Will Firewalking Burn My Feet?
When it comes to my work there are two questions that I get asked most frequently. One is ‘what do you wear in a sweat lodge?’ and the second is ‘will firewalking burn my feet?’. You can read my post answering the sweat lodge question here, but I guess it’s about time I addressed the issue of smouldering feet, which is a bit more complex than you might expect! Let me break it down to make it easy…
What does firewalking feel like on your feet?
Firewalking can feel at different times, this is partly because different woods burn at different temperatures, and also form different types of coals. So sometimes a firewalk can feel quite hard, more like a gravel path. Sometimes it can feel pretty darn hot – I call it spicy. Sometimes it can feel quite tingly too.
The most common experience of a firewalk is nothing uncomfortable, but a tingly buzz that lasts for a while afterwards.
When you get the opportunity, stand up, and spread your arms out to your sides. Count 3, 2, 1, and clap your hands together as hard as you can. You’ll notice for a while afterwards that your hands have a buzz to them, but don’t hurt. This is the easiest way to experience a similar thing to you would on your feet.
Is Firewalking a trick?
Nope. It’s a real fire. A really, really hot, real fire.
So I guess the next question has to be….
How hot is a firewalk?
I don’t really like working with numbers, I think that as soon as you start going into that area when you are firewalking you are at risk of slipping in to ego, so I never measure my firewalks. Temperature or length. I tend to just tell people that the coals they are about to walk would melt a car engine block if you sat it on top. But those that do measure the temperatures have recorded anything up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, I personally doubt that the majority of fires are quite that hot.
Numbers aside, once the fire has burned down, and the coals are ready to walk, they’re seriously really really hot! So this brings us right back where we started….
Will firewalking burn?
My feet are very soft… I can’t walk very quickly…. I’m told I have a heavy gait… I only have short legs…
If a firewalk is that hot, how come it doesn’t burn?
Well the truth is that sometimes it does… but before you run and hide and swear not to firewalk EVER, please read on.
As a firewalk facilitator, it’s my job to get everyone across the coals safely and enjoyably, but the reason I call myself a facilitator, not an instructor is that, when we get down to the real nitty-gritty of firewalking, the fire is the teacher.
What this means is that I trust that the fire will give everyone what they need, or what they are truly looking for. I equip people to be able to attain the right level of energy and focus to firewalk, respect for the fire and maintaining that level of focus and energy makes firewalking a hugely impactful and empowering experience for everyone involved. This doesn’t mean that you need to be in a ‘hippie, or hypnotic state’ it means you have to approach the fire with respect and an open heart.
At my firewalks people regularly get the opportunity to walk more than once. I have often seen people walk once, and their feet are fine. They walk again, and their feet are still absolutely fine. Then maybe on their third or fourth time crossing the coals they start to get a little blasé, maybe even a little bit cocky. As they stop respecting the fire, it can sometimes give a wee blister, just to remind people that this is not a game.
I call this type of blister a Fire Kiss. In reality, it is nothing worse than when a new pair of shoes rubs a wee blister on your foot. If you don’t focus on it, the blister will be gone in a few days, and will not cause any problems in the meantime.
And just like a bit of toast that’s been in the toaster too long, just underneath it’s soft and fresh and as good as new.
Has anyone ever got badly burned at your firewalks?
On one occasion a woman came to a firewalk where I was facilitating. She introduced herself and explained why she had come. She told me that she was there in memory of her partner who had recently died of cancer. He had undergone aggressive treatment for his cancer which included radio and chemotherapy, which had made him feel that his feet were on fire every day for months before he moved on.
She was so focussed on burning feet, she told me that she was there to experience at least a little of what her partner had experienced too. I was concerned about her walking, but I knew that I also trusted the process, and trusted the fire. I spoke with James who was fire tending so that we were both aware of what the situation was, and we both agreed that it was a process she needed to go through.
During the pre-walk ‘seminar’ at a firewalk, I always talk about personal responsibility, and how one of the things you can gain from a firewalk is the ability to tune in to your intuition. One of the things I always say is that the bravest person at a firewalk is the person that chooses not to walk on that occasion – despite the peer pressure etc it’s okay not to walk at a walk.
The woman chose to walk, and about 3/4 of the way down the coal bed she hopped off. I guessed that the fire had given her a bit of a kiss, but was happy that she had got what she had come to the firewalk for, and that no serious harm was done.
A few minutes later I saw her come round to walk again. This was the only time I have ever advised someone not to walk. She looked white as a sheet, more nervous than I’ve ever seen anyone look at a walk, and I’ve seen some seriously nervous people!
I said to her to remember the talk I had given, that she didn’t HAVE to walk again, but her response was ‘I do have to walk, they didn’t get a good photo’.
This woman left the firewalk with some burns on her toes.
I believe that the fire gave her what she needed. Maybe both the experience of burning feet like her lost partner, and a good photo for Facebook.
What does this mean for a firewalker?
On the other end of the scale, I’ve walked 108 fires in one evening. Twice. Without even the weeniest of blisters on my feet. In fact, hundreds, probably thousands, of people firewalk every year around the world, safely and enjoyably.
It’s important to walk with a qualified instructor (don’t be afraid to ask for credentials if you don’t see anything on their website) preferably with a qualified fire tender too.
Pay attention during the pre-walk talk. When your mind is on the firewalk it may well be that you’ll have forgotten a lot of what was said just a few days later, but on the day take the time to listen to what’s going on.
And most importantly, trust the process. Trust the fire. Set your intentions for a really fulfilling and magical experience – take my word for it that the instructor will have done this, and probably asked their whole tribe to do the same for the event too.
When your moment comes, stop worrying ‘will firewalking burn my feet?’ and enjoy your moment!
I support people to look beyond their limitations, to find a space where adventure meets inner peace