Thursday, 6 December 2012

Demistifying Tumo

by Life Positive

Little is known about the esoteric Tibetan Buddhist practice of tumo, or psychic heat yoga. In Magical Techniques of Tibet (New Age Books), author J.H. BRENNAN explains this yoga in detail. An extract:
The term tumo actually means 'heat' or 'warmth,' but only in the special sense of psychic heat. Tibetans recognize three types:

1. The tumo that arises spontaneously during ecstatic religious experience;

2. Mystic tumo, which is the fire of bliss itself;

3. Esoteric tumo that keeps the adept physically warm. The third type of tumo is related to the subtle fire that warms the seminal fluid in a man and is the source of its energy. When the warmth is heightened, the energy runs throughout the rtsa or energy channels of the body.

Tumo initiation is essentially the passing of angkur (ability) from guru to student. Basic tumo training proceeds through preliminary preparation, practice, and practical application. Each stage in turn has several steps.


Exercise 1: Visualizing the Goddess

In the first of five preliminary exercises, you are required to visualize yourself as the naked, virginal, 16-year-old Vajra-Yogini, a Tantric divinity who personifies spiritual energy. This goddess has a luminous ruby - red skin and a visible third eye in the middle of her forehead.

In her right hand she holds a gleaming curved knife high above her head to cut off all intrusive thought processes. In her left hand she holds a blood-filled human skull against her breast. On the head of the goddess is a tiara made from five dried human skulls, while around her neck is a necklace of 50 human heads dripping blood.

She wears armbands, wristbands, and anklets, but her only other item of adornment is a Mirror of Karma breastplate held in place by double strings of beads made from human bones that circle her waist and pass over her shoulders.

There is a long-staff in the crook of her left arm and a flame-like aura around her. The goddess is dancing with her right leg bent and the foot lifted up while her left foot tramples a prostrate human. In your initial visualization, see yourself in the form of this goddess about your own size. Once the image is established, imagine yourself growing.

Continue to grow until your goddess form is large enough to encompass the entire universe. Spend a little time in contemplating this state. Next, gradually reduce in size until you are no larger than a mustard seed.

Then shrink the imagined visualization still further, so that it is microscopic in extent, yet retains all its fine detail. Contemplate yourself in this minuscule state as well. This completes the first preliminary exercise.

Exercise 2: Visualizing the Channels

In the second exercise, you begin by imagining yourself as the normal-sized Vajra-Yogini goddess. Now concentrate on visualizing the dbu-ma energy channel that runs down the centre of your body as straight, hollow, about the size of an arrow-shaft, and a luminous red.

Expand the visualization until the channel becomes large enough to contain the universe. Again, shrink your visualized image until the hollow channel is no more than one-hundredth the thickness of a human hair.

Exercise 3: Posture and Breathing

Sit on the floor with your legs crossed so that your feet rest on your thighs, the soles turned upward. Your right leg should be uppermost. Place your hands in your lap at a level just below your navel with the back bend of the wrists pressed against your thighs.

Your thumb, forefinger, and little finger should be extended, and the other two bent into the palm. Straighten your spine and expand your diaphragm as far as it will go. Press your chin against your throat, place your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and fix your eyes on the tip of your nose.

Exhale completely to rid your lungs of stale air. Repeat this three times, then inhale as fully as possible and raise your diaphragm slightly so that your chest takes on the appearance of a pot. Hold your breath as long as you can without undue strain.

As you breathe out, imagine that five-colour rays emerge from every pore of your body to fill the entire world. The colours, which equate to the elements, are blue, green, red, white, and yellow.

On the in-breath, imagine these rays returning through the pores to fill your body with multicoloured light. Repeat the exercise seven times. Next, imagine that each ray changes into a five-colour version of the syllable 'hum'.

On your out-breath, visualize the world as filled with these syllables and listen to the sound they make. On the in-breath, imagine the syllables entering and filling your body. Repeat this breathing/visualization sequence seven times.

Now on the out-breath imagine that the 'hum' syllables become minute representations of angry deities. Imagine that on the out-breath the deities go out to fill the world, while on the in-breath they return to fill your body. Again repeat the sequence seven times.

The next step represents a critical stage in the exercise. You are required to imagine that every pore of your body is inhabited by one of these tiny deities with his face turned outward.

As a result, you see yourself as having grown a second protective skin composed of fierce and angry deities, which functions rather like a suit of armour.

Exercise 4: Visualizing the Letters

You begin the fourth preliminary exercise by visualizing the hollow ro-ma (right-hand energy channel) and rkyang-ma (left-hand energy channel). Imagine the five vowels of the English alphabet within the left channel and the 21 consonants in the right channel.

Each letter should have a fine outline and be seen as coloured red. Imagine them arranged in a vertical line, one above the other. Establish a breathing routine that alternates left and right nostrils, then visualize the letters streaming out with your out-breath, one after another.

On the in-breath, imagine them returning, but entering your body through your penis or vagina.

Exercise 5: Visualizing the Root Guru

This exercise requires you to visualize your own 'root guru' seated cross-legged in your heart chakra. Visualize the whole succession of discarnate gurus, in ascending order of importance, one above the head of the other in a vertical line along the central channel.

Once you have established the chain, you should pray to these gurus. When the prayer is finished, imagine the entire chain of gurus merging into the body of the root guru which in turn merges into the essence of bliss. Allow the experience of bliss to fill your entire body.

Psychic heat Generation

With the completion of these preliminaries, you are now ready to embark on the second stage of tumo, which involves the actual generation of psychic heat. Begin this stage by adopting the posture described in Preliminary Exercise 3.

Consciously link your thought process with the rhythm of your breathing. The Tibetan secret tradition teaches that your thought processes typically change after a period measured by a single in-breath plus a single out-breath.

Since breathing and thought processes depend on one another, control of the breath is the first step toward control of the mind.

Breath Control 1: Calm Breathing

The recommended breath control sequence begins with the establishment of what the Tibetans call 'Calm Breathing' which, in turn, is broken down into two separate parts. The first of these is known as the Nine Bellows Blowings.

Nine Bellows Blowings

• Close off your left nostril with your forefinger so that you are breathing only through the right nostril.

• Turn your head slowly from right to left while inhaling and exhaling three times through the right nostril.

• Now close off your right nostril and inhale/exhale three times while moving your head from left to right.

• Finally, with your head steady and looking straight ahead, inhale/exhale three times through both nostrils.

This sequence should be repeated three times. For the first of these three sequences you should breathe so gently that the breaths are scarcely perceptible.

For the second, you need to breathe more strongly, while for the third, your breath should empty the lungs completely on exhalation and fill them totally on inhalation.

Four Combined Breathing

Move on to the second element of 'Calm Breathing', which is known as the Four Combined Breathing. For this, you should first bend your head forward so that your neck takes on the shape of a hook.

Now draw in air through both nostrils from a distance of about 16 finger-widths without making a sound. The air from this silent in-breath should reach the bottom of your lungs. Contract your diaphragm to raise the thorax so that your chest puffs out.

You will find this pot-like expansion of your chest quickly becomes difficult to sustain. When it does, you are instructed to draw in a series of short breaths using muscular action to direct these inhalations to the right and left lungs respectively so that pressure is equalized in both lungs.

Once you have reached your limit, breathe out through both nostrils, gently at first, then with greater force, then gently again, all on a single exhalation. This process is described as 'shooting the breath forth like an arrow'.

Breath Control 2: Violent Breathing

The second aspect of tumo breath control, 'Violent Breathing', is broken down into five separate techniques. The first of these is emptying the lungs completely, then slowly refilling them to their fullest extent. The emphasis here is on slowly.

The purpose of the exercise is to prevent the rebound effect-a tendency to take quick, short breaths. The second technique is the 'art of inbreathing to cause the air to enter into all its natural channels'.

This technique should be performed in the conscious knowledge that you are breathing in energy with each breath. The third technique, known as the 'art of maximum lung expansion', is designed to take control of the breath.

This refers to breath retention, which permits a fuller extraction of the vital energy from the air. Technique four seeks complete mastery over the breathing process so that the vital energy extracted from the air enters the various rtsa channels.

In this technique, imagine the energy's light gently spreading throughout your entire body.

The final technique of the sequence seeks to mingle the internalized life force with the great reservoir of cosmic energy all around you. This is referred to as the 'art of relaxing the breathing', a name that suggests the process involves an out-breath.

The Mental Images

With the completion of breathing exercises, we come to the third and final part of the tumo technique. By now it should come as little surprise to learn that it involves the manipulation of mental images. The first of these images is that of the Vajra-Yogini.

But now, instead of imagining yourself as this deity, you should create an image of the goddess standing at normal human size before you. This image becomes your contact point with the universal energy and part of a visualized 'generator' that will produce the psychic heat.

The second visualization is of the central dbu-ma channel with its four major chakras flanked by the ro-ma and rkyang-ma channels. Begin by visualizing the hollow, perpendicular central channel, red in colour but transparent and bright.

Next, visualize the two peripheral channels that extend over the top of the brain and pass through the openings of the nostrils to travel downward, flanking the central channel until they curve inward to join at the bottom.

With the three channels clearly visualized, you should add the chakras to your image. The crown chakra should be visualized as radiating 32 'energy spokes'-minor rtsa channels-downward into the head. These are met by 16 more, which radiate from the throat centre, while 64 radiate from the navel centre.

Now comes what is understood as the core visualization of tumo, and a wholly unexpected one it turns out to be. According to the ancient texts, the secret of producing psychic heat lies in the use of half of the Tibetan letter A. Whichever half you select, the shape should be visualized at the point where the three major channels meet four finger-widths below the navel.

See it outlined hair-thin, reddish-brown in colour and hot to the touch, floating and undulating. As it moves, the shape makes a sound like the spluttering of a lighted taper. Next, visualize the Tibetan letter 'hum' on the median channel within the crown chakra at the top of your head.

The letter should be visualized white with a single drop of nectar forming on the 'tail' at the bottom. Draw in a breath to bring the life energy into the left and right channels and see them expand in your mind's eye.

Watch the vital force enter the middle channel and travel down to reach the visualized half, which fills out from its original outline until it becomes a fully-shaped red form.

As you breathe out, imagine that the air leaves the median channel in a bluish stream. Continue this sequence of breathing and visualization until it is well established. Then change the sequence slightly so that on the in-breath a tiny, pointed flame flares up from the outlined image.

The flame should be upright, bright red in colour, and transparent. It should also flicker in such a way that it appears to be spinning. Now, with each in-breath, imagine that the flame rises half a finger-width higher so that by the time you complete eight breathing cycles, it reaches the navel chakra.

Two cycles later the flame will have extended into every petal of this centre. Over the next 10 breath cycles, the imagined fire thus kindled moves down to the lower part of your body, filling your lower abdomen, legs, feet and toes. In 10 further breath cycles, it moves upward in stages, filling your body as far as the heart chakra.

In the next 10 cycles, it reaches the throat chakra, then, with 10 more breaths it reaches the crown chakra at the top of your head, where you have already established the letter 'hum'. As the imagined fire reaches this chakra, it slowly dissolves the symbol over the next 10 breath cycles into a pearlescent 'moon fluid', which spreads to fill the entire lotus.

This moon fluid is the key to the tumo effect. Watch in your mind's eye as it overflows from the crown chakra to fill the entire body. The overall sequence of 108 breath cycles constitutes a single tumo course. To become proficient, you need to repeat six courses over each 24-hour period in the early stage of your training.


You can trigger the tumo heat in three ways. The simplest is the use of breathing: push the inhaled air to the bottom of your lungs and contract your diaphragm to expand the chest.

The two remaining methods are as follows:

• While seated in a simple cross-legged position, grasp the underneath of your thighs with your hands. Use your stomach and abdominal muscles to circle the belly area three times to the right and three times to the left while keeping the torso still.

Churn the stomach vigorosly by rippling the muscles from top to bottom, then shake your body like a dog that has just come out of the water. While you are doing so, raise yourself a little on your crossed legs, then drop back again onto your cushion, in effect bouncing a little off the floor.

Repeat this whole exercise three times, ending with a vigorous bounce.

• Visualize yourself as the Vajra-Yogini with the three main channels, the charkas, and the visualized half of the Tibetan A symbol. Imagine blazing suns in the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. Bring your hands and feet together so that the suns meet.

Visualize another sun at the junction of the main channels below the navel. Rub together the suns in the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.

Fire will flare up to strike the sun below the navel, then the visualized symbol, and will go on to permeate your whole body. On your next out-breath, visualize the tumo heat going out to fill the world.

Extracted with permission from Magical Techniques of Tibet, by J.H. Brennan, New Age Books, 195 pages

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