Interview with Laurence Monce, Sylvotherapist

Sylvotherapy is not yet well known in France, can you explain what it consists of?

Sylvotherapy is an ancestral practice which consists of immersing oneself in the forest in order to benefit from the natural therapeutic benefits brought by trees, at the physiological and emotional level.

What is the difference with the forest bath practiced by the Japanese? 

Forest bathing or Shinrin-Yoku was created in the 1980s by the Japanese government to help the inhabitants of Tokyo to better manage their stress. It mainly consists of participating, accompanied by trained guides, in specific activities on a course designed to create the best conditions to benefit from Nature (breathing,connection to the trees, meditation, physical exercise…). There are currently 68 Shinrin-yoku centres in Japan.

Shinrin-yoku or Forest Bath is an integral part of sylvotherapy. The latter develops even more the therapeutic aspect and the psychological and emotional support.

How to practice sylvotherapy? Is it possible in the city?

It is possible to practice sylvotherapy in a forest, in a park or in a private garden in the city or in the countryside. It is important to know that the greater the density of trees, the more benefits will be felt.

To practice sylvotherapy, it is necessary to let the forest invite you to slow down the rhythm of your steps and thoughts, to listen to the sounds of nature, to caress the different textures, to admire the colours…

To go further, trained practitioners accompany people according to their needs.

How would you describe the benefits it can provide us?

Many studies show that trees play an important role in our health. They naturally produce many terpenes, such as essential oils, which contribute to our well-being. They provide us with pure oxygen, allowing us to breathe fully and to let it infuse our body, strengthening our immune system.

Recent discoveries also show the value of walking barefoot in order to benefit from the beneficial effects of a bacterium present in the earth.

What is the particular benefit for stress?

Stress is one of the main indications for the practice of sylvotherapy. It is important to choose round trees, rather deciduous trees, of light colour, such as linden or beech, which allow light to pass through.

Hormones of well-being, notably dopamine and serotonin, are then produced in large quantities, lowering the level of cortisol and adrenaline. The parasympathetic nervous system is naturally triggered by natural invitations (e.g. breathing).

Are the benefits only emotional or are there proven physical effects?

The emotional effects have been proven. In my 20-year career, I have seen many people who had burned out regain their energy and return to emotional balance more quickly.

Spending time in the forest allows the body to recharge itself, to empty the overflow, to rebalance the dysfunctions and to fill the voids. Blood pressure returns to a normal level, blood sugar levels drop, the feeling of oppression disappears as the sessions progress. The person is more in tune with himself and his needs. Nature acts as a mirror and triggers incredible awareness.

Does Nature play on all our senses and how?

All of our senses are used when working with trees. For a better result, it is necessary to know how the nervous, respiratory and hormonal systems work. It is therefore important to be accompanied by a professional. The five senses are solicited and the practitioner leads the person, mainly blind, to reconnect to his sensations.

And then there is the sixth sense, the energy field present in everything that we naturally pick up when we are in the forest.

The brain reads all the information we perceive and transforms it into chemical messages within our body.

You talk a lot about energy. How are our energy fields and those of the trees close to each other, and can they be related, feeding (or not) on each other?

We are surrounded by energy. Life is energy. All the kingdoms, animal, mineral or vegetable, are bathed in the same matrix, a quantum field. Everything is interconnected, every gesture and also every thought. Our brain emits many electromagnetic waves. The same is true for trees.

It is through this field that it is possible to connect with trees. It is not necessary to hug the trees. This misconception is taken from the American New Age and has nothing to do with tree therapy.

Since we live in this field, as demonstrated by scientists, it is possible to connect to a tree without touching it. Personally, I often connect to them through my thoughts. I feel their bark under my fingers, the earth under my feet, their perfume, their taste…

How are humans and trees related? What do you think trees have to tell us?

There is no real anthropomorphism between trees and humans. Nevertheless, Darwin found a real similarity. He classified trees in the animal kingdom, not the plant kingdom, having already perceived their interactions with their environment. He saw the tree as an upside down human, with its head (where we breathe) in the ground and its reproductive system on top, unlike us.

Trees do not feel emotions, but they do react to human emotions. When we approach them, they feel us because we vibrate. All we have to do is go to them with the intention of being kind and respectful and let ourselves be welcomed by each of them. They are majestic beings who have always had a privileged place in the life of humanity. I see them as sensitive, perceptible and helpful animals. Today, compared to twenty years ago, trees look at humanity with a kind of sadness. They are present and would like us to look at them more, to go and meet them. A tree, like the linden tree, is able to recognize us by our perfume, the smell of our skin, our fingerprints, our vibrations and our open heart.

They are waiting for us and will bring to humanity all the tenderness it needs.

The linden tree in particular:

As a tree specialist, you put it at the top of the list in your book, even though it is not the first in the alphabet… What place do you think it occupies in the great family of trees?

The linden tree is an exceptional tree that looks like a grandmother. It is considered to be the sweetest tree, a balm for the heart. In fact, its leaves are shaped like one, as if it were giving us a message. Its flowershave hypnotic properties that allow humans to regain some respite in the cycle of their lives. Its fragrance confers instant relief and appeasement. The intoxication of its scent transports us into a silky, floating, light and soft intoxication. A marvel of a tree!

Are the benefits of linden tree in sylvotherapy the same as those of an oak or a beech, or even a chestnut tree?

The linden tree brings a lot of comfort. It is possible to lay down our worries at its roots and feel embraced. Its connection is soft and peaceful, enveloping us with its immense benevolence. We must acknowledge the shape of its branches, the tenderness of its leaves to look at or to crunch. Its flowers are like little suns that light up the world with their light. It is a tree that is easy to approach, which is not the case with the beech or the oak. The latter requires a lot of humility, it is the master of the forest, the patriarch.  It brings us courage and strength when we need it. It is a being that roots us and helps us to go through the stages of life. The Chassagne as they say in Occitan, the name of my ancestors.

The beech is more like a teenager who carries the memory of the world and connects us to our inner temple. As for the chestnut tree, it represents the faithful friend, the companion on the road. This tree comes to us from Asia Minor. It has been able to adapt to all types of terrain, just like its generous and friendly character.

As a forest therapist, what do you think are its greatest virtues, those that it shares with no other tree?

The linden tree is a therapeutic tree. Whether by its shape, its colour, its bark, its leaves or its flowers, the whole linden tree invites serenity.

Pliny the Elder extracted a vinegar from the bark to relieve skin problems. In the Middle Ages, it was planted in many villages by royal order. The villagers would gather to talk under its welcoming boughs and the harvest of its flowers was then reserved for hospitals.

It has many properties: calming, antispasmodic, digestive. It heals the skin, gives beauty and drains the body. Whether it is the flowers or the sapwood, each of its parts contains different mucilages, terpenes and tannins.

 

The TiL estate is home to more than a hundred venerable linden trees that are about 150 years old. You talk about them as a family, where everyone plays a role. Can you tell us more about this?

A single tree planted in a garden is like an only child. The tree, and especially the linden tree, is a sociable being that likes to live with its brothers. Their branches cling to each other and to their roots. I imagine that walking around the TiL estate must be fascinating. To feel the presence of each of them, to know their shapes, their particular sensibility and to be carried towards them. Linden trees, like other trees, have no emotions, but they react to human emotions. Like an animal, it feels vibrations. So imagine yourself walking through this family of hundred-year-old trees… in a few minutes, you will come out serene and light. Absolute Zen guaranteed!

Each of the trees on the TiL estate has a very specific role.

Depending on its roots, its shape and its presence, a tree can be a guardian, a master, a healer, a teacher, a soul broker or a pillar. It is then invested with a mission and interacts accordingly with its environment.

The linden tree is one of man’s best companions, especially in our cities and parks. How can it help us in our often tiring and stressful daily lives, where we miss nature?

Just by its benevolent presence, the linden tree calms the mind, body and soul. First of all, it is necessary to leave our worries and bad thoughts far from the tree. Then, with the intention of unconditional love, walk towards the tree with an open heart, hands in front and feel it vibrate from a distance of about one meter. Listen to your body’s reactions. Does your heart beat faster? Do you feel a tingling in your hands? In your feet? Let the tree adapt and get used to your vibration, to your presence. Then move forward again. Introduce yourself to it by whispering your name. It needs to know you. Tell him what you are looking for. Gently put your left hand down, then your right hand. Lower your shoulders and breathe gently. Then rest your spine on its trunk and feel refreshed.

As you leave, thank the linden tree for what it has given you and wave at it.

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