Winter Forest Bathing
As a hiking and snowshoe guide of 20 plus years in the Canadian Rockies, I can attest to the magic winter holds for people and how they light up when the see the beauty of snow crystals or trees laden with snow. Combine the beauty of winter and the healing power of Forest Therapy and you have a recipe for a truly soul nourishing experience.
Delivering Forest Therapy in winter takes a special skill. This article includes some tips and tricks that will help you lead successful winter programs. Additionally, you will also find some fun invitations to try.
If it's below freezing, I have had folks wait in their cars until everyone is there as an effort to save their heat before we begin. When you are meeting folks look them over (subtly). Do they have warm boots, lots of layers, mitts and a warm hat? Remind folks know they need to be over dressed for this as they will not be doing anything that generates any heat. At this stage many will say they will be fine...remember they don't really know what they are getting into. You can kindly say "if I were wearing that sweater/those runners/no hat I would be really cold after 30 minutes". The key is to have them dressed super warm before they leave the parking lot.
Bring some sit upons for people to use during sit spot (if you do it) and tea ceremony. Some folks buy individual ones. Alternatively, you can buy a blue foam sleeping pad and cut it up into squares. Make sure your squares are large enough for folks to sit on comfortably.
When doing POP be sure to place the group in an area out of the wind, perhaps in the forest in a sunny spot if possible.
For WIM, try to do it in a protected area. If nothing is moving, you could invite them to notice the designs of the snow or the frost on everything. Walking into the sun with fresh frost is beautiful.
Decide what the lowest temperature you are comfortable guiding in and for how long. I live in the mountains of western Canada and it can get really cold here. After experimenting how to do this in winter (during a really cold winter) I decided my cut off is around -7C (19F) and I will go out for 1.5 hours, sometimes I have shortened it to 1 hour because folks were cold. Once it's above freezing I will lead a walk for 2 hours but it's best to finish before your folks are popsicles.
If you have access to a fire pit that would be very helpful. You could do POP and WIM to a fire pit and pulse out from there. I have done programs where we went inside to a fire for the tea ceremony.
Between invitations check in to see how folks are doing, ask about their hands and feet. If their hands are cold show them how to warm them up by swinging your arms in circles vigorously, this will shunt blood down to the fingers. You can do the same thing for the feet, just swing their legs front and back vigorously (they may need to hold on to something or someone, so they don't slip).
Carry hand warmers and offer to folks when their hands are really cold. Don't offer them at the beginning of your walk or you will go broke with hand warmer costs. You can also do jumping jacks to warm up, however if they are that cold you may consider shortening your program.
Try building in "here to there" invitations so they can keep moving. Instead of doing a group council try a pair share while walking then arrow to the heart as a group.
Ideally use a trail that is slightly uphill to start so they can generate heat while walking to the POP location. Remember to walk at a moderate pace not a fast pace as folks will slip out of liminal space.
•Frost Art - As we walk along notice what the frost has created all around you.
•Sounds of Winter - Follow your body radar to a spot and listen to the sounds of winter.
•Winter senses - Follow your body radar and explore winter with all your senses. You can follow one at a time or let it emerge sense by sense.
•Snowflake Gazing - I invite you to observe attentively one or a few snowflakes as they fall as long as you can. I invite you to look at the snow falling and dancing in the wind.
•Snow Up Close - bring magnifying classes and invite them to look at the many different designs of snowflakes.
•Shades of White - Wander around and notice the different shades of white.
•Snow Art - I invite you to create a piece of art made of snow as a way to express your relationship with the forest or anything else you would like to express.
•Movement and Mirrors - as we will be walking along that trail and noticing what's in motion, I invite you to imitate the movement of what you are noticing or to do whatever else feels right for you to keep your blood warm.
•Snow Play - I invite you to lie in the snow (perhaps make a snow angle) and pay attention to your body sensations as it moves through the snow.
•Ice Music - I invite you to listen to the water flowing underneath the ice.
•Snow landing - I invite you to feel the snow land on you and melt or watch a snowflake land.
•Speaking from the Heart in Council with Warm Rocks - Notice how it feels to be out here this wintery morning/afternoon. Bring awareness to your heart space and the hearts reaction to being here. Try using a heart shaped rock and small pebbles (just about the size that would fit in a hand), warm them up by soaking them in boiling water and drying them up before leaving on the walk. Use the heart shaped rock as a talking piece after WIM and explain the idea is to speak from the heart and listening from the heart. People love to warm their hands on it when they speak. Then, if people seem to be cold, give out the pebbles for them to warm up their hands. They are my ecofriendly hand warmers. They stay warm for at least an hour. Put them in a bag (an insulated lunch box would be best) next to a mason jar of boiling water (which you can use for tea). Feel free to adapt it as you want.