Remebering that in Italy will be a Tummo retreat and his master geshe
gelek was one of the Monks that partecipated to experiment of benson
in Normady I post these scientific article
Tumo (also spelled Tummo, or Tum-mo ) is a Tibetan term for a type of
contemplative practice that causes an intense sensation of body heat
to arise. It is one of the six yogas of Naropa. Stories and
eyewitness accounts abound of yogi practitioners being able to
generate sufficient heat to dry wet sheets draped around their naked
bodies while sitting outside in the freezing cold, not just once, but
multiple times. These observations have also been discussed in
medical studies (Ding-E Young and Taylor, 1998).
One of the most famous practioners of tumo was perhaps the Tibetan
Buddhist saint, Milarepa. The biography of Milarepa is one of the
most popular among the Tibetan people (Evans-Wentz, 2001). Modern
western witnesses of this practice include the adventurer Alexandra
David-Neel (David-Neel, 1971), and Lama Anagarika Govinda (Govinda,
While the practice could be said to have some practical benefit in
the frigid climate of Tibet, it cannot be said to be cultivated
merely for the sake of keeping warm, but is rather a side-effect of a
religiously oriented intensive meditation practice, and is understood
to be the outward manifestation of an inward state of religious
ecstasy or divine union. Similar experiences of a mystic fire have
also been described among practitioners of other contemplative paths,
such as the Sufi Irina Tweedie, and among practitioners of Kundalini
An attempt to study the physiological effects of tumo has been made
by Benson and colleagues (Benson et.al, 1982; Cromie, 2002) who
studied practitioners in the Himalayas and in India in the 1980s. In
the first experiment, in Upper Dharamsala (India), Benson et.al
(1982) found that these subjects exhibited the capacity to increase
the temperature of their fingers and toes by as much as 8.3°C. In the
most recent experiment, which was conducted in Normandy (France), two
monks from the Buddhist tradition wore sensors that recorded changes
in heat production and metabolism (Cromie, 2002).
HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES
Meditation changes temperatures:
Mind controls body in extreme experiments
By William J. Cromie
In a monastery in northern India, thinly clad Tibetan monks sat
quietly in a room where the temperature was a chilly 40 degrees
Fahrenheit. Using a yoga technique known as g Tum-mo, they entered a
state of deep meditation. Other monks soaked 3-by-6-foot sheets in
cold water (49 degrees) and placed them over the meditators'
shoulders. For untrained people, such frigid wrappings would produce
If body temperatures continue to drop under these conditions, death
can result. But it was not long before steam began rising from the
sheets. As a result of body heat produced by the monks during
meditation, the sheets dried in about an hour.
Attendants removed the sheets, then covered the meditators with a
second chilled, wet wrapping. Each monk was required to dry three
sheets over a period of several hours.
Why would anyone do this? Herbert Benson, who has been studying g Tum-
mo for 20 years, answers that "Buddhists feel the reality we live in
is not the ultimate one. There's another reality we can tap into
that's unaffected by our emotions, by our everyday world. Buddhists
believe this state of mind can be achieved by doing good for others
and by meditation. The heat they generate during the process is just
a by-product of g Tum-mo meditation."
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 firmly believes that
studying advanced forms of meditation "can uncover capacities that
will help us to better treat stress-related illnesses."
Benson developed the "relaxation response," which he describes as "a
physiological state opposite to stress." It is characterized by
decreases in metabolism, breathing rate, heart rate, and blood
pressure. He and others have amassed evidence that it can help those
suffering from illnesses caused or exacerbated by stress. Benson and
colleagues use it to treat anxiety, mild and moderate depression,
high blood pressure, heartbeat irregularities, excessive anger,
insomnia, and even infertility. His team also uses this type of
simple meditation to calm those who have been traumatized by the
deaths of others, or by diagnoses of cancer or other painful, life-
"More than 60 percent of visits to physicians in the United States
are due to stress-related problems, most of which are poorly treated
by drugs, surgery, or other medical procedures," Benson maintains.
The Mind/Body Medical Institute is now training people to use the
relaxation response to help people working at Ground Zero in New York
City, where two airplanes toppled the World Trade Center Towers last
Sept. 11. Facilities have been set up at nearby St. Paul's Chapel to
aid people still working on clearing wreckage and bodies. Anyone else
who feels stressed by those terrible events can also obtain help at
the chapel. "We are training the trainers who work there," Benson
The relaxation response involves repeating a word, sound, phrase, or
short prayer while disregarding intrusive thoughts. "If such an easy-
to-master practice can bring about the remarkable changes we
observe," Benson notes. "I want to investigate what advanced forms of
meditation can do to help the mind control physical processes once
thought to be uncontrollable."
Some Westerners practice g Tum-mo, but it often takes years to reach
states like those achieved by Buddhist monks. In trying to find
groups he could study, Benson met Westerners who claimed to have
mastered such advanced techniques, but who were, in his
Benson decided that he needed to locate a religious setting, where
advanced mediation is traditionally practiced. His opportunity came
in 1979 when the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, visited
Harvard University. "His Holiness agreed to help me," recalls Benson.
That visit was the beginning of a long friendship and several
expeditions to northern India where many Tibetan monks live in exile.
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.
The researchers also made measurements on practitioners of other
forms of advanced meditation in Sikkim, India. They were astonished
to find that these monks could lower their metabolism by 64
percent. "It was an astounding, breathtaking [no pun intended]
result," Benson exclaims.
To put that decrease in perspective, metabolism, or oxygen
consumption, drops only 10-15 percent in sleep and about 17 percent
during simple meditation. Benson believes that such a capability
could be useful for space travel. Travelers might use meditation to
ease stress and oxygen consumption on long flights to other planets.
In 1985, the meditation team made a video of monks drying cold, wet
sheets with body heat. They also documented monks spending a winter
night on a rocky ledge 15,000 feet high in the Himalayas. The sleep-
out took place in February on the night of the winter full moon when
temperatures reached zero degrees F. Wearing only woolen or cotton
shawls, the monks promptly fell asleep on the rocky ledge, They did
not huddle together and the video shows no evidence of shivering.
They slept until dawn then walked back to their monastery.
Working in isolated monasteries in the foothills of the Himalayas
proved extremely difficult. Some religious leaders keep their
meditative procedures a closely guarded secret. Medical measuring
devices require electrical power and wall outlets are not always
available. In addition, trying to meditate while strangers attempt to
measure your rectal temperature is not something most monks are happy
To avoid these problems, Instructor in Psychology Sara Lazar, a
Benson colleague, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan
the brains of meditators at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The subjects were males, aged 22-45, who had practiced a form of
advanced mediation called Kundalini daily for at least four years. In
these experiments, the obstacles of cold and isolation were replaced
by the difficulties of trying to meditate in a cramped, noisy
machine. However, the results, published in the May 15, 2000, issue
of the journal NeuroReport, turned out to be significant.
Herbert Benson, who developed a simple relaxation technique to reduce
stress, enjoys a quiet moment at a placid stream near his office in
Boston. He directs a study of advanced meditation to uncover
capabilities that may help treat stress-related illnesses. (Staff
photo by Kris Snibbe)
"Lazar found a marked decrease in blood flow to the entire brain,"
Benson explains. "At the same time, certain areas of the brain became
more active, specifically those that control attention and autonomic
functions like blood pressure and metabolism. In short, she showed
the value of using this method to record changes in the brain's
activity during meditation."
The biggest obstruction in further studies, whether in India or
Boston, has always been money. Research proceeded slowly and
intermittently until February 2001, when Benson's team received a
$1.25 million grant from Loel Guinness, via the beer magnate's Kalpa
Foundation, established to study extraordinary human capacities.
The funds enabled researchers to bring three monks experienced in g
Tum-mo to a Guinness estate in Normandy, France, last July. The monks
then practiced for 100 days to reach their full meditative capacity.
An eye infection sidelined one of the monks, but the other two proved
able to dry frigid, wet sheets while wearing sensors that recorded
changes in heat production and metabolism.
Although the team obtained valuable data, Benson concludes that "the
room was not cold enough to do the tests properly." His team will try
again this coming winter with six monks. They will start practice in
late summer and should be ready during the coldest part of winter.
Benson feels sure these attempts to understand advanced mediation
will lead to better treatments for stress-related illnesses. "My
hope," he says, "is that self-care will stand equal with medical
drugs, surgery, and other therapies that are now used to alleviate
mental and physical suffering. Along with nutrition and exercise,
mind/body approaches can be part of self-care practices that could
save millions of dollars annually in medical costs."
Meditation... Here the heart/May give a useful lesson to the head. -
Body temperature changes during the practice of g Tum-mo yoga
Herbert Benson*, John W. Lehmann*, M. S. Malhotra†, Ralph F.
Goldman‡, Jeffrey Hopkins§ & Mark D. Epstein
*Division of Behavioral Medicine, Department of Medicine, Harvard
Medical School, Charles A. Dana Research Institute, Harvard Thorndike
Laboratory, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA
†Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala 147001, India
‡US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick,
Massachusetts 01760, USA
§Center for South Asian Studies, Cocke Hall, University of Virginia,
Charlottesville, Virginia 22903, USA
Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA
Since meditative practices are associated with changes that are
consistent with decreased activity of the sympathetic nervous system1–
7, it is conceivable that measurable body temperature changes
accompany advanced meditative states. With the help of H.H. the Dalai
Lama, we have investigated such a possibility on three practitioners
of the advanced Tibetan Buddhist meditational practice known as g Tum-
mo (heat) yoga living in Upper Dharamsala, India. We report here that
in a study performed there in February 1981, we found that these
subjects exhibited the capacity to increase the temperature of their
fingers and toes by as much as 8.3°C.
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