Revealing the Secrets of Tibetan Inner Fire Meditation

tummo inner fire

The title is not click bait, the instructions I am about to share with you are actually considered secret in the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition. I studied the teachings of Inner Fire Meditation or Tummo in depth during my five years living and studying at a Tibetan Buddhist centre and got into a lot of trouble when it became known I was giving these instructions to beginners in my guided meditation classes. But this method is too good to keep secret and has enormous potential to heal, clear the mind, calm the body and bring tremendous joy and confidence into people’s life.

I was reprimanded by the senior nun at the Buddhist centre I was living and teaching at and told not just anyone can learn these techniques because she said it was dangerous and years of preliminary training was necessary which included making ritualistic offerings to the Guru, thousands of prostrations and recitations of thousands of purification mantras. I pleaded with her that these simple instructions are so beneficial for people and anyway they are freely available on the internet and in book stores these days and are also very similar to the Pranayama breathing exercises I have learned doing general yoga classes. I also argued that the founder of the centre where we were at said that inner fire was a perfect practise for westerners, but it all fell on the ears of a fundamentalist traditional Buddhist nun and I was told to stop. This began my journey of teaching the Way Meditation outside of tradition and in a way that helped and appealed to modern people.

I learned Tummo or Inner Fire meditation directly from a Tibetan Dzogchen Master Karma Lhundrup who was also breaking with tradition and teaching it to beginners. I also learned the details by reading extensively the works of Meditation Master and revered Tibetan yogi Lama Thubten Yeshe, he taught that inner fire meditation is a perfect meditation for westerners because it brings very quick results and it is like a recipe, when you put all the ingredients together it just works.

I have had great results practising inner fire and it has been one of my main meditation practises for over 10 years. I have in no way mastered the skills to the level of Tibet yogi’s who can withstand extremely cold weather scantly dressed, but I have had humble results of improved concentration and focus, more energy and confidence and experiences of blissful inner pleasure.

More experienced adepts of inner fire meditation have been studied by scientist and the results were remarkable and unexplainable in western scientific terms.  Herbert Benson is an associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School and president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He has studied extraordinary human potential since the 80’s and:

“During visits to remote monasteries in the 1980s, Benson and his team studied monks living in the Himalayan Mountains who could, by g Tum-mo meditation, raise the temperatures of their fingers and toes by as much as 17 degrees. It has yet to be determined how the monks are able to generate such heat.” – See the Harvard Tummo Experiment for more info.

In Alexandra David-Neel’s book Magic and Mystery in Tibet, contains her early-twentieth-century accounts of inner fire meditation being performed by Tibetan Buddhist monks. Alexandra described what she saw in a midwinter encounter:

“The meditators sit on the ground, cross-legged and naked. Sheets are dipped in the icy water, each man wraps himself in one of them and must dry it on his body. As soon as the sheet has become dry, it is again dipped in the water and placed on the novice’s body to be dried as before. The operation goes on [in] that fashion until daybreak. Then he who has dried the largest number of sheets is acknowledged the winner of the competition. Besides drying wet sheets on one’s body, there exist various other tests to ascertain the degree of heat which the neophyte is able to radiate. One of these tests consists in sitting in the snow. The quantity of snow melted under the man and the distance at which it melts around him are taken as measures of his ability.”

Benefits of Inner Fire Meditation

  1. Improved Clarity & Concentration. Inner Fire Meditation requires visualisation, incorporating focussed attention and breathing exercises. In Tibetan Buddhism this is known as a fast and secret way to develop concentration because you you utilise your breath, imagination and attention all in the one practise. It also develops a sharp and clear awareness through raising the vitality and energy levels to heightened states of awareness.
  2. Improved Health and More Vitality. Inner Fire Meditation uses what is commonly know in India as Prana, or in Japan it is known as Reiki or in China it is called Chi. These mysterious forces within us are associated with health, healing and a long life. Usually we waste our energy through stressing and dissipating this energy in the pursuit of external satisfaction but Inner Fire Meditation harnesses this energy, grows it and uses it for spiritual development with the side effect of improved health and vitality.
  3. Opening the Chakras. Many people ask me how do I open my chakras? well, Inner Fire Meditation is a brilliant way to do this and is one of the main reasons for this practise. The main goal for the practise is to achieve enlightenment through clearing the chakras, entering the central channel and giving rise to special bliss and clarity which very easily understands that enlightenment is already our true nature.  But even beginners have remarkable results.
  4. More Confidence and Power. Practising inner Fire Meditation connects the practitioner with the power centre of the second chakra which in yoga is associated with physical power, sexuality and creativity. It helps to focus and use nervous energy in a positive way to help build confidence and dispel confusion. In martial arts this is the centre where martial artist’s draw their strength from to perform amazing feats of balance, strength and busting through cement blocks with their strikes. And in Tai Chi this is where all the focus is held to develop graceful and perfectly balanced movement. Harnessing this inner power is harnessing the power to achieve all your goals and dreams and to gain the energy to reach your full potential.
  5. Inner Bliss and Joy. The energy you are cultivating is very joyful and blissful. This brings an enthusiasm for the practise that is not found in your usual ‘just sitting meditations’ which can become very boring. This inner bliss can even help to overcome addiction. If addiction is chasing pleasure then as Lama Yeshe says the bliss of inner fire makes all other pleasures pale in comparison. This inner bliss is the cultivation of the famous Kundalini energy which is a mysterious inner joy unlike that of external pleasures such as sex or eating chocolate. Also you can cultivate this energy anywhere at any time; I like to practice while driving and it’s also useful for when you are feeling cold or nervous as the inner bliss really does bring a real and tangible heat and confidence with it.
  6. Enlightenment. The ultimate goal of this practise is enlightenment -that is the union or Oneness with a divine nature. In Tibetan Buddhism the time of death is a very important time to practise meditation to achieve enlightenment because the clear white light naturally appears for everyone at the time of death. If through practise you can recognise that light as your own essence; enlightenment is easy. Inner Fire Meditation is a method to generate this clear white light during your lifetime so you don’t have to wait till death and merge with it while you are an individual to bring enormous benefit to your yourself and for others.
  7. Removes Obstacles. Inner fire meditation awakens a powerful inner energy which overwhelms the ego and takes over. It is said that practising this meditation regularly quickly removes obstacles to spiritual and worldly success. This meditation comes from the completion stage of Vajrayana which is a fast track method to enlightenment. Even though this has traditionally been kept secret and only given to the most advanced students many respected teachers are now saying that in this time of powerful negativity there needs to be powerful practises like this one given to the general public to help combat those negative forces.

The Beginners Practice of Inner Fire Meditation

  1. Firstly sit in an upright and comfortable meditation posture- click here for tips on a great meditation posture 
  2. Visualise yourself as hollow, like a balloon. Your skin is glowing and brilliant and on the inside there is only empty space. Take a few moment to strongly establish this visualisation.
    1. Visualise a ‘central channel’ about a 1cm thick from your perineum to the crown of your head and two ‘side channels’ going in through the nostrils up to the third eye or eyebrow level and then going down either side of the central channel merging at just below the navel. All the ‘channels’ are hollow like plumbing pipes. Take a moment to establish this visualisation, it does get easier and even instantaneous with practice. See image.
    2. Even if you cannot do the former visualisation this next step is the most important in generating the blissful energy: Imagine your breath energy going down the two side channels and merging into the central channel just below the navel (about a few cm in front of the spine). Imagine a very small and very hot ball of light in the central channel and your breath ignites this fiery ball and makes it extremely hot. Now hold the breath there in that ball of heat at the navel, for 5-15 seconds (experienced yogis can hold the breath here for several minutes) WARNING: stop immediately and breath normally if you get dizzy.
    3. This next step is optional but helps to generate even more heat and focussed attention: As you are holding the breath inside the central channel at the small ball of heat just below the navel, draw energy up from below and down from above and lock and trap it in the ball of heat. Draw it up by activating the perineum muscle (like you are holding back from urinated), hold this muscle and lock it in. Simultaneously swallow some saliva down to get the feeling of pushing down on the ball of heat at the navel and lock it in. Experiment with this. You may wish to lock it in by drawing up from below first and then push down from above, or vice versa. Do what feels best for you to get the sense you are locking in a tremendous amount of energy in a tiny space at the navel.
    4. Now release all the energy you have created – straight up through the central and bursting out the top of your head like a fountain. As the energy rushes up through the central channel it blows away any blockages in all the chakras from the solar plexus, the heart, the throat, the third eye and crown chakra. this energy cleanses and purifies your entire body mind system. You can also imagine releasing the energy into parts of your body you need to heal.
    5. Repeat steps 2-6  …try Inner Fire Meditation for 2-5 minutes to begin with. Do not practice for extended periods of time until you become familiar with the practise and feel confident and strong enough to do so.

    This may have sounded complicated, but it is incredibly simple to practice. For an easy and modified version simply take long slow breaths right down into the navel area and hold it there for a short time and release it, this can also be enough to generate heat and bliss.

    This has been a brief and beginners overview of the Inner Fire Meditation method, but it can still bring all the benefits listed above if done regularly. For more detailed information and instructions including how this practice can lead to subtle clear light and enlightenment; I would highly recommend the book by Lama Yeshe “The Bliss of Inner Fire” 

    NOTE: This is a practice using your own energy, your own breath and your own mind, that can bring speedy and remarkable results, in my opinion it should not be kept secret. Experiment to see what works for you – Notice the inner calm and space you can create whilst holding the breath. Notice the heat energy build up when you hold your breath and lock in the energy. And notice the relaxation and healing response when you let go of the breath. Even just taking long slow breaths and holding and releasing activates a calming response in the body and mind. I generally practice this meditation to clear my mind and relax my body before I settle into simply sitting meditation practise.

This article has been republished from The Way of Meditation.