Firewalking and other Physical Challenges — Good or Bad?

At many self-help events, it is common for there to be a physical challenge of some sort–walking on a bed of coals or embers (firewalk), breaking boards with your hands. These activities are often the culminating event of a retreat–the activity that everyone talks about afterwards. But are they useful, safe, good? At SEEK Safely, we believe that the process of seeking–finding meaningful change in one’s life–is a beautiful and awesome thing. The fact is, many people find that completing a physical challenge like a firewalk is seriously empowering. That’s great!


But there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Safety should be a top priority. So at an event that features a firewalk, there should be ample precautions in place to make sure that participants don’t get hurt, or that there are an adequate number of medical professionals on hand in the case of an emergency.
  • Moreover, there are some physical challenges for which the leader should have proper training, perhaps even certification. You should be able to ask the leader for proof of his/her qualifications for leading the event. (Better yet, the leader would offer these things to you before you’d even think to ask!)
  • Be aware of the “spin.” Some “gurus” will tell you that mastering the physical challenge is about “mind over matter”–our mind is capable of overcoming physical limitations, such as the sensation of burning, in an almost metaphysical way. In actuality, there is harder science behind it. The truth is, given the right conditions, anyone can complete a firewalk. The challenge lies not in your mind overcoming a physical limitation, but your mind overcoming your own fear of the task (and factors such as the coals or embers being a certain temperature). That’s where the power of the activity lies, and that’s the take-away a participant should have from the event.

Why would it be dangerous to see it the other way? For one, your guru would be taking too much credit for your achievement. It’s not his coaxing that enables you to walk on fire. It’s your own strength. Don’t give him or her too much credit for you accomplishments! A dishonest guru may use your accomplishment as proof of his own “power” and as reasoning for you to keep following him, buying his product, etc. Another danger is that there are in fact physical challenges that can be too much for your body to handle. The mindset that you can overcome any physical challenge is a dangerous one, and you shouldn’t be pressured or bullied into doing something you believe to be unsafe. You shouldn’t be pressured to ignore your own judgement or your body’s warning signs if something doesn’t feel right. ** At SEEK Safely, we always hope that self-help professionals will be responsible. But as that is not always the case, you must always remember that the most important factor in keeping yourself safe is YOU. So ask questions of your guru, demand assurances that safeguards are in place, and don’t let yourself be pushed beyond your judgement. Seek safely!

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