Exploring Winter Forest Bathing:

The Wellness Benefits of Connecting with Winter

Cover image for a blog post. In the top left corner is a turquoise box with text that reads: "Exploring Winter Forest Bathing - The Wellness Benefits of Connecting to Winter By: Katie Venechuk, Forest Therapy Guide & IYE Founder". A photo in the background shows a snowy open field with patches of tall brown grasses and plants peeking through snowcover. The sky in the background is obscured by falling snow. In the foreground of the photo, a woman is kneeling in the snow with her hands on her lap. She is wearing a dark coat and knit hat and a red scarf. She lifts her face upwards, taking in the fresh air. The In Your Element logo is in the top right corner of the image.

We all know the feeling.  You wake up on a cloudy winter morning, look outside, and slump inward at the thought of facing another gray and cold day.  

Winter can be really hard.  

Especially if you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) each year.  

As a former member of the SAD club, I spent many years thinking I was destined for a lifetime of winter dread.  I struggled with the lack of light and the constant frigid cold, and I spent months glued to my couch in a giant blanket, waiting impatiently for spring.  

My exploration into winter forest bathing was an unlikely one.  But one fateful day, after shivering to the bone while walking to meetings in downtown Grand Rapids, I declared that I was done being cold for the sake of my thin (but fashionable) pea coat. 

That evening, I spent hours hunting online for the warmest jacket I could afford to buy.  When my jacket arrived a week later, I wrapped myself up in the warm feather down and I felt a smile spread across my face.  To celebrate, I went outside and took a short walk around my neighborhood.  

In Your Element founder Katie is pictured from behind, walking over an open area covered with thick snow, with a snow-covered forest ahead of her. She is wearing a dark winter hat with a fur pompom, a dark winter coat that almost reaches her knees, dark pants, and tan and black boots. Katie's long, curly light brown hair is visible over her left shoulder, and she is holding a green walking stick in her left hand.

I didn’t hate it.  

A few days later, I tried out sitting on my front porch with a hot cup of tea, so I could watch the birds.  

And it was actually kind of nice.

After that, I began to go for short Sunday jaunts in the wintery woods with my husband.  

It was stunningly beautiful.

After just a couple months of exploring winter nature with an open mind in my warm jacket, I was shocked at how much better I felt.  

The fresh air, the winter birdsong, the sparkles of the frost, the crunch of snow underfoot and architecture of the trees…all of it began to blend together into a symphony of experience that completely trumped the pull of the couch and the vortex of Netflix. 

Since that first season of winter forest bathing, the season has slowly transformed into a time of year that I appreciate in entirely unique ways.  

And if my former winter-hating self can make this shift, I truly believe that anyone can.  

But you need to step outside!

If you’d like to explore how forest bathing can help you boost your winter wellness and enhance your relationship with the cold weather season, you’re in the right place my friend.

Read on to learn more, and if you’re in the west Michigan region, come join us for a Winter Forest Bathing class sometime!  We’d love to have you there.

A woman with her back to the camera is walking through a snowy forest. She is wearing a navy blue winter coat with the fur-lined hood over her head and is lifting her arms into the air. She is wearing gloves and her hands are open toward the sky.

Why Going Outside in the Winter Matters for Our Wellness

If you live in a four season climate and you have no plans to move elsewhere, winter is a yearly reality.  

It’s a time of the year when cold weather naturally pulls us indoors, but months spent living inside sealed up buildings can get to us after a while.  It’s not just the physical impacts of breathing in recycled air and slowly losing our natural production of Vitamin D.  There are emotional and mental impacts, too, from depression and increased anxiety, to irritability and loss of interest in our work and day-to-day experiences.  

By the month of February, it’s incredibly easy to find ourselves wishing away the days until spring; dreaming of fresh air, warm breezes and the color green.  But wishing away our days doesn’t change anything.  It certainly won’t make the season go by any faster.

As humans living in a four-season climate, spring and summer are just a portion of our yearly experience.  

If we live in a state of resistance to the world outside for one half of every year of our lives, it can be pretty tough on both our short term and long term sense of well-being.  

Our wellness thrives when we can find joy in our day-to-day experiences.  This includes our experiences on the deepest days of winter as well as the warmest days of summer. 

If we can find a way to shift our experience of winter from one of resistance to appreciation, it can enhance our lives and give us back the gift of time.  

It’s worth a try, no…?

Winter Forest Bathing: How it serves us in a different way than winter sports & hiking

An evergreen tree is shown in winter, with layers of branches, snow and pine needles high into the sky.. The photo is taken from below the tree and is a detailed view looking up the trunk.

Winter hiking and winter sports are wonderful ways to get outside, but winter forest bathing is an approach that focuses on nurturing our sense of relationship with the world around us.  It goes beyond just getting you outside and prompts you to heighten your awareness of the beauty and cycles of all seasons. 

Winter forest bathing can offer us a potent reminder that we are not alone in the experience of winter.  It’s not ‘us in here’ and ‘winter out there.’  Winter is a change in seasons, and every living being on the landscape is adapting to the cold and living through it alongside us.  The trees shed their leaves and prepare buds for the spring.  The animals build nests and burrows to keep warm.  There are perennial bulbs beneath our feet in the soil, waiting to grow again when the world thaws back out.  

When we forest bathe, we can take time to explore and appreciate the beauty of those winter tree buds.  

We can wander through the snow and enjoy the tracks and evidence of animals, mapped out in a way you’ll see in no other season.  

This type of connection can hit us in a very special way, and it’s a bond that can be quite wonderful to discover.  We’re all just riding the tilt of the earth together.  Us as humans, the plants and trees, the animals that call this land home, the birds who migrate to our regions for the season, and so much more. 

Some Tips to Get You Started

If you’d like to explore forest bathing but you’re not sure what it is, we recommend you hop over to Forest Bathing Demystified on our blog to get the rundown on the practice.  After that, here are some tips to help enhance your winter experience!

Tip 1:  Dress WARM!  

You know that old saying “there’s no bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”?  It’s TRUE, TRUE, TRUE.  Bundle up.  Snow pants are not just for kids, friends!  (For our fashionable friends out there, don’t forget that cozy and warm is a lovely look!)

For our fashionable friends out there, don’t forget that cozy and warm is a lovely look!

Tip 2:  Allow yourself an open mind and take it slow 

Winter will naturally help you slow down, so allow it and see what unfolds.  Forest bathing is all about enjoying an unhurried pace and exploring through your senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and sounds.  If a bird sings nearby, gift yourself the time to pause and listen until the song is over.  If snowflakes are falling, maybe you’d like to tip your head back and watch them drift, or try to catch a few on your tongue.  If you’re only able to go outside in the dark, see if you can find a safe place to do some winter stargazing – which can be truly spectacular.  

Tip 3:  Start close to home (especially if winter driving conditions are bad)

Step outside and explore your backyard.  If you live in an urban setting, consider focusing on the trees you can find near your home.  It’s often the nature nearby that changes our day-to-day experiences, so explore and discover what’s outside your front door.

Tip 4:  Head out 3-4 times a week, and try to give it at least 30 minutes

Acclimating to the cold and uncovering the beauties of the season can take some time.  To get started, try going outside for winter forest bathing 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes at a time over a couple weeks, then see how you feel.

Tip 5:  Head out with a trained forest therapy guide for a winter forest bathing experience

A guide can help you relax into the environment and explore the winter world in new ways.  Guided forest bathing programs also tend to bring you outdoors alongside others from your community, which can help offset some of the loneliness so many of us battle in the winter.  If you’re in the west Michigan area, you can join our guide Katie Venechuk for monthly forest bathing programs year-round by visiting our Calendar & Booking page, or you can find a guide in another region by visiting the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy directory of trained guides.

The photo shows a group of people at a winter forest bathing class led by In Your Element at Provin Trails in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Twelve or more people dressed in winter coats, snowpants, and hats of different colors stand in a semi-circle in a snowy forest landscape.

The Gift of Winter Forest Bathing

Charles Dickens once wrote “Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own.” 

Exploring this is what winter forest bathing is all about.

I hope this has inspired you to head outside this winter and explore what nature has to share.  

Winter wellness awaits, my friends.  We’ll see you in the forest soon!

Leave a Reply