How To Activate Your Inner Fire With An Ancient Tibetan Breath Practice
From box breathing to breath of fire, there are a number of breathwork techniques out there that all have different effects. Some can help relieve stress, while others, like tummo breathing, can help put us in a deep meditative state.
Here, we dive into what tummo breathing is all about, how to do it, and the modern benefits of this ancient practice.
What is tummo breathing?
Tummo breathing, which translates to "inner fire," is an ancient breathwork technique originally practiced by Tibetan Buddhist monks.
It can also be called Chandali yoga, and it's "an ancient tantric meditation that uses bioenergetic breathing plus visualization to increase your inner fire," says Gwen Dittmar, breathwork teacher and mbg class instructor. It pairs a specific breath pattern (more on that below) and the visualization of a flame going up the spine.
Tummo breathing vs. the Wim Hof method.
There's some nuance between tummo breathing and the Wim Hof method, though they are similar. Both involve raising your body temperature in cold conditions, and the breath pattern is similar.
However, Dittmar notes, tummo breathing involves the fire visualization where the Wim Hof method does not.
In addition to that, the Wim Hof method doesn't have any religious origins. As Dittmar explains, the Wim Hof method is comprised of three specific breathing patterns, "whereas Tummo uses breathing and visualization to summon spiritual knowledge and feels more meditative."
Benefits of tummo breath.
While there is limited research on this breathwork technique, there are a lot of anecdotal benefits.
As far as what the science can tell us, one study on tummo breathing supports the idea that the practice might help people raise their body temperature slightly.
It's even said that Buddhist monks create so much heat with tummo breath that their bodies can dry wet towels wrapped around them. The study authors write this ability to regulate body temperature "has implications for improving health and regulating cognitive performance."
In addition to that one study, anecdotal benefits include:
- Chakra activation: According to Dittmar, one of the greatest benefits of this practice is the chakra activation that occurs when you activate your inner fire. Awakening the chakras is believed to aid in all aspects of health and well-being.
- Inner transformation: Practicing this breath technique can help awaken one's personal power, transform the ego, activate joy and bliss, and send kundalini energy up the spine, Dittmar notes. This can also result in more confidence and creativity.
- Improved cognitive performance: Dittmar explains that this controlled breath may also improve concentration and focus.
- Stress management: Like most breathwork techniques, tummo breathing can help with stress management and general anxiousness. Tuning in to the breath is a helpful way to come back to the present moment whenever you feel yourself getting overwhelmed.
When to do it.
This breathwork practice can definitely rev up your energy levels, so Dittmar says it's probably not one you'd want to do before bed. "Based on the heat and enhanced focus it provides, I would do it in the morning or midday versus evening," she explains.
You could consider trying it before a big presentation or meeting, to get in the zone for meditation, in the morning to activate your inner fire for the day, or of course, if you find yourself in cold conditions and want to warm yourself up!
How to do it:
- Sit comfortably with good posture and close your eyes. Your hands will rest over your stomach for the entirety of the practice. (Note: Once you become more acquainted with the practice, it can be done standing or walking.)
- Begin to relax your mind as best you can, allowing thoughts to flow until your mind has quieted.
- Visualize a fire in your stomach around your belly button. Imagine you are a large hollow balloon with this ball of fire inside. Continue visualizing throughout the practice.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, arching your back slightly, expanding your torso and chest. Imagine the oxygen is fueling the fire within you, helping it to grow larger and hotter.
- Exhale strongly through your mouth with rounded lips, as if you were blowing through a straw. Curl forward, rounding the spine, still holding your hands to your stomach. Imagine the flame and its heat are spreading all throughout your body.
- Continue this breath pattern for five breaths and notice the heat start to build. After the fifth inhale, swallow gently and feel how that holds the inhale below the diaphragm. Contract your pelvic floor muscles, so you're simultaneously pushing the breath down with the diaphragm and up with the pelvic floor.
- Exhale after holding the breath for as long as you can, relaxing your muscles.
- Repeat the sequence for a few rounds, and you should start to feel warmer and more mentally clear.
Tips to keep in mind:
- Practice with a guide at first: Since this breathwork is a bit more complicated than your average breath practice, Dittmar advises doing it under the guidance of a trained facilitator at first. Once you understand how to do it, you can practice on your own, but it will help to have a guide initially.
- Practice on an empty stomach: Because of the contracting of the abdomen, and the need to breathe deeply into the belly, you will be much more comfortable practicing tummo breath without a full stomach.
- Consult your doctor if you have serious health conditions: This tip actually comes from Wim Hof for his method, but given the similarities between the two practices, it's worth considering here. Wim Hof advises against his method if you are pregnant, have epilepsy, high blood pressure, heart disease, or have a history of heart failure, stroke, etc. When in doubt, talk to your doctor.
The bottom line.
If you're big on breathwork, the tummo method is one clarifying breath to check out. Give it a try the next time you're stuck out in the cold or want to get focused and feel the difference the breath can bring.