliage opens up and releases phytoncides and terpenes into the air that we absorb into our skin via the pores, and also along the olfactory tract as we breathe in. These chemical messengers from the trees directly reach the receptors in our central nervous system."

What are the effects on the body?

L. M.: This depends on the type of forest around us. If you are walking in a coniferous forest, you will feel stimulated, as pine and fir trees give energy. However, a deciduous forest will be more soothing, and relax your body.

Whatever the location, there are a lot of electromagnetic exchanges between our body and trees. When you go Nordic walking, you can take full advantage of the benefits of the forest because you will be breathing faster and deeper, so the effects will be accelerated!


So, all that just from walking through the forest?

L. M.: Yes, you have to imagine that with the sun, trees become a bit like terpene and phytoncide aerosols, and you'll be far away from the positive ions and exhaust fumes of the city! These substances are no less than natural essential oils. Of course, you can also find them in the woods, so you don't need to go to a huge forest!

What are their benefits for the body?

L. M.: There are many benefits. They lower blood pressure, as well as blood sugar levels, which is particularly beneficial for people who suffer from diabetes. They strengthen the immune system and also reduce stress.

It has also been shown that with sessions over several days, people suffering from exhaustion or depression see a considerable improvement in their mental health. When you are in the forest, your mind is soothed and your attention is improved, and this produces a feeling of well-being.


Are there specific exercises you can do to benefit fully from all this?!

L. M.: When you are out Nordic walking, you can stop for a moment to do some exercises that will use your five senses. You can touch the bark and the moss, walk with bare feet, listen to the sounds, notice the smells, and examine the trees, their buds and their leaves more closely. The idea is to focus on the precise features of the forest, and by examining a pine cone for example, your mind will be calmed, and your autonomic nervous system will be soothed.

Apart from the five senses, there is a wide variety of creative and fun activities you can do, either alone or with a guide, to strengthen your body and slow down your thoughts.


So, that's how it reduces stress?

L. M.: Yes, when you are really stressed, the sympathetic nervous system works overtime and produces adrenaline, cortisol and increases acidity in the joints, all of which is bad for the body. In the forest, when you touch the bark and breathe in the terpenes that it is made of, the body's nerves send messages to the brain, right to the hypothalamus, which is the control centre of many different hormones. This stimulates a production of dopamine and endorphins. So, instead of being subject to the cortisol and adrenaline coming from the adrenal glands, the brain will take over and produce "happy hormones".


Are there any reasons not to go forest bathing?

L. M.: Yes, a few. People who suffer from pollen allergies should avoid going to the forest in the spring. You also have to be careful with frullania liverwort and certain lichens, notably yellow lichens that you can find on trees and rocks, as they can provoke an allergic reaction when you touch them.

You should also take precautions against hornets, and ticks, which can carry Lyme disease. It is strongly advisable to protect yourself by wearing trousers, shoes and long-sleeved tops. If you want to walk bare-footed, watch out for splinters, and don't forget to use anti-tick products.

Do you really hug trees?!

L. M.: Not at all! It's often portrayed like that in the media, but it's not true, we don't hug trees! We have a simple contact with them, just by touching them, to take advantage of the electromagnetic exchanges, while keeping in mind that each different tree has very specific characteristics.

However, we do sometimes walk bare-footed to benefit from the mycobacterium vaccae, which is a recently discovered bacteria found in soil. This bacteria activates the brain and produces serotonin, a hormone involved in regulating moods, libido, social behaviour and sleep. This also produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that will provide a feeling of happiness and satisfaction!



*Laurence Monce is the author of "Découvrir la  sylvothérapie" (Interéditions) and "Ces arbres qui nous font du bien" (Dunod).


Have you already combined the benefits of Nordic walking and forest bathing? Please share your experiences of walking among the twigs, we'd love to hear about it!