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Winter Forest Bathing: How to meditate outside in the winter

Winter offers unique opportunities for mindfulness meditation.

winter forest bathing mindfulness meditation

At my fall outdoor wellness retreat, we tried forest bathing (or shinrin-yoku as it is known in Japan) and it had been a huge success. But I live in Canada and where I live it gets cold, really, really cold and getting outside in the winter can be a pain in the a**. I wanted to know if I could do this great practice of Forest Bathing in the winter. So I decided I was just going to say F***it, give it a try and see what happens.

Forest bathing is the practice of mindfully spending time in the forest.

Forest bathing is the practice of mindfully spending time in the forest. The practice of forest bathing originated in Japan and has been a popular activity in Japan ever since. Books on forest bathing often speak about practicing this outdoor form of meditation in the warmer months, looking at the leaves in the trees and sniffing in the natural aromas of the forest. But there is something to be said about getting outside in the winter when there are no leaves.

In the winter our natural instinct is to hibernate inside.

The cold air and short days make going outside seem exceptionally challenging and uncomfortable. But our minds play tricks on us, making something that could be exceptionally beneficial seem foreboding and difficult. So, at the last minute, I booked a winter forest bathing event for my mindfulness outdoors group.

"We start by bringing our awareness to our senses."

Here's what we did and what you can do to forest bathe and soak in the winter:

As with any mindfulness practice, we start by bringing our awareness to our senses. The winter months offer a unique and rejuvenating sensory experience such as the crisp and refreshing feeling of the cold air and longer viewpoints through the leafless trees. With the light reflecting off the snow in the evening, it is particularly stunning. The forest bathing event I planned was in the evening which I thought may have been nuts but turned out to be an excellent opportunity to enjoy how the light of the city illuminates the snow in our city park.

One thing that is essential to winter forest bathing (and all winter activities actually) is good gear. The proper equipment is what takes the foreboding uncomfortable-ness out of winter. I know all about good gear because I have something called cold-induced asthma which is exactly what it sounds like; I get asthma attacks if I breathe too much cold air. So don't just throw on a coat and call it a day.

It is best to layer, layer and layer like a 7-tier wedding cake.

Tier 1: A base layer of thermal clothing to keep your core warm (steer clear of cotton! It will get damp and stay cold).

Tier 2: Add a mid-layer for insulation. This can be something like a wool sweater or a light jacket.

Tier 3: Finally, top it off with a waterproof and windproof outer layer.

Mittens are warmer than gloves.

You will also probably need accessories. In my part of the world, Montreal, Quebec, you will need a pair of mitts (insider tip: mitts are waaaaaaay warmer than gloves), a touque (Canadian for hat you wear in the winter) and a scarf (a scarf is crucial and many people I meet don't know how to optimize it's amazing-ness).

You will also want/need suitable footwear. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to feet but warm, waterproof, and with a decent grip are probably a good idea/essential. And maybe cleats or crampons if you live somewhere where ice is a thing, a real thing.

If you struggle with poor circulation and cold hands and feet, you may want to get hand or foot heaters which you tuck into your mitts and boots.

Once you’re properly dressed and prepared, it’s time to head outside.

Find your way to a nearby park or forest and bring your awareness and focus to what is going on around you. Allow yourself to fully engage with your surroundings and your senses. Listen to the sounds of the forest, feel the texture of the trees and plants, and take in the sights and smells. At the winter forest bathing event I hosted, we did a treasure hunt to engage our sense of adventure and a childlike, observing point of view.

Several winter sports lend themselves nicely to mindful moments outside.

Winter forest bathing is just one way to be mindful outdoors in the winter. Several winter sports lend themselves nicely to mindful moments outside. This could be something as simple as a leisurely walk on a snowy path, or something more strenuous like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. What makes it mindful is being present with what you sense going on around you and within you.

Overall, forest bathing in the winter can be a wonderful way to reconnect with nature and improve your physical and mental health. So why not bundle up and give it a try? You may be surprised at just how much it can do for you.

Want to dive deeper into mindfulness? Check out other articles on my blog, or participate in one of my outdoor mindfulness meditation retreats.

Dr. Moire Stevenson is a licensed clinical psychologist and outdoor enthusiast with a background in biochemistry and biology.


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