Firewalking: Be Light on Your Feet

Firewalking: Be Light on Your Feet

As I was researching “firewalking” for this feature, I came across an article entitled “KFC Bosses Aren’t Chicken, but They Sure Are Tender.”  Kentucky Fried Chicken was holding a management development conference for their Australian executives in Port Stephens, New South Wales.  One of the confidence-building exercises was firewalking.  Of the 30 managers participating, 20 received burns serious enough for treatment.  Fortunately, only seven were seriously burned.  I decided to dig a little deeper into the physics and history of firewalking.

Firewalking is defined as walking barefoot over hot coals—not the kind of coals used on a grill, but coals made from burning wood.  It has been practiced for centuries in many cultures around the world.  Firewalking was known as a rite of passage, a test of strength and courage, or as a test of one’s religious faith.  Many people still believe it is a paranormal experience or “mind over matter,” but 20th century scientists believe it is a physical phenomenon, not a supernatural one. 

In the past 30 years, firewalking has gained attention as a team-building exercise.  A quick search revealed some companies now offering firewalking courses.  You can even become a certified firewalking instructor (see Firewalking.com).   

Here’s how firewalking works, and why there aren’t more incidents like the one in Australia.  Wood is a poor conductor but a good insulator, even when it’s on fire.  When the fire has burned down, there is a layer of ash over the coals, and the coals themselves don’t throw off much heat.  If you walk briskly across them, the soles of your feet make very little contact.  You don’t want to run because this will push your feet deeper into the coals.  If your feet make contact with coals that have not burned down enough, you can end up with burns and blisters.

Whether purely a physical experience or a paranormal one, I’m sure it’s exhilarating to walk through fire.  Since I live on the East Coast, I’m thinking of checking out Firewalking.com’s “Empowerment Coach and Firewalk Instructor Certification” course in Delaware this May.

- Patty Boyd, IPFH Roving Reporter




Firewalking: Myth vs Physics


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