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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Tummo (i.e., “inner fire” or “psychic heat”) is a Tibetan yoga practice that involves various body exercises. These include the control of the breath and intense concentration on or visualization of various metaphysical goals (inner peace). Tummo, however, has become best known for a very practical goal practiced in frigid Tibet. It is used to generate enough body heat to survive overnight in the mountains without the benefit of any outside sources of warmth.

This practice was initially made known in the West through the writings of a French woman, Alexandra David-Neel (1868–1969), who explored India and Tibet in 1911 as her way of escaping an unbearable marriage. Gaining some acceptance in a land that was unusually hostile to outsiders, she was able to master many of the Tibetan meditative practices, including tummo. She not only claimed to be able to raise her body temperature, but in her book Magic and Mystery in Tibet (1931) she explained the method to her readers.

In the last half of the twentieth century, various Western groups, mostly of an esoteric nature, also drew on Tibetan traditions and incorporated tummo into their course of study. More recently, as Tibetan teachers have spread throughout the West, they have begun to offer training in the meditation practices associated with tummo. Their practice includes yoga asanas (postures), visualization, the use of mantras (words that are intoned in a manner as to resonate with the body), and breathing techniques. Such techniques have generally been taught in a retreat setting so they can be practiced a number of times in the presence of an experienced teacher.


David-Neel, Alexandria. Magic and Mystery in Tibet. London: John Lane, 1931.
Ray, Reginald A. Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.
Yeshe, Thubten, et al. The Bliss of Inner Fire: Heart Practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1998.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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