Many of the most popular breathwork and mindful movement techniques used in yoga and meditation have their roots in ancient Buddhism.
While the context in which these exercises take place has changed dramatically, that doesn’t mean they’re no longer super impactful.
Tummo Breathing is an ancient Buddhist technique that can still have transformative effects when practiced today.
It involves manipulating the body, the breath, and the mind in order to help us cope with tough physical conditions and experience new states.
In this article, we’ll be diving into the role of this exercise, and how it could potentially make a difference to your life.
We’ll be focusing on these key points:
- What Is Tummo Breathing?
- Origins Of The Practice
- The Effects Of The Tummo Breathing Technique
- A Practical Guide To The Tummo Breathing Technique
- The Impact Of Mindful Breathing
Okay, let’s get into it.
What Is Tummo Breathing?
Taking a more mindful approach to breathing can have amazing effects.
As the famous Vietnamese monk and spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “To master the breath is to be in control of our bodies and minds.”
The Tummo breathing technique latches onto this idea and manipulates the breath in order to generate inner warmth and improve physical and mental health as a result.
“Tummo” translates as “Inner Fire”, which gives us a pretty good idea of the purpose of this technique.
The ancient Tibetan Buddhist breathwork practice is all about raising the body’s temperature using a combination of visualization, breathwork, and muscle tensing.
Also referred to as G-Tummo breathing or G-Tummo meditation, Tummo breathing can be used as a form of quiet meditation on the power of the human body, although its roots are a little bit deeper than that.
Originally, this breathwork exercise was used within a practical context. Today, it could be performed in an ice bath, a cold bath, or when outside in cold weather conditions, and it’s this last situation that gave birth to Tummo breathwork in the first place.
Origins Of The Practice
Tummo breathing dates back to sacred Tibetan Buddhist texts published in the 8th century. But why was it invented in the first place?
Essentially, it comes down to the extreme conditions of the Tibetan plateau, in which temperatures often drop below zero due to high altitude.
The ‘Inner Fire’ technique was developed by Buddhist monks as a way of raising bodily heat when they were exposed to the natural elements. Doing so is supposed to help meditators accomplish a greater degree of focus and relaxation.
Warming the body was one of the original intentions of this practice, but it goes beyond just that.
Within Tummo meditation’s spiritual context, Tibetan monks often use this technique to get rid of sinful thoughts and cultivate a clearer, more honest, more open mind.
By encouraging a deeper connection between mind and body, the Tummo breathing technique can enhance both meditation and broader experiences. Its benefits are both mental and physical.
But how exactly does this process work?
The Effects Of The Tummo Breathing Technique
According to breathwork teacher Gwen Dittmar, Tummo breathing is “an ancient tantric meditation that uses bioenergetic breathing plus visualization to increase your inner fire.”
If this sounds a little vague, you’ll be pleased to know that in recent decades, scientists have begun to study the effects of the Tummo breathing technique, and they’ve found some pretty amazing results.
In the 1980s, Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Herbert Benson conducted a study into the effects of Tummo breathing on Buddhist monks.
Using electroencephalography (EEG) recordings and temperature measures, he found that the practice could cause serious increases in core body temperature, from 98.6°F (36.6°C) up to 101°F (38.3° C).
Even in extremely cold conditions, for example, while meditating outside wearing nothing but some basic woolen robes, the Tibetan monks studied were able to maintain remarkable levels of body heat.
And it’s not just limited temperature increases — Benson’s research also found that this breathing exercise can lower metabolic rates by 64%.
Other potential health benefits include reduced stress and anxiety, decreased blood pressure, and less risk of cardiac irregularities.
In terms of both benefits and practical elements, Tummo breathing can be likened to the famous Wim Hof breathing method for tackling cold exposure and endurance.
However, there are some key differences. Firstly, Wim Hof describes his method as relating mainly to “cold hard nature”, while Tummo comes from deep spiritual roots and Buddhist beliefs.
Let’s flesh out the differences in some more detail by offering a practical guide to the practice of Tummo breathwork.
A Practical Guide To The Tummo Breathing Technique
Tummo Breathing consists of three key steps, and each one of them is crucial to the efficacy of the practice.
Let’s go through them one by one.
Visualization is a crucial part of Tummo breathing that distinguishes it from the Wim Hof method. It involves following these steps:
- Visualize a fire burning inside your stomach.
- Place your hands on your stomach and think of yourself as a large, empty balloon with a small source of warmth at the center.
- Feel the heat in your stomach and visualize that small inner fire, keeping the image in your head throughout the rest of the practice.
#2: Practice Vase Breathing
Next, you want to manipulate your body by practicing a specific breathing technique called ‘vase breathing’. Here’s how it works:
- Breathe in, moving your body back slowly. Imagine that the oxygen you’re taking in is fanning the flames of the fire in your belly and helping that inner fire burn.
- Round your lips like you’re blowing through a straw, and exhale strongly and slowly through your mouth. Perform a slow, gentle rocking motion as you inhale and exhale breaths.
- Use this movement to help you build a rhythm throughout your Tummo session.
Step 3: Base belly hold
The base belly hold is the crucial third step of the Tummo breathing practice. Here’s what it involves:
- On your 5th inhale, hold and swallow, pushing your breath down into the belly.
- As you swallow your breath, simultaneously pull up using your abdominal and pelvic muscles (these are the muscles we use for stopping a stream of urine, so just pretend you’re doing that).
- Hold for a good few seconds, and feel the fire inside your belly as you do so. Try not to push yourself too hard — this could cause you to feel faint or light-headed. When you feel like you can’t hold in that breath for much longer, exhale slowly.
Immediately repeat this 3-step process as soon as you’ve been all the way through it. Continue using visualization, deep breathing, and muscle tensing to fuel that inner fire.
Try 2-3 rounds of this 3-step process. More advanced meditators might take 30-40 minutes, but as a beginner, around half that time is fine.
And don’t worry if this process seems complicated or difficult to begin with. Over time, Tummo breathing can become a lot more natural and easy to experience.
The Impact Of Mindful Breathing
You should now have all the practical guidance you need to try the Tummo breathing technique yourself.
That being said, it can be useful to practice with a breathwork coach at first. This will ensure that you have the best possible chance of accessing the amazing warming and stress-reducing benefits of this practice.
Before we go, let’s recap a few key points that are worth bearing in mind as you fuel your inner fire:
- Remember the three steps of Tummo: Visualization, Vase Breathing, and the Base Belly Hold.
- Practicing with a guide first can help you build your confidence by learning from the best
- Tummo breathing is best practiced on an empty stomach. This is because practitioners need to contract the abdomen and breathe deeply into the stomach, so having a belly full of food makes things a bit uncomfortable.
- Don’t push yourself too hard — start off with a 10-15 minute session and gradually build up to longer periods of practice
- Once you’re confident about using this technique, employ it during moments of extreme cold, for instance during a cold shower
As you go about your day, have a think about how every breath you take sends vital information to your brain, heart, and lungs. This is done by the autonomic nervous system, which controls bodily functions like heart rate, digestion, and blood pressure.
It follows, then, that taking notice of how you’re breathing is super important.
A more mindful relationship with the breath can have all sorts of positive effects, as we’ve touched on during the course of this article.
If you want to find out more about how breathwork can be used to switch up your thinking or encourage more positive experiences, we’ve got loads more great content for you.
Why not check out our article on belly breathing, which explores why your yoga teacher tells you to ‘breathe into your belly’.
Or, for something a little more niche, take a look at our guide to the curious concept of Rebirthing Breathwork.